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Vitor Belfort (21-10) has never won a fight in a UFC cage that went to the second round, but he has stopped 15 men over the course of his career in the first round. His opponent on Saturday night in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Michael Bisping (23-4), has never lost a fight in the first round. The five-round main event headlines an event that airs live on FX.
Bisping has also won 10 times in his 14 UFC fights that have entered the second round, and of his four losses, three were relatively close decisions. Bisping has only been stopped once that being one of the more famous knockouts in UFC history against Dan Henderson at UFC 100.
The stats tell you that Belfort has to knock out a guy who is very durable, and do it early.
Chael Sonnen, who beat Bisping in one of those close decisions, seems to share the viewpoint of the statistics. He acknowledges that Belfort is scary early, absolutely can win, but the longer the fight goes, the better Bisping's chances are. And if he does win, Bisping will likely get the next middleweight title shot at Anderson Silva.
"It comes down to this, I know I would beat the hell out of Vitor Belfort, and Bisping gave me one of the hardest fights on my life," said Sonnen. "So it follows Bisping will beat Belfort."
But he's not counting out the early knockout as the X factor in this fight.
"Vitor should come out like he always does, trying to end the fight right away," Sonnen said. "He can do that. He can finish Bisping early. There's no point in trying to save his energy for the later rounds because, no matter how hard he's trained for this fight, Bisping will always have more in the tank from the second round. Belfort should just do what he does, go for the win in the first three minutes.
"If Bisping gets to the third round, Vitor is in for a very painful experience. Bisping just doesn't get tired. Believe me, I know. And this is a five-round fight. Bisping can win this in the third or fourth round."
He also feels it is to Bisping's advantage to focus on disliking Belfort.
"I tease and make fun of Vitor a lot, because someone needs to point out what a fraud and a phony this guy is, but everyone knows he's one of the most dangerous fighters in the world.
"Vitor is a faker, he pretends to be someone he isn't. Bisping fights off hating the other guy, and he's clearly developing dislike for Vitor. He needs to keep that up, because that's when he fights at his best."
Sonnen concedes for Bisping, there is going to be a period where he is very uncomfortable in this fight he's going to have to get past.
"Everyone has the same game plan against Belfort: Get out of the first five minute when he's one of the most dangerous strikers to ever enter the Octagon," said Sonnen. "There will be three or four minutes in the fight where it will be very uncomfortable for Bisping. He has to fire back, be smart, and start to take the fight back off Belfort. Mike always fires back when he's been hit, which will make for an exciting fight for the fans. It is all there for him. He has more kickboxing techniques than Vitor and can avoid the worst of Vitor's big shots. Mike isn't faster than Belfort, and Mike is faster than most fighters in the division, but he can slip and move very well and hit on the counter very well."
Still, Belfort is likely to be the favorite, since he's not facing another Brazilian.
"Booing isn't going to intimidate Bisping," noted Sonnen, since Bisping has heard more boos during his career than almost any fighter in UFC history. "He's heard it before and dealt with it. The crowd won't affect the fight, partly because neither fighter is from Brazil (Belfort was born and grew up in Rio de Janeiro). I'm in Las Vegas right now, and I can see Vitor Belfort's house from my hotel room window. He hasn't lived within 6,000 miles of Brazil in years. I'm not sure anyone in Brazil cares about him anymore. He's not from Brazil, he's from the U.S."
Where Sonnen goes against the grain is that he also feels Bisping can follow it up with a win over Silva.
"I really want to see Bisping win this fight and get his title shot. He deserves it. It is long overdue. Bisping has a big heart, he always comes to fight hard, he never backs down and he never quits. I know he can beat Anderson Silva and be the middleweight champion. There's no question in my mind Bisping can beat Anderson."