Fighters used to fear former UFC light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort for his lightning fast fists. Now, after his second head kick induced knockout in a row, Saturday night’s coming against debuting former Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold in the UFC on FX 8 main event at Arena Jaragua in Jaragua do Sul, Brazil, it’s his feet that will have Belfort’s fellow 185-pound contenders enduring plenty of sleepless nights.
“I’m stronger than ever,” said Belfort. “I have a great team at Blackzilians.”
The 36-year-old native of Rio de Janeiro, who knocked out Michael Bisping in January, has now won nine of his last 11, with his only losses coming against Anderson Silva and Jon Jones.
“I didn’t see that one coming,” said the 28-year-old Rockhold. “Kudos to him.”
With the combatants eschewing the traditional touch of gloves, no surprise given the growing animosity between the two, the fight began with Rockhold looking for the home run immediately, as he missed a high kick and slipped to the canvas. After rising, Rockhold looked for the takedown, only to get turned back as Belfort flurried in response. Rockhold called for Belfort to bring it on, but “The Phenom” remained locked into his game plan, refusing to get drawn into a brawl.
And just as UFC play by play man Jon Anik spoke of Belfort waiting for his opening to pounce, the former light heavyweight champion did just that with a spinning left kick to the head that dropped Rockhold with a thud. A furious barrage of punches followed, with referee Leon Roberts then stopping the fight at 2:32 of the opening frame.
“I’m here to fight,” said Belfort of his future. “I don’t pick fights. I accept fights.”
With the win, Belfort improves to 23-10; Rockhold falls to 10-2.
SOUZA vs. CAMOZZI
Former Strikeforce middleweight champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza lived up to all the pre-fight hype surrounding his UFC debut, submitting Chris Camozzi in the first round.
Camozzi (19-6), a late replacement for the injured Costa Philippou, took the fight to Souza at the start, but after getting jarred briefly by a right hand, he got taken down by the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace in the second minute. Souza (18-3, 1NC) stayed busy from the top position, landing with ground strikes as he looked to improve position. Camozzi kept pretty active himself, but while in a scramble he almost got caught in a shoulder lock before Souza returned to side control. Seconds later, the lightning fast Souza sunk in an arm triangle, and just like that, Camozzi was asleep, prompting a stoppage at 3:37 of the opening round.
Watch Souza's post-fight interview
DOS ANJOS vs. DUNHAM
Lightweight contender Rafael dos Anjos made it four straight, earning a hard fought three round unanimous decision over Evan Dunham.
All three judges saw it 29-28 for dos Anjos, now 19-6; Dunham falls to 14-4.
A tightly contested opening round saw both fighters stay active on their feet with a variety of striking techniques from their fists and feet. A subsequent Dunham takedown may have been the decisive moment of the round though, as he was able to keep dos Anjos on his back for a good length of time until referee Kevin Mulhall restarted them late in the frame.
Dunham scored with a takedown as the second frame opened, but dos Anjos sprung up immediately and landed with a solid body punch before looking for his own takedown, which Dunham turned away. Dos Anjos refused to be discouraged, as he went back to his standup game, which was accurate and effective. It was Dunham who drew first blood though, opening a cut over dos Anjos’ right eye that allowed him to start landing more frequently as the round progressed. The two proceeded to trade punches, much to the delight of the crowd, before a takedown by Dunham closed the stanza.
Dos Anjos landed some hard body kicks in the third, but none prevented Dunham from continuing to march forward behind his own strikes, leading to a solid ebb and flow between two of the division’s best, and not surprisingly, the two ended the fight going toe-to-toe in search of victory.
NATAL vs. ZEFERINO
UFC debutant Joao Zeferino gave a courageous effort as a late replacement for Chris Camozzi, but veteran middleweight Rafael Natal held off his early assault to calmly get back in the fight and win a three round unanimous decision.
The judges saw it 30-27 and 29-28 twice for Natal, now 16-4-1.
Florianopolis’ Zeferino (13-5) was the clear crowd favorite, and each strike landed drew an ovation from the crowd, prompting him to aggressively go on the attack, With two minutes gone, the combatants went to the mat and each tried to lock up the other’s leg, Zeferino being the more active of the two, but neither was able to secure the submission, and the round ended with referee Leon Roberts restarting the bout.
The action remained competitive and intense in round two, with Zeferino holding an edge, but Natal starting to find his own rhythm. By the midway point of the round, fatigue was staring to play a role for the late replacement, and Natal began to take the role of aggressor, even though Zeferino was still dangerous enough to keep his opponent from getting too reckless. It was Natal in the top position and in control by the end of the round though.
In the third, Natal kept the pressure on, using slick movement to set up a takedown that ultimately wrapped the fight up for him, as he moved into the mount position and then took Zeferino’s back, pounding away with both hands to finish the bout strong.