Analyzing Belfort-Henderson, Jon Jones video game skills
They met once before. But to speak of Saturday night's fight between Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort as a rematch is to miss the nuanced meