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Is Vitor Belfort Ready To Dominate The UFC’s Middleweight Division?

With a swift 1st round knockout of former Middleweight champion Rich Franklin at the weekend, Vitor Belfort has made an immediate impact on his return to the Octagon.  Now his sights are set firmly on the 185lb Middleweight division and UFC President Dana White has stated that he think the Brazilian stand-out is ready for an immediate title-shot against fellow countryman Anderson Silva.

In some ways this move this move makes a lot of sense.  Though there are undeniably talented fighters in the division, marketable blockbuster fights at 185 have been a little thin on the ground in recent times.  Even current champion Anderson Silva himself seemed somewhat indifferent to rumoured match-ups with top contenders Nate Marquardt and Dan Henderson – both of whom he had already defeated (at UFC 73 and UFC 82 respectively) and has shown more interest in pursuing new challenges at Light Heavyweight whilst waiting for a suitable challenger to emerge.

It is reasonable to assume that Vitor Belfort presents a challenge that will not only be of interest to Anderson Silva, but should also be an entertaining fight for the fans.  Other than current Welterweight champion George St Pierre moving up to 185lb for a superfight (which seems to be a no go as far as Dana White is concerned) there is no bigger fight in terms of box office potential that the UFC can put together in the division at this moment in time.  With this fight almost certain to go ahead the real question now is whether Vitor Belfort is ready yet for such a big opportunity?

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On the strength of his fighting record in recent times the answer to that is not likely to be an emphatic ‘yes’.  Admittedly he is now on a five fight winning streak  and his victory on Saturday night against Rich Franklin is certainly a significant scalp to his belt.  On closer inspection however the standard of competition he has faced in the past 3 years has often been, at best, solid rather than spectacular.  His recent victims include former UFC fighters Ivan Serati and Terry Martin (who have a combined record of 2-5 in the octagon), the UK’s former Cage Rage Light Heavyweight champion James Zikic (Belfort took his belt) and most notably the 39 year old veteran wrestler and ex UFC star Matt Lindland.  Certainly some recognizable names but for the most part these are not fighters at the peak of their careers.   In fact, Lindland aside, you have to look as far back as his 2004 LHW title winning victory over Randy Couture at UFC46 to find another noteable win on his record.  One thing his record does not lack however is losses to some of the biggest names in the sport.  After his win over Couture for instance he then went on to lose another rematch against ‘The Natural’ in his next fight (the  second loss of his career to Couture) followed by further defeats at the hands of former UFC champion Tito Ortiz and current Strikeforce Heavyweight champ Alistair Overeem.

Having said that, there is no doubt that on his day Vitor Belfort is a major threat to any fighter in the Middleweight Division.  He was a heavyweight tournament winner at just 19 years of age and later went on to win the Light Heavyweight champion as well.  It is also important to remember there is more to his game than just his oft-mentioned fast hands which brought about a 44 second demolition of a young Wanderlei Silva at UFC Brazil back in 1998.  He is a well rounded fighter with a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu under Carlson Gracie and has effective ground and pound to add to the K.O power he possesses.

Anderson Silva – one of, if not the best pound for pound fighters in Mixed Martial Arts is a serious step up in class for Belfort though, and whilst he definitely has the tools to cause the champion significant problems, doubts remain over whether he is ready yet to take on perhaps his toughest challenge to date.  The problem for the UFC is that if they hold back and build his momentum with an additional fight or two at 185 before facing the champion then there is a genuine risk that he could come unstuck against the other top ranked contenders in the division. Nate Marquardt would represent a stern test and would give Belfort all he could handle on the ground, whilst Dan Henderson already holds a unanimous decision win over the Brazilian dating back to October of 2006 at Pride 32.  So it appears that an immediate title shot will be the preferred option for the UFC’s resurgent star with Henderson and Marquardt likely to face each other in a title eliminator to fight to eventual winner.

Whether Belfort can dominate at 185lbs remains to be seen but whatever happens one thing that is certain is that his presence  is a welcome boost for the Middleweight division and offers up an exciting range of potential match-ups for the fans to look forward to in the near future.

Article By RossC for www.

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