Following a month of controversy surrounding the cancellation of UFC 151 in Las Vegas, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will return to Toronto with a pair of championship fights on Saturday’s 12-fight card at Air Canada Centre.
Jon ‘Bones’ Jones (16-1 MMA, 10-1 UFC) will put his light heavyweight belt on the line against mixed martial arts legend, Vitor ‘The Phenom’ Belfort, in the main event, while Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson will collide to determine the organization’s inaugural flyweight champion.
As of Friday, most betting shops had Jones installed as an enormous minus-900 favorite with Belfort available as a 6/1 underdog (risk $100 to win $600).
Jones was slated to face another legend in Dan Henderson at UFC 151, but ‘Hendo’ had to pull out 10 days in advance due to a knee injury. With the promotion left scrambling, former No. 1 middleweight contender Chael Sonnen was the only one willing to fight Jones on such short notice.
However, after meeting with his team, including mercurial trainer Greg Jackson, Jones turned down the fight against Sonnen, who had been chirping at Jones for weeks but had not been training since his loss to Anderson Silva for the 185-pound strap.
This turn of events led to the unprecedented cancellation of the entire 151 show, prompting a firestorm of criticism directed at Jones from Dana White, Sonnen, other fighters, media and fans.
On the same day White teed up Jones verbally while announcing the sobering news, he also scheduled Jones to meet No. 1 contender Lyoto ‘The Dragon’ Machida in the UFC 152 main event. Jones was assuming Machida would take the fight, although he was unreachable in the jungle of Brazil.
When Machida’s manager Ed Soares finally got in touch with Machida, the karate specialist turned down the title shot, claiming four weeks wasn’t enough time to prep for the current 205-pound kingpin. Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua refused the fight as well.
At this point, one can only imagine the plethora of F-Bombs leaping from White’s mouth. Alas, Belfort came to the rescue, texting Zuffa czar Lorenzo Fertitta that he’d love a chance to face Jones. And finally, after 24 of the most tumultuous hours in UFC history, we had a main event for the Toronto show.
Jones has breezed through every foe in 11 Octagon appearances. The lone blemish on his resume is a ‘loss’ to Matt Hamill for throwing illegal 12-to-6 elbows, but that was another fight that was total domination.
Jones won the belt on March 19 of 2011, bludgeoning Rua in a surgical shellacking that ended at the 3:27 mark of the third round. In his first title defense, Jones submitted former champ Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson in the fourth round at UFC 135.
Next, Jones beat Machida, another former champ, with a standing guillotine in the second round. We should note, however, that Machida gave Jones some trouble in the first round and won the stanza on my card thanks to several significant strikes that backed up Jones and certainly garnered his attention.
In his last outing, Jones dominated former training partner Rashad Evans in a unanimous-decision victory at UFC 145 in Atlanta.
Belfort (21-9 MMA, 10-5 UFC) made his UFC debut way back at UFC 12 in Dothan, Alabama, on Feb. 7 of 1997. He has wins over the likes of Tank Abbott, Wanderlei Silva, Randy Couture and Rich Franklin.
Belfort has won three of four fights since returning to the organization at middleweight, including a pair of KO of the Night performances. His only loss came to Anderson Silva at UFC 126.
The vicious striker who also owns a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu will be fighting at 205 for the first time since 2007, but Belfort won the UFC heavyweight belt in ’97 and beat Couture for the light-heavyweight strap at UFC 46 in ’04.
Prediction: For several years now, I’ve been saying that the only thing that’ll stop Jones will be injuries and/or success going to his head. Are we starting to see the latter? He totaled his Bentley and pleaded guilty to DWI after wrecking his car into a pole at 5:00 a.m. with two women (not his fiancée and mother of his two kids) back in May. Jones recently signed a huge contract with Nike and has alienated many of his peers with diva-like behavior. With that said, there’s no way I’m picking against Jones until I see someone handle his unfathomable length (84-inch reach). Belfort’s powerful striking gives him a puncher’s chance, but I’ll be stunned if he unseats Jones as the light-heavyweight champ.
In the co-main event, Benavidez (16-2 MMA, 3-0 UFC) is an expensive minus-280 favorite over Johnson, who is plus-230 on the comeback (risk $100 to win $230).
Benavidez has beaten Ian Loveland, Eddie Wineland and Yasuhiro Urishitani in the Octagon. Both of his career losses came in the WEC against current bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz.
Johnson (15-2-1 MMA, 3-1-1 UFC) is most likely the fastest fighter in the UFC. He beat Ian McCall by unanimous decision to garner this shot at the belt.
Prediction: I give the edge to Benavidez but from a gambling standpoint, I don’t think he should be favored by this much. I’m ok with a small play on Johnson as the generous ‘dog.
In the middleweight division, Michael ‘The Count’ Bisping and Brian Stann will collide in a bout that has Fight of the Night written all over it. Most spots have Bisping listed as a minus-190 favorite with Stann installed as the plus-160 ‘dog.
Bisping (22-4 MMA, 12-4 UFC) is coming off a controversial loss to Chael Sonnen by unanimous decision in a fight many think the Brit won. He had won four in a row before the loss to Sonnen.
The Ultimate Fighter Season 3 winner has victories over the likes of Chris Leben, Matt Hamill, Jorge Rivera, ‘Sexyama’ and Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller. Bisping’s only career defeats have come against three former champs (‘Hendo,’ Rashad Evans and Wanderlei Silva) and Sonnen, who has twice fought for the middleweight title.
Stann (12-4 MMA, 6-3 UFC) has won four of five fights since dropping down to the 185-pound loop. He’s coming off a devastating KO win over Alessio Sakara. His only loss at middleweight came to Sonnen at UFC 136.
Prediction: Bisping is in the prime of his career and is a better overall fighter than Stann at this point. However, we know Stann has the one-punch KO power to beat anyone in this division. With all that said, I have to go with Bisping in a fight that’ll catapult the winner into title contention.
Brian Edwards can be reached at email@example.com.
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