Lefko on UFC: The next Phenom?

Vitor Belfort knocked out Luke Rockhold via a spinning heel kick in the main event of UFC on FX Saturday night in Brazil. (AP/Andre Penner)

There’s simply no way to disguise the fact UFC on FX 8: Belfort vs. Rockhold on Saturday is a card that is lacking the wow factor.

Were it not for the main event featuring the indefatigable and ageless Vitor Belfort, who has basically become a staple for UFC cards in the Brazil, this will almost certainly come and pass without anything of significance happening – unless it is viewed upon in later years from a historical perspective.

Surely, this card will produce some stars, potentially ones who will carry the flag of Brazil when their legendary countrymen such as Belfort, Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo have retired.

And who knows when that will happen?

Belfort and Wanderlei Silva simply refuse to stop, both finding ways to keep themselves relevant. Wanderlei Silva’s career appeared to be over when he lost an epic battle against Rich Franklin in the main event of UFC 147 last June, but he pulled one out of his past beating Brian Stann in March in what has arguably been the fight of the year so far in the UFC.

In Saturday’s card, Belfort faces former American Luke Rockhold, the middleweight champion of the now-defunct Strikeforce, making his UFC debut. Rockhold is eight years younger and this could potentially vault him into a future title fight against Anderson Silva, albeit many things have to fall into place. With a win, this fight will keep Belfort in the forefront of title shots – maybe a rematch against Anderson Silva, who beat him more than two years ago with a stunning front face kick – or begins the process towards his eventual path to retirement.

But shouldn’t Belfort and Wanderlei Silva fight at least one more time for old time sakes? It would be a rematch for the ages. They fought on the inaugural UFC Brazil card in 1998 when both were youngsters on the rise. This is the type of fight that would be great for anyone who has followed their careers and certainly could headline a UFC card in Brazil. It was supposed to happen at UFC 147 as part of the conclusion of the inaugural finale of the Ultimate Fighter Brazil, but Belfort had to pull out with a hand injury.

But back to Saturday’s card, which has a co-main event that features another Brazil vs. USA bout, this one featuring Ronaldo (Jacare) Souza, who lost his Strikeforce belt to Rockhold, and Chris Camozzi. Souza is also making his UFC debut, so potentially this is his launching point in his new promotion. Clearly, if the two Brazilians win it could set up a future bout between the two.

Maybe the most intriguing fight, potentially in terms of how it could impact the featherweight division, involves Brazilian Hacran Dias. He is 1-0 in the UFC and 21-1-1 overall, and faces UFC veteran Nik Lentz of the U.S. The bout is positioned as the final one on the preliminary card on FUEL TV (Sportsnet ONE in Canada), and while it might not carry that much star power, the UFC has invested in Dias and this might be his chance to significantly raise his stock. He has a nine-fight win streak going.

This could also be a card in which Brazilian Paulo Thiago, once among the elite in the welterweight division, keeps his job with the UFC with a win or potentially becomes the latest in a long line of cuts with a loss. He has lost his last two and four of his last five. Aside from Belfort, no one on the card has the same type of status in terms of who he has fought, facing many of the elite in his division. Thiago has routinely fought on the main card in his recent history, so this is certainly a wake-up call. His opponent, fellow Brazilian Michel Prazeras, is 16-0 and making his UFC debut. The bout is the third of six on FUEL TV (Sportsnet ONE in Canada). This is the type of bout that history will recall moved forward one fighter’s career and potentially ended the other.

Light heavyweight Fabio Maldonado is in a more precarious situation than Thiago, because he’s lost his last three after previously winning his last 11. This will be his fifth fight for the UFC, and he staved off a possible release from the company following a loss last October to fellow Brazilian Glover Teixeria on the UFC 153 card in Rio de Janeiro. The fight was stopped by the referee after the second round because Maldonado suffered quite a beating, but showed his heart, which earned him an extended stay with the company. In that bout, he fought in the middle of the main card, but the proof of how much his value has been dropped is evidenced by the fact his latest bout is the start of the preliminary card.

Maldonado faces Canadian Roger Hollett, who is fighting for the first time since suffering a torn bicep in training for the UFC on FX 7 card back in January. Hollett lost to Matt Hamill in his last fight in September 2012 at UFC in Toronto.

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