The ‘new Vitor” has emerged and left the “old Vitor” in the shadows.| Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Vitor Belfort made his case in the strongest possible terms.
Belfort knocked out former two-division Pride Fighting Championships titleholder Dan Henderson with a ferocious first-round head kick in the UFC Fight Night 32 “Belfort vs. Henderson” main event on Saturday at the Goiania Arena in Goiania, Brazil. Shin-to-skull contact separated an already dazed Henderson from his senses 1:17 into round one, as he was undone by strikes for the first time in 40 professional appearances.
The two mixed martial arts icons circled one another for the better part of a minute. That feeling-out process gave way to a wild but largely one-sided firefight, as Belfort blasted Henderson with a powerful uppercut that lifted the two-time Olympian off his feet and left him underneath the marauding Brazilian. Belfort hovered above him firing off punches at a blinding rate. Henderson clung to consciousness and struggled back to an upright position, only to be met by the fight-ending kick. Referee Dan Miragliotta had no choice but to step in on his behalf.
Belfort has enjoyed nothing short of a renaissance since returning to the Ultimate Fighting Championship in September 2009, though the controversy over his use of testosterone replacement therapy swirls overhead. The 36-year-old has rattled off 10 wins in his past 12 outings, losing only to former middleweight champion Anderson Silva and current light heavyweight titleholder Jon Jones. The tear, which now includes three highlight-reel head kick knockouts in a row, has put Belfort in prime position to once again challenge for UFC gold. Silva will confront reigning 185-pound boss Chris Weidman, the man who dethroned him over the summer, in a rematch at UFC 168 on Dec. 28. Belfort deserves a crack at the winner.
Uncertainty surrounds Henderson’s next move. The 43-year-old Californian finds himself on a three-fight losing streak for the first time in his career and does not currently have a contract with the UFC. Should Henderson re-sign with the promotion, perhaps a date with the winner of the UFC Fight Night 33 scrap between Mauricio Rua and James Te Huna could be arranged. “Hendo” escaped with a disputed decision against Rua at UFC 139, their epic five-round battle emerging as a leading contender for “Fight of the Year” in 2011.
In the wake of UFC Fight Night 32, here are five other matchups that ought to be made:
Cezar Ferreira vs. Chris Leben-Uriah Hall winner: Ferreira exited the cage with a split decision over Daniel Sarafian in the co-main event, though his takedown-heavy approach left the crowd wanting. “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” Season 1 winner grounded Sarafian repeatedly but failed to exact much damage against his countryman in earning 30-27 and 30-28 nods from two of the judges. A Belfort protégé who trains alongside “The Phenom” as part of the Blackzilians camp, “Mutante” has compiled a 3-0 record since touching down in the UFC in June 2012. Leben and Hall will lock horns at UFC 168 on Dec. 28 in Las Vegas.
Rafael Cavalcante vs. Anthony Perosh-Ryan Bader winner: A former Strikeforce champion who has drawn criticism for his lack of consistency, Cavalcante dazzled in dispatching an overmatched Igor Pokrajac. The 32-year-old Brazilian trapped Pokrajac in the Thai plum, wrecking him with knees to the head and body before securing the finish with a series of clubbing right hands. It was over in 78 seconds, “The Duke” unable to withstand the brutal barrage. Cavalcante -- who succumbed to first-round punches from Thiago Silva in his Octagon debut in June -- will next look to post back-to-back victories for the first time in more than three years. Perosh and Bader will do battle at UFC Fight Night 33 on Dec. 7 in Australia.
Brandon Thatch vs. Adlan Amagov: In two UFC appearances, Thatch has done nothing to diminish the considerable hype surrounding him. The 28-year-old Elevation Fight Team representative recorded his 10th consecutive first-round finish, as he struck Paulo Thiago into submission with a wicked knee strike to the body 2:10 into their welterweight showcase. Amagov owns a 7-1 mark in his last eight fights and was equally impressive in October, as he scored a violent first-round knockout against T.J. Waldburger at UFC 166 in Houston.
Ryan LaFlare vs. Rick Story-Brian Ebersole winner: Consider LaFlare a sleeper at 170 pounds. The former Ring of Combat champion systematically dismantled Santiago Ponzinibbio over the course of three rounds en route to sweeping the scorecards by identical 30-27 marks. LaFlare outstruck, outwrestled and out-grappled the 27-year-old Argentine, as he kept his perfect professional record intact and moved to 2-0 inside the Octagon. Story and Ebersole will match wits -- and fists -- at UFC 167 on Nov. 16 in Las Vegas.
Jeremy Stephens vs. Akira Corassani-Maximo Blanco winner: Were it not for Belfort, Stephens’ knockout against Rony Mariano Bezerra would likely have been the talk of the UFC Fight Night 32 event. The man they call “Lil’ Heathen” wiped out Bezerra with an exquisite head kick and follow-up standing-to-ground right hand 40 seconds into the first round of their featherweight clash. It was equal parts violent and frightening. Based at Alliance MMA, Stephens improved to 2-0 since downshifting to 145 pounds. Corassani and Blanco will collide at “The Ultimate Fighter 18” Finale on Nov. 30.