UFC 152 Judo Chop: The Strengths of Vitor Belfort

Yesterday I released my "Weaknesses of Vitor Belfort" piece and it was very well received in most corners of the internet, now in the…

By: Jack Slack | 11 years ago
UFC 152 Judo Chop: The Strengths of Vitor Belfort
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Yesterday I released my “Weaknesses of Vitor Belfort” piece and it was very well received in most corners of the internet, now in the interest of fairness I want to look at some of the things that Vitor Belfort does so well and which make him such a dangerous opponent to just about anyone. Let’s be honest – on paper Vitor Belfort is a gift fight for Jon Jones, stepping up from middleweight to fight the champion of the light heavyweight division which Belfort hasn’t fought in since 2007 and hasn’t been a great force in since Kazushi Sakuraba bested him in PRIDE.

Vitor Belfort has the one skill you want as a massive underdog taking a title fight on short notice though – heavy hands. That and a combination of other unique factors make Vitor a one of a kind opponent whom Jon Jones shall have to mind his Ps and Qs against religiously.

In today’s Judo Chop we’ll look at Vitor Belfort’s:

– Rapid Power Punches

– Unique Punching Range

– Ability to Cover Distance

– New Additions

Rapid Power Punches

It barely needs to be said because it is commented on in every single one of his fights, but Vitor Belfort has some of the fastest hands in MMA. It is not simply that his hands are fast – his entire body is fast. Where a man like Frankie Edgar can get off a four punch combination very rapidly on his opponents such as Sean Sherk, none of the punches has his weight behind it. When Vitor Belfort punches he does so with his legs and hips, not just from his shoulders and elbows. The rapidity of Belfort’s power punches is commented on so much because it is such a unique skill to train for; it is very hard to find men at 185 lbs, and particularly at 205 lbs who can emulate the flurries of Belfort. For much of his career Vitor was so confident in his hands speed that he simply threw straight left – straight right alternately in answer to everything his opponent attempted to do. (G) (G)

Over the years Vitor has added to his arsenal but the left straight has remained his main weapon at range. There was never much secret to landing it – he would normally just circle for a while and then throw it, allowing his speed to do all the work. Though Vitor only slowed down slightly, the standard of striking in MMA increased over the years and Vitor had to find other ways to land it. Where initially he would land it off the bat as men like Scott Ferrozo and Tank Abbott lumbered after him, Vitor began to throw the left straight as a counter – as against Chuck Liddell – after leaning away from his opponent’s strikes.

Notice that Vitor sways away from Liddell’s punch and as Liddell drops the hand he has thrown Belfort flashes a jab to obscure Liddell’s vision then nails him with the straight left. You’ll notice that the entire sequence took less than a second – showing how dangerous basic counters like this become when you have the speed and power of Vitor Belfort.

Where Vitor could previously steamroll his opponents with his aggression and speed, he has shown a willingness to use scientific counters far more often in recent years. Against the gigantic Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson, Belfort was fighting on the back foot from the beginning due to Johnson’s aggression, size and threat of the takedown. He managed to clip Johnson with a couple of good counters while leaning away – even incorporating the punch variety (hooks, uppercuts) that his early game so desperately lacked. (G)

Unique Punching Range

I mentioned this in the weaknesses article and got a lot of angry Vitor fans on my case about it, but Vitor is not a great boxer. By boxer I mean the traditional sense – using one’s lead hand to scout for openings, head movement, footwork etc. Belfort is much more of a bully, as mentioned before he has added some crisp counter punches to his arsenal since he began fighting, but where Vitor does his best work is still in chest-to-chest brawling range. Where Vitor does his best work is when he jumps in with a hard punch and swarms all over his opponent once they are hurt. Vitor has always proven exceptional at punching in scrambles while is opponents try to choose between going for a clinch and getting hit or covering up and letting Vitor continue his assault.

In the above stills you will notice that the range is far from optimum for throwing punches. Belfort has backed Ortiz up to the fence and begun looking for big punches, but he is not stepping back to set up long, hard punches – using his jab to keep Ortiz off of him – instead he is in range for Ortiz to clinch him. What is incredibly awkward for Belfort’s opponents is that he can still land hard, fast punches and even combinations in this peculiar range. You’ll notice in these grainy stills (which I apologize for) that Tito Ortiz cannot decide whether to clinch or cover up along the fence. Against any other striker Ortiz would have smothered them like a blanket, but instead he keeps reaching and getting caught by short shots on the inside.

