Here we go again. Jon “Bones” Jones is back in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons; the UFC’s top attraction turned himself in to Albuquerque police after a hit-and-run incident over the weekend – we won’t go into the details here, but Jones doesn’t come off looking very good. As we go to press, his main event with Anthony “Rumble” Johnson at next month’s UFC 187 is still a go, but who knows how this will all pan out.
Good thing there’s another title match on the card. In the co-main event, Chris Weidman is scheduled to defend his Middleweight title against Vitor Belfort, the former Light Heavyweight champion. Belfort is coming off three straight victories, earning Knockout of the Night honors in all three. But he hasn’t been in the Octagon since 2013, and is a +325 underdog on the UFC odds board as we go to press.
We’ve been burned betting against Weidman before. In his previous fight against Lyoto Machida, we figured there was some value in Machida at +200, and his UFC odds did indeed tighten up to +146 by the time they touched gloves last July. This turned out to be the Fight of the Year for 2014, but Weidman had the upper hand for the most part and won by unanimous decision.
That result should put to rest any concerns over Weidman’s true level in the Octagon. He famously won and defended the title against Anderson Silva in 2013, but Silva cost himself the title by showboating in their first fight, then suffered a broken leg in the rematch. That’s water under the bridge now. Weidman is the No. 3-ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the world at Sherdog, bringing the complete package of striking and grappling along with his perfect 12-0 UFC record. He’s all that and a bag of chips.
Unfortunately, we haven’t seen Weidman in action since that win over Machida. He was supposed to fight Belfort (24-10 lifetime) last year at UFC 173, and opened as the –200 favorite, but Belfort pulled out. They tried again for UFC 181 last December, only to have Weidman suffer a broken hand in training. There could be some ring rust when the champ finally steps back into the Octagon.
Of course, it’s Belfort who brings more question marks into this matchup. The reason he pulled out of the Weidman fight the first time was the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s decision to stop handing out exemptions for testosterone replacement therapy. That was two years ago; Belfort is 38 now, and his UFC odds are dropping just like his hormone levels.
The Brazilian veteran needs all the help he can get. Not only is Weidman in the full flush of his prime at age 30, he’s also two inches taller than Belfort with a four-inch reach advantage. In theory, Belfort can minimize those advantages by taking this fight to the ground; he’s a black belt in both Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo, and he beat the aforementioned Johnson (+125) by rear-naked choke back in 2012.
But good luck getting Weidman to the canvas in the first place. He’s stuffed every single takedown anyone’s tried on him, and even if Belfort did manage to pull it off, Weidman’s grappling skills are beyond reproach. If anything, we can expect the champion to put Belfort on his back. Weidman attempts 3.69 takedowns per 15 minutes and scores on 57 percent of them. Once things get horizontal, Weidman’s All-American wrestling and his added jiu-jitsu skills should at least keep him safe from harm. We’ve got no problem adding Weidman to our UFC picks for this card, even with the chalk.
Free UFC Pick: Take Weidman at 5Dimes