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For the next installment of "Dropping Knowledge," Jon Anik puts his play-by-play duties on hold to chop up the action for Fight Night 32. The event will once again take him to the chaos that is a Brazilian fight card, as the passionate fanbase has quickly created one of the most unique environments in all of combat sports.
Since joining the UFC fold in late 2011, Anik has been working a hectic schedule that has taken him around the globe and back. From hosting UFC Ultimate Insider to calling the action for cards on Fox Sports 1 and 2, the Massachusetts native certainly keeps himself busy.
Anik stopped by Bleacher Report to break down the Saturday's event and this is what transpired.
Let's get started with the main event between Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson. It is an interesting situation because they are both currently at different places in their careers. Belfort is sitting on the doorstep of a title shot at middleweight with back-to-back wins, and "Hendo" has fallen out of contention at light heavyweight with back-to-back losses. Do you agree this is a unique scenario for both men on Saturday night?
There are definitely a lot of unique angles to this fight. It's unique in the fact it is taking place in the light heavyweight division instead of at 185-pounds, which might have some implications depending on the result. But I really believe Vitor Belfort—dating back to the Anderson Silva loss—has been one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the game. I don't think he gets the respect he deserves for this recent run and for how close to a prime Vitor Belfort he looks at 37-years-old. I think entirely too much is made of his usage of TRT and him fighting in Brazil.
He fights in Brazil because he's a massive star over there and does massive television numbers. I feel like Vitor, in his current form, could beat most fighters in the world if he had to on Saturday night. I'm excited to see what he can do here against a highly motivated Dan Henderson, who despite being 6-4 in the UFC, has truly had a good run in the Octagon. I think "Hendo" will re-sign with the UFC no matter what happens against Belfort, but talk about an opportunity here to knock Belfort off of that perch and thrust himself into at least some form of contender conversation.
I spoke to Vitor recently, and he was very proud of the fact he's still at the forefront of the sport despite his age and nearly two decades worth of experience inside the cage. You brought up a great point with him being one of the pound-for-pound best currently fighting, but that is not something we hear talked about all too much. Do you think it has to do with the TRT issue and that is the reason he doesn't get as much credit for this resurgence he's made?
I think that's a part of it. I also think that even though he came relatively close to finishing Jon Jones and gave him a competitive fight, he's still 2-1 in his last three. Anytime you have a setback I think that gives people an opening. But I just think it's the fashion he's been taking out guys. The finishes in recent memory against [Michael] Bisping and [Luke] Rockhold stand out, but even his win over Anthony Johnson was of a very high quality. He faced some adversity in that fight and still found a way to win. When you include his fights against Rich Franklin and Yoshihiro Akiyama, it's clear he's really disposing of guys properly.
In a sport that rewards finishing, he's doing it with a lot of pressure. He was an underdog in Brazil against Luke Rockhold—which many people probably didn't realize—and finished him with as many style points as a fighter can possibly get. Part of the reason too, is this fight taking place up a division. If you are trying to place Belfort, that is another variable. As far as I'm concerned, and with all due respect to what is happening on Dec. 28, he is the number one guy outside of Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva.
Let's talk about the stylistic matchup for a moment. I know it's easy to say things will fall back on Henderson's "H-Bomb" and Vitor's boxing, but Belfort has been showing some pretty crafty new additions to his game as of late, and you'd have to think Henderson isn't going to rely solely on that brick of a right hand. What is your take on the stylistic matchup in the main event?
Chael Sonnen said while we were in Manchester that he hadn't trained with Dan since the first Vitor fight, but really feels like Henderson is in outstanding shape. I don't know if that is hyperbole, or what you make of that, but I think "Hendo" has to be in tremendous shape right now. I believe Vitor can go 15-minutes hard right now, and there just seems to be a rejuvenation of Belfort as a fighter.
The first round and the pace of this fight is going to be very telling. And I think Vitor is going to be the guy who sets that pace. But Henderson is a guy who you doubt at your own peril. If he's going to be knocked out at any time during his MMA career, I believe Belfort is the guy who has the best chance to do that given his current form. That said, anytime I've questioned Dan Henderson's ability to come through as an underdog, he has muted me very quickly.
He only has to hit you once but I don't think this is the type of affair Henderson can try to extend. He needs to pursue the finish from the get go because I think the later rounds will favor the younger, fresher fighter.
In co-main event action, Cezar Ferreira and Daniel Sarafian are finally getting the chance to throw down. They are both exciting Brazilian prospects who have the potential to become stars in the UFC. This matchup has the feel one fighter will go up to the next level of recognition and the other will be pushed back to develop their skills for a bit longer. Do you agree this fight has that kind of feel to it?
