UFC 133 comes in full force Saturday night with some of the toughest veterans in its roster as a card headlined by “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz (16-8-1) and “Sugar” Rashad Evans (15-1-1) storms the fighting city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The night starts in the welterweight division with two solid bouts between “Quicksand” Mike Pyle (21-6-1) and “The Water Boy” Rory MacDonald (11-1) and “Superman” Dennis Hallman (45-13-2) and Brian Ebersole (40-14-1). The middleweights then take over with a last minute pairing of “El Conquistador” Jorge Rivera (18-8) and Costantinos Philippou (7-2) and then 185lbs. contenders “The Phenom” Vitor Belfort (19-9) and “Sexyama” Yoshihiro Akiyama (14-4) will go to war in the co-main event. Fresh off a pair of disheartening losses, Akiyama and Belfort are looking to get their names back into the title conversation.
At First Glance: Right off the bat this looks to be a move by Zuffa to relegate Yoshihiro to gatekeeper status and get Vitor back in the ring with the champ. Vitor has what may be the deadliest hands in all of MMA, but he backs it with what may be the most fragile psyche. In Akiyama, he has an opponent who is a solid fighter with well-rounded skills but one who doesn’t pose a real threat to finish anywhere and isn’t aggressive in the least. A laid back fighter like “Sexyama” is exactly the kind of opponent Belfort needs. If Belfort is on, it doesn’t matter – he is going to win. If he is off, Akiyama will give him plenty of room to get his mind right before the judges are asked to make a call.
In Depth: Vitor Belfort’s game is one of the easiest in MMA to break down. He will use his Jiu-Jitsu only to escape to his feet if forced to the mat and he will rely on brutal hand speed and power to destroy anything in front of him. Akiyama has a more enigmatic approach. The Judoka has solid footwork and kickboxing that can frustrate any stand-up fighter. He also has world class clinch work and a diverse ground game. The only issue with Akiyama is his relaxed approach to the game. He lets his opponents pick where the fight takes place then lacks the killer instinct to capitalize on the opportunities he gets. Against Belfort, this is completely unacceptable. A fighter who sits back and allows “The Phenom” to get his motor revved up is a fighter who is looking to get knocked out.
Wild Card: While Belfort may be one of the most naturally talented fighters in the history of MMA, he is also one of the most mercurial. There are times when Belfort’s brilliance is nothing short of awe-inspiring. However, there are times when he looks as if he doesn’t even want to be in the cage, let alone belong there. If Belfort comes in with his head in the clouds, Akiyama will humiliate him for three rounds and get the decision or snag a late submission after Vitor gasses out or just gives up.
The Verdict: This fight is tailor built for Vitor Belfort. Akiyama will allow him ample time to get his head on straight and get to work with his easygoing, smooth style. Against many fighters, Akiyama’s do-it-slow-but-do-it-right gameplan is frustrating and ultimately a death sentence; against Belfort, it’s just what the doctor ordered. Belfort via KO (Punches), Round 2