At its best, sports isn't just a series of disposable moments. Its images stay with us through time, its memories mark specific moments of our lives. Some of the most indelible images of sport are when an against-all-odds underdog captures victory. That was nearly the scene at last Saturday night's UFC 152. When Vitor Belfort latched on to Jon Jones' arm early in the first round of their title bout, the crowd exploded in anticipation of a historic upset.
Just a little more pressure might have broken Jones' arm. An opponent with less steel in his nerves would have surrendered. Neither possibility transpired. It turned out that was Belfort's best opportunity as he eventually succumbed to a keylock submission.
Jones has been the subject of so much scrutiny over the last few months that he seems to swallow anything within his vortex. He has that kind of personality and that kind of presence. But even in defeat, Belfort deserves more credit than he has been given. Despite only one month of training, Belfort was able to take Jones into the fourth round. And even after suffering a knockdown in the third, he soldiered on.
Professional athletics isn't a place where simple effort is overly valued. It is to be expected, because, after all, they are professionals. But with little preparation and at a size disadvantage, Belfort delivered the challenge he promised.
On to the picks ...
I'm not going to pretend to know whether Jones' gutsiness in gritting his way out of Belfort's arm bar will begin to win over the fans he either lost over the last few months or never had. In Toronto, he was clearly not the fan favorite. He received a mixed reception when he walked to the cage, and fans began several "Belfort" chants during the bout. He did, however, receive a star reaction upon his win. It seems that even those who don't like Jones can put aside their feelings when he performs well, and that begrudging respect is better than nothing. It is difficult to predict Jones' next challenge without knowing the extent of his injuries, which won't be known for at least another few days.
Prediction: He faces Dan Henderson
"The Phenom" was asked after the fight if he would be interested at staying at 205 or was going to return to his normal weight class of 185. Belfort didn't specifically say he was heading back to middleweight, but there doesn't seem to be any real reason for him to compete at the higher weight class against bigger guys. I like the idea of a Belfort fight against Hector Lombard, but since the Cuban is already booked for a December fight, let's look elsewhere.
Prediction: He faces Brian Stann
It's almost a shame that with all the focus on Jones and Belfort, Johnson didn't get the attention he deserved for becoming the UFC's first-ever flyweight champion. Worse, the fight wasn't appreciated because of criticisms that the two were tentative to engage. According to FightMetric, Johnson landed 96 strikes, which isn't a spectacularly high number for a division known for tremendous output, but he made his opponent miss a staggering 206 times. So it's not that they weren't engaging so much as he was forcing whiffs. Johnson is never going to be a power puncher, but his ability to switch from offense to defense is still something to appreciate.
Prediction: He faces the winner of October's John Dodson vs. Jussier da Silva fight
I've rarely seen someone so shell-shocked after defeat as Benavidez was on Saturday night. He came to the press conference and sat on the stage, but you could tell his thoughts were 1 million miles away, flummoxed by what had just happened. The good news for him is that he's in a division that is of now fairly thin, and he is still one of its best. A couple more wins and he'll be fighting for gold again.
Prediction: A fight against Ian McCall just seems to make sense.
"The Count" wants Anderson Silva, and UFC president Dana White said the possibility is "interesting" following Bisping's win against Brian Stann. So, basically, Bisping is "in the mix," in UFC parlance. But as we know, that's no guarantee of anything. So I'm guessing that Bisping might be a backup plan if the proposed Silva vs. Georges St-Pierre superfight doesn't happen. Other than that, one straight win shouldn't get you a title shot.
Prediction: He faces Mark Munoz
Swanson suddenly seems to have found his stride, winning three straight fights after an inconsistent stretch. Swanson is one of the rare featherweights who brings with him one-punch knockout power, and that will certainly elevate him faster than a few grind-'em-out decision wins. Because he has a past with Jose Aldo, a rematch might make sense somewhere down the road, but first he needs a win over a top five opponent.
Prediction: He faces Chad Mendes
It was a triumphant return to the octagon for the onetime Ultimate Fighter finalist, who brings a peerless jiu-jitsu pedigree into the UFC's light-heavyweight division. Not surprisingly, his finish against Igor Pokrajac came via submission. Magalhaes will soon be faced with a situation where he struggles to take the fight down, and then we'll see just how much he's progressed. But until then, it's going to be fun to watch his jiu-jitsu.
Prediction: He faces Ryan Jimmo