As happy as I am this fight is finally taking place because it's long overdue, it is a little bit disappointing one of these guys is going to take a loss. I really do think we have two stars here, and I'm not just saying that because the UFC cuts my check. They both just love the game.
Sarafian is more than willing to trade in the pocket and either knock someone out or get knocked out himself. He's always looking for that Fight of the Night bonus and has had very few bad moments during his time in the UFC. He lost the fight against C.B. Dolloway but it wasn't a terrible performance. Had he done a bit more, he probably could have taken that fight in my opinion.
Ferreira is absolutely explosive and is very much cut from the same cloth as Vitor Belfort. He is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu but doesn't necessarily lean on that weapon. Both guys can really do it all. Sarafian is a an interesting case because he's fighting at middleweight and a lot of people are pining for him to go down to 170-pounds, but he's thick as hell, and I'm not even sure that is where he belongs. I like that he doesn't have to cut a ton of weight and he's used to being at a size disadvantage, which he'll be at against Ferreira.
It's really an interesting fight and the closest fight on the main card according to Las Vegas (oddsmakers), which is always a lens in which I'm looking at these things through. It is going to be a very competitive co-main event and a nice showcase for two budding Brazilian prospects.
While Ferreira vs. Sarafian has the feel of two fighters on their way up the ladder, a fight with the opposite feel will take place between Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante and Igor Pokrajac. With how competitive the UFC ranks are at the current time, is this a definite "must win" situation for the competitors in this fight?
I think it is. You won't necessarily hear me use that language on the broadcast, but I do think this fight is absolutely crucial for these guys. They are both of the mindset a loss could spell the end of their UFC careers. For "Feijao," I wonder what the desire is at this point. He has tasted gold in a major promotion but looked really flat in his UFC debut. I think he needed to get into really good shape for this fight and try to outlast Pokrajac, because Pokrajac hasn't historically been a guy who is easy to put away. You really have to beat him up to get him out of there. And "Feijao" needs to not be soft and be in the shape where he's able to do that.
As far as the Croatian goes, he hasn't had a UFC win in a decent amount of time. That will always make a fighter wonder if this is their last UFC fight and hopefully he brings that type of desperation into his fight in Brazil.
Let's jump down in featherweight action for the bout between Ronny Jason and Jeremy Stephens. Jason has looked absolutely lights out in his UFC time and Stephens looks well on his way to a career rejuvenation at 145-pounds. What do you think of this matchup?
I always get excited for these cards as we prep and get closer to the event, but this main card on Fox Sports 1 is really strong, and this is the fight that will kick things off. Jeremy Stephens is 27-years-old with seven years in the UFC. I'm never a huge advocate of guys dropping in weight because it happens with more frequency than I would like, but I think this is a good fit for him. I also think this fight is a great test for him. He's coming in as the underdog in Brazil against a guy who has continued to raise his stock since coming off The Ultimate Fighter.
There is nothing Jason has done in his UFC stint to lessen his profile. He hasn't shown any glaring weaknesses. He's won six fights in the UFC, three of which were exhibitions and technically don't count, but he's proven the ability to beat you in many different ways. He's really well to being under the pressure and the spotlight of competing in Brazil. But he has to be careful with Jeremy Stephens, who did everything to get Estevan Payan in his featherweight debut, but Payan hung tough.
The pendulum in this fight swings for me on experience. Stephens has seven years in the UFC, so I don't expect him to be phased by this atmosphere and hopefully the judges won't be needed.
Much like many of the Brazilian-based cards in the past few years, Fight Night 32 will feature a good number Americans or foreigners coming in to face Brazilian competition. The winning percentage for Brazilians in these situations is staggering, and are you surprised non-Brazilian fighters have continued to take these fights in such a hostile and unfavorable environment?
In this day and age the UFC roster is bloated and fighters need to take fights as they come in. Fewer and fewer fighters are in a position to turn down fights. If I could change one thing about judging in MMA, it would be the judges have some type of noise cancelling device, and not be able to hear the crowd at all. Even if that meant they were in a back room watching on monitors, the ability to eliminate that sound, I believe would make a difference in judging.
It's hard not to be impressionable. Any time a head kick is thrown in a home environment, whether it lands or not, the crowd reacts. That is hard for judges—and I guess to a lesser extent broadcasters—to just ignore that. I do think there is an emphasis for the Americans to finish fights when competing in Brazil. But I really think it's more about crowd noise than anything else. I don't know that the judges have necessarily been as bad as maybe the results would indicate.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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