If Michael Bisping is ever going to earn the status in the sport and accomplish the things he set out to do, Saturday is a must. There is no other chance than this one. Every UFC fighter says each of their UFC fights is important, but that's not often true. In the case of Bisping, there's no argument to the contrary.
As for Belfort, a win doesn't put him back in front of Anderson Silva just yet, but it does prove he's still a force to be reckoned with at middleweight. With no clear front runner at the moment, a win for Belfort helps change that debate.
Will Bisping achieve everything that's eluded him with a win on Saturday? Will Belfort remind everyone he's still one of middleweight's finest fighters? I answer these questions and more with predictions for Saturday's fights.
What: UFC on FX7: Belfort vs. Bisping
Where: Ibirapuera Arena, Sao Paolo, Brazil
When: Saturday, the one-fight Facebook card starts at 5:30 p.m. ET, the six-fight FUEL TV card kicks off at 6 p.m. ET and the four-fight FX fights start at 9 p.m. ET.
Predictions for the four main card fights airing Friday on FX are below.
What's incredible about this main card is just how competitive all of these fights are, at least from a betting odds perspective. Sure, one punch in this fight or the next could end the show early, but on paper these are all really close contests.
In any case, this is a tough call. Is Vitor Belfort's good hand speed and clear knockout power going to catch Bisping early and end the show? Or is Bisping going to survive an early storm to survive, relying on his more diverse offense? The answer isn't so obvious.
I'm going with the Brit. Obviously I have to grant that if he gets blasted to smithereens in the first round, it will come as positively zero surprise. But if they fought ten times, I'd favor Bisping to win more of them. Between his improved (if still slightly problematic) stand-up to his vastly improved wrestling plus his enduring gas tank, Bisping has the tools to take this one more often than not. A pressure game will break just about any fighter and if Bisping is good at anything, it's turning a simmer to a boil in a long fight. That's always been an issue Belfort has struggled with.
Ben Rothwell vs. Gabriel Gonzaga
This is a pick 'em fight if there ever was one. Two fighters of considerable might, but possessing considerable issues. Both are likely on the last legs of their heavyweight careers (Gonzaga once announced his retirement, while Rothwell was on the verge of quitting had he not defeated Brendan Schaub). These two are roughly equivalent strikers with Rothwell being the more aggressive of the two. Gonzaga is the better takedown artist and easily the better pure grappler. So which way does this shake out? I'm going to learn Rothwell even if I worry about him losing this fight on the mat. Fortune favors the bold, and when a fight is this close the one who usually wins is the one with the proactive offense. More often than not, that's Rothwell.
Sarafian has a pretty sizable upside. Dollaway, at this point, does not (certainly not to the same extent). On those grounds alone, one suspects this bout was booked as more of a test for Sarafian than anything else. And when I say 'test', I mean one he should pass. I don't see Dollaway's wrestling being a continual threat to Sarafian's offense. He'll figure out a way to get it done.
I like the Russian here pretty cleanly. If Kamal Shalorus and Gleison Tibau can't use enough wrestling to keep him pinned to the floor, Tavares doesn't stand much of a chance. I also suspect standing Tavares' over aggression will get the best of him against a guy who is hard to hit and can counterstrike.