It might seem strange to some that Vitor Belfort vs. Dan Henderson could headline a UFC fight card in 2013. Furthermore, and perhaps even stranger, is that both fighters are still competing at the forefront of the sport and their light heavyweight tilt would serve to impact a divisional title picture.
"The Phenom" has sparked title talk with his red-hot return to 185 pounds after he starched top-ranked contenders Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold in back-to-back showings. That success vaulted the 36-year-old to the front of the pack in the middleweight title hunt and put the former light heavyweight champion back in the pound-for-pound conversation.
The experience has been on the opposite end of the spectrum for Henderson. While the former Olympian was slated for a shot at the 205-pound strap in June 2012, an unfortunate turn of events has the former Pride two-divisional champion on the verge of being pushed off the title radar for the foreseeable future.
A knee injury forced him out of the bout with Jon Jones on the ill-fated card at UFC 151, and back-to-back split-decision losses in his next two showings had the 43-year-old in the most compromised position he's seen in more than a decade.
With their current positions in their respective divisions, a matchup between the two MMA legends seemed a curious pairing on several levels. But with Belfort asking for the fight and Henderson obliging, the two heavy-handed knockout artists agreed to handle their business inside the Octagon.
On Saturday at Fight Night 32 in Goiania, Brazil, they squared off in a rematch seven years in the making. In their first go in 2006, "Hendo" emerged victorious, but history wouldn't repeat itself on Saturday night.
Sticking with the same fashion he's used to flush his past two opponents, Belfort brutalized Henderson with a left kick to the face, which rolled the former title challenger's eyes back and brought an end to the fight.
With the victory, Belfort's case for a title shot is undeniable, and it will be interesting to see how the situation plays out following the upcoming rematch between Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman at UFC 168 on Dec. 28.
In addition to the blistering knockout in the main event, UFC Fight Night 32 had plenty of face-smashing goodness and tapouts to go around. The stoppages were flying fast and furious with only two fights going to the judges' scorecards.
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from UFC Fight Night 32.
Belfort is an absolute nightmare.
While writers—and I'm certainly guilty—are prone to using creative adjectives to describe the intensity of a fighter, there is no hyperbole in the previous statement. It is a simple truth of the times: Belfort is a nightmare who is wrecking shop in the middleweight division.
At 36 years old, the Brazilian knockout artist is writing the best chapter of his storied career. Where his 2013 campaign began with back-to-back highlight-reel head-kick knockouts, it appears the year will end that way as well. The Phenom floored Henderson via foot to the face in the first round of their main event tilt on Saturday night.
While defeating "Hendo" is an accomplishment in itself, laying the former Olympian flat is an entirely different feat. Throughout his 16-year, 39-fight career, no man had finished the former Pride champion with strikes.
Enter his 40th trip to the cage and a date with a resurgent Belfort, who needed less than two minutes to do what no other man has done before. After a brief feeling-out period, Henderson came forward, looking to swarm, but Belfort clipped him with a precise left hand that put him on his back.
Down but never out, the 43-year-old attempted to scramble to his feet while weathering the storm, but just as he returned to the standing position, a Belfort head kick made him take another seat.
The knockout was nasty. It was as crisp as it was violent. And on a more significant level, it was the modus operandi of a fighter who has built a legacy out of using his fists.
While Belfort's victory will further stoke the fires of title talk, the situation is far from being a cut and dry issue. The middleweight strap is tied up with the rivalry between Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva, which will have its second chapter at UFC 168 on Dec. 28.
That said, should Silva reclaim the title he lost back in July, a rubber match between the two top middleweights is a possibility. Then again, if Weidman successfully defends the title he claimed at UFC 162, Belfort would be standing in the next position.
We've already established how terrifying he is at 185 pounds, and it's time to move on.
Brandon Thatch goes by the nickname "Ruckus," and there may not be a more fitting moniker in MMA. The Colorado native came into the UFC with a solid amount of buzz and has lived up to the hype with his performances inside the cage. On Saturday night, he disposed of Paulo Thiago in the first round.
From the opening bell, Thatch swarmed the savvy veteran and kept the pressure on at every turn. After backing Thiago up with a combination, the highly touted prospect hit a devastating step-in knee that dropped the Brazilian to the canvas. Thatch pounced on the finish, and Thiago tapped to avoid taking any more damage.
With back-to-back victories via first-round knockout, Thatch should find himself on the fast track in the welterweight division.
When a fighter drops down a weight class, it is typically a move of desperation. Despite a five-year run in the lightweight division, Jeremy Stephens never gained legitimate traction. In fact, the Iowa native was drastically losing traction and on the verge of possibly losing his job in 2012 when he dropped three consecutive showings.
Those circumstances prompted "Lil Heathen" to try his hand in the featherweight ranks, and the decision has paid off. The 27-year-old was triumphant in his 145-pound debut against Estevan Payan at UFC 160 in May and was looking to take another strong step when he squared off with Rony Jason on Saturday night. And he took a thunderous one at that.