Wind to 4:08 of this highlight to see why Vitor is such a unique brawler. Ortiz continues to attempt to tie up (as is the smart thing to do against someone winging punches at your head) but keeps getting clipped on the way in and returns to covering up. Jon Jones’ wheelhouse is the clinch, and it is where most of us assume he will hurt Belfort – as Belfort cannot stay within clinching range and punch rapidly for the entire fight – but Jones’ chin is more likely to get tested by Belfort at this range than it is to at a proper striking distance.

Ability to Cover Distance

Reportedly Belfort has been working with a karate coach since his bout with Heath Herring in PRIDE and it does show. Belfort’s ability to cover distance quickly has improved greatly since his early days. Notice the scuttle in this gif from his bout with Anderson Silva. (G) While he still wasn’t close enough to catch the elusive middleweight king, he traveled a lot further than he would have sticking to orthodox boxing technique. Most boxing coaches teach that the left foot moves with the left hand and the right foot moves with the right had. Vitor used to step with his lead foot when he jabbed and his rear foot when he followed with the left hand. The difference with competitive karate footwork (as half the game is about running away) is that you step both feet on each punch.

In the stills below the black line represents the starting position of Vitor’s front foot. It is there to demonstrate just how much distance Belfort now covers on his 1 – 2.

Vitor begins his assault.

Vitor lunges off of his back foot, driving his lead foot forward with the jab.

Vitor draws his rear foot up before the second punch, to almost where his front foot had been – this is great karate technique but viewed as taboo in boxing because drawing your back foot up leaves you with little chance to retreat.

Vitor lunges off of his rear foot again, from it’s new position – gaining half a stance length’s extra distance.

Vitor’s punch grazes Silva as the latter pivots off line to his right – a great counter to karate’s linear movement. Were Anderson to continue straight backward as he normally likes to do he would have found himself in trouble. This was a great piece of adaptation by the spider as he realized that Vitor was a little close for comfort.

New Additions

Vitor has recently been working with Ray Sefo, one of the best kickboxers of all time, in rounding out his striking and I must say that the video clips of them sparring and training on youtube look fantastic. It is great to see Vitor beginning to use kicks to set up his heavy punches, though the only example of this that we’ve seen in action was his blow out of Yoshihiro Akiyama.

Belfort’s addition of the left high kick is an incredibly sensible move for a southpaw with a strong left straight, as it forms a double attack. In my piece on Mirko Cro Cop I talked about how defending Mirko’s high kicks – by bringing the right arm away from the head – put his opponents in greater danger of eating the left straight. While parrying Cro Cop’s left straight required the opponent’s right arm to come inward, thereby allowing Cro Cop’s kick to move to it’s target almost unimpeded.

Another excellent addition to Belfort’s game has been the lead calf kick. This is a staple of Lyoto Machida’s game and troubles a great many strikers as well as grapplers. Where a kick to the thigh is easy to catch and fairly simple to take, a kick to the calf will force an opponent off balance or to commit to planting their weight, making them a sitting duck for punches. As Vitor’s modus operandi is to rush with punches, any way he can get an opponent to plant their feet or lose their balance for a fraction of a second as he runs in could be fight changing.

Above is the punch that Vitor used to floor Akiyama – notice how he enters behind his lead kick – distracting Akiyama and knocking him off balance.

In my last article I observed that Vitor is a one trick pony and one that hasn’t changed much over the years, but to be honest his punches have proven so effective over the years that he hasn’t needed to change them much. In truth it is his opponent’s wariness of his punches that slows him down. By committing more to fighting on the counter so that his opponent must come to him, or using his kicks to slow his opponent’s retreat, Vitor has a much better chance of catching world class opponents with his flurries which, if they can connect, don’t care how highly ranked an opponent is.

Oh, and according to some of the forum posts I’ve seen – Jesus wants Vitor to win and to punish Jones for driving drunk.

Jack Slack breaks down over 70 striking tactics employed by 20 elite strikers in his ebook, Advanced Striking.


Look out for news on Jack Slack’s new kindle book, Elementary Striking which will teach the basic techniques and strategies of striking in detail.

Jack can be found on Twitter, Facebook and at his blog; Fights Gone By.

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