Vitor Belfort is a much better fighter than Luke Rockhold. He’s faster, more powerful and a far more accomplished striker and grappler than the former Strikeforce middleweight champion. Luke’s resume obviously cannot compare with Vitor’s, and he should by all means get completely overwhelmed and out-classed both on the ground and on the feet. Belfort’s age and conditioning should be a factor but as we saw in his triumph over Michael Bisping, whatever drugs he’s on have clearly nullified any issues of him slowing down.
Rockhold is the underdog and many have been speculating as to what he could possibly do to pull off an upset. But it seems that the only way he’ll be able to win is if his opponent doesn’t perform to the very best of his ability. Therefore, the real question here shouldn’t revolve around what Rockhold can do to win. It should revolve around how Belfort can screw up to lose.
Belfort shines when he bounces across the cage, circling in and out and all around to prepare a sudden assault of punches or kicks. Rockhold’s best moments involve him just backing guys up against the cage to pick them apart with a variety of strikes or control them in the clinch. Though Belfort is yet to be met with this scenario in this weight class, we know he doesn’t do too well when a taller fighter with a big reach like say, Jon Jones, stalks him up against the cage and picks his shots.
Rockhold hasn’t lost since 2007 but his toughest fight in Strikeforce was against Ronaldo Souza, who was apparently the only opponent of his who didn’t let Rockhold dictate the pace and possessed the ability to move in directions other than backwards or sideways.Souza was also successful with various combinations because he pushed forward and initiated exchanges almost as much as Luke did.
Looks like it’s a lot easier than we thought for Belfort to blow this one. All he has to do is stop moving and make himself a home against the cage.
Rockhold has never been too light on his feet so he won’t try to copy Vitor’s game or lay and pray. He’s going to march forward and try to back Belfort up against the cage to light him up either from inside the clinch or from a distance with his long reach.
Belfort can do one of two things in response. He can either weave and circle his way out of Rockhold’s clutches and take him out of his comfort zone or wait for Rockhold to move in so he can catch him when he leaves his chin exposed. If for some reason Belfort chooses the latter approach and doesn’t commit to punishing Luke every time he advances, Rockhold could experiment with his reach and get Vitor’s timing down. That way, Rockhold could greatly decrease the likelihood of being hit back and even immobilize Belfort up against the cage, sucking out his energy and momentum.
Now, Belfort’s conditioning is very hard to judge because we’ve never seen him go past the second round at this weight. However, Rockhold is well-aware that Vitor is most dangerous in the opening moments of the fight and will do his best to take the fight into the later rounds. The most efficient way to do this will be to avoid Belfort’s explosive bursts and close the distance with the clinch. As previously stated, Vitor’s agility and hand speed should prevent Rockhold from connecting or dictating the pace of the fight. But once again, if Vitor were to ignore his winning strategy and let Rockhold tie him up against the cage for minutes on end, his weapons would be severely compromised and the advantage would go to Rockhold.
Belfort won’t necessarily be in deep waters if the fight goes past the second round. He’ll only be in deep waters if the fight goes past the second round and he spent the first two letting Rockhold invade his space without making him pay for it. This scenario would also cripple Belfort's chances of submitting or sweeping Rockhold should the fight go to the ground in round three. We've never even seen him perform off his back at middleweight but countering Belfort's black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is Rockhold's history of dominating grapplers on the mat after he's made them run from him and struggle for position for a few rounds.
Vitor Belfort best not find himself backing up against the cage at any time in this fight because that’s probably the only situation where Rockhold could out-point him, eclipse his will or even earn the TKO/KO.