Less than a minute into the opening round, Stephens flushed the Brazilian with a left kick to the head. The impact crumpled Jason to the canvas, and the Team Alliance fighter drove one final smasher home to end the action. In the process, he picked up his second win at 145 pounds and scored a beautifully nasty knockout for his highlight reel.
His epic salting of Rafael dos Anjos via uppercut at UFC 91 in 2008 will remain Stephens' most vicious finish, but his knockout victory over Jason will be right there with it.
The light heavyweight division is one of the most competitive collections in the UFC. This creates an environment where a fighter's relevancy can change on a dime and setbacks of any fashion are costly.
Former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Rafael Cavalcante is familiar with the urgency that comes from being in that position. "Feijao" suffered a brutal knockout at the hands of Thiago Silva in his promotional debut at UFC on Fuel TV 10 in June, which immediately put his back against the wall in the 205-pound ranks.
The Team Black House fighter desperately needed a victory to keep his place in the upper tier of the division, and that is exactly how he fought on Saturday night. The 32-year-old Brazilian came into his bout with Igor Pokrajac full throttle and put the Croatian away.
The victory over Pokrajac was of the much-needed variety and will guarantee Feijao's next opponent comes with a high profile.
When Paulo Thiago stepped onto the UFC stage in 2009, he did so in impressive fashion. In what looked to be an unfortunate draw, the Brazilian faced perennial contender Josh Koscheck at UFC 95 in London, England.
While few gave the Brazilian much of a chance in the fight, he put a jolt through the MMA landscape when he scored a first-round knockout over the former AKA staple. In the aftermath of his victory over Koscheck, the sky appeared to be the limit for Thiago, but those limits have come into focus over the years.
In the past three years, he has gone 2-5, dropping three of his last four. Although the 32-year-old appeared to turn things when he defeated Michel Prazeres at UFC on FX 8 in May, that progress was stopped cold on Saturday night at UFC Fight Night 32.
Brandon Thatch steamrolled the Brazilian special forces officer with a knee in the early going of the fight. While losing to a fighter of Thatch's talent is nothing for Thiago to hang his head about, the perspective of the matchup speaks volumes of where he stands in the divisional picture.
Anytime an established veteran is pitted against a rising prospect, a win will boost the younger talent up the ladder. When the more experienced fighter pulls off the victory, it gets shuffled in the "no harm, no foul" deck. But when a fighter in Thiago's position gets chopped down by a surging up-and-comer, he could lose his place on the roster.
While it was neither technical nor crisp, the roller coaster of a slugfest between Omari Akhmedov and Thiago Perpetuo was entertaining. The two middleweights engaged in a back-and-forth affair, trading momentum over the course of the fight.
Perpetuo rocked the Dagestani twice early but couldn't put the Russian away when he had him hurt. When the Brazilian wobbled Akhmedov a third time, he was determined to capitalize on the situation, but he rushed in with his hands down and was promptly punished for it.
Akhmedov clipped Perpetuo with a hard shot as he came in, which slumped the 26-year-old to the canvas. Before Perpetuo could regain his wits, Akhmedov was there to put the finishing touches on the action. With the victory, the young Russian made a successful UFC debut and kept his undefeated record intact in the process.
Just as Akhmedov and Perpetuo delivered an unexpected gift in their scrap on the preliminary portion of the card, the exact opposite happened in the co-main event at UFC Fight Night 32.
Although the tilt between The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil finalists Cezar Ferreira and Daniel Sarafian looked like fireworks on paper, the bout barely registered a pulse. Their original fight was lost due to Sarafian suffering an injury, and on Saturday night, he finally had his long-awaited chance to prove he should have won the inaugural TUF title in Brazil.
When the action got under way, Sarafian looked eager to settle the score with Ferreira, but that intensity wilted under the pressure of Ferreira's wrestling. "Mutante" showed his work with Coach Kenny Monday in South Florida has been paying off, as he repeatedly put Sarafian on the canvas and kept him there. The result was a split-decision victory.
While victory is ultimately the most important, on a night when the finishes came in large supply, it was strange to see this particular matchup unfold the way it did.
Anytime the action takes place in Brazil, it makes sense to examine how the foreign competition stacked up against the Brazilian fighters waging war on their native soil. While past cards have seen the Brazilian fighters claim victory at a high percentage, UFC Fight Night 32 was a night of a different flavor.
In the 10 bouts that pitted foreign-born fighters against Brazilians, the incoming competition found victory in six of the affairs. While that number isn't a landslide by any means, it represents a change of pace from how non-Brazilian fighters have fared on past cards. As a result, it deserves entry into the strange category.
Sneaking in with a bonus entry, 10 of the 12 bouts ended in some form of finish. While this isn't necessarily strange, it is absolutely awesome and deserves to be celebrated.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.
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