BELFORT CONTINUES MIDDLEWEIGHT RUN

There is no doubt that Vitor Belfort is at his very best when he competes south of the light heavyweight division. His second-round knockout win over Michael Bisping was his sixth win in seven fights contested at 197 pounds or less, including three straight. All six of those wins ended inside the distance.

What is unique about Belfortís run is he appears to be getting better each time outóthe loss to Anderson Silva being the lone exception. He no longer relies solely on his fists, something that has hindered him for long stretches of his 16-plus-year professional career.

Belfort unveiled kickboxing skills on Saturday night that we havenít really seen since his razor-close loss to Chuck Liddell a decade ago. He used a devastating kick to the body to disguise a high kick that ended the fight. I donít know if that was part of his game plan coming into the fight, something that he noticed on the fly or just an instinctive series of moves. Whatever the case, it was the difference maker in the fight.

Belfortís kickboxing display was fresh off of back-to-back fights where he relied heavily on his offensive ground game, something that he has all but ignored in his UFC career. He hurt the ultra-talented Anthony Johnson with his fists and then chose to take the fight to the ground and win by choke, rather than continuing to hammer away with his fists. He also continually pulled guard against Jon Jones with the hope of catching a submission, something that just about happened, since he knew that the light heavyweight championís length was too much to contend with on the feet.

Belfortís willingness to evolve his approach makes him far more dangerous than days of old when he relied solely on his boxing. If he keeps that up, his desire for a championship rematch may happen sooner rather than later.

CALLING OUT JONES IS A CURIOUS CHOICE

Speaking of rematches, I was shocked when I heard Belfort ask for another shot at 205-pound champion Jon Jones, rather than a rematch with 185-pound champion Anderson Silva. Iím not sure what to make of that request.

Belfort obviously fared better against Jones. He came within inches of winning the fight with a surprise first-round armbar. Other than that moment, he was dominated by a guy who many believe will ultimately shatter all championship records.

By contrast, he was doing just fine against Silva until a highlight-reel front kick crumbled him to the canvas. It was a sudden, violent end to the fight. But the outcome didnít feel as dominant to me as the masterpiece that Jones unveiled.

Does Belfort want to face Jones because he came closer to victory? Does he prefer to fight at light heavy? Or was there something about the Silva fight that makes Belfort think twice about a rematch?

The last of those questions is the one I doubt the most. Belfort has proven that he will fight anyone on the drop of a hat. There is no way that he fears a rematch with Silvaónone whatsoever.

I think he stands a better chance at upsetting Silva than he does upsetting Jones. Simply put, Jonesí stylistic approach and skills present a bigger mountain to climb for Belfort. That isnít to suggest that Jones is better than Silva. Styles make fights.

BISPING RETURNS TO THE MIDDLE OF THE PACK

Michael Bisping has competed in three title elimination bouts, with Saturday being the most recent. He is now 0-3 in those fights.

For the record, I remain firmly convinced that he beat Chael Sonnen back on January 28, 2012. Nobody can change my mind. But that doesnít change the fact that the fight will forever go down as a loss, and it prevented him from facing Silva for the title.

Remove those three fights from his resume and Bisping is 9-1 in the UFC middleweight division. His lone loss was via decision to Wanderlei Silva in a fight he was winning until getting rocked late by one of the Brazilianís wild haymakers.

Bisping has to be looking in the mirror and asking ďwhy me?Ē He is only a couple of fights away from breaking the record for most fights in the UFC without a title shot. That is a dubious distinction. On the one hand, it means he has been extremely good for quite a long time. On the other hand, quite good isnít good enough.

That has to be frustrating. There is no need to mince words.

With two losses in his last three fights, something tells me that Bisping is now in the middle of the 185-pound pack.

GONZAGA QUIETLY PUTTING A NICE RUN TOGETHER

Iím sure Gabriel Gonzaga wants to forget 2009 and 2010. He lost three of his four UFC fights during that 24-month period and found himself out of a job.

Just over two years later, Gonzaga is now 3-0 since the calendar flipped to 2011. Each of those wins occurred by some form of choke.

Gonzagaís run of success has definitely made him relevant in the heavyweight division. No, he has not yet performed well enough to be considered a title contender. Guys like Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos, Fabricio Werdum, Daniel Cormier, Frank Mir, and Antonio Rodrigo ďMinotauroĒ Nogueira are clearly in that category above Gonzaga. But I think he has done enough to justify a bout against one of those guys in an attempt to join that elite club.

I GUESS I NEED TO LEARN HOW TO SPELL THIS GUYíS NAME

Iíll be honest. I have no idea how to spell Khabib Abdulmanapovich Nurmagomedov. I had to use the ďcut and pasteĒ function in order to put those words on the screen. I tried to spell it from memory. Twice, in fact. But I got it wrong both times.

After watching him destroy Thiago Tavares with a ridiculously show-stopping attack, I have a feeling that Iím going to need to get very comfortable with the spelling of his name because this kid isnít going anywhere any time soon.

Nurmagomedov has the potential to be a great. His wrestling, physical strength, deep gas tank and show-stopping punching power present a tough puzzle for any lightweight to solve. Plus, at 24 years old, he is just a baby in the sport. If he keeps working hard to improve and round out his game, the sky is the limit for this guy.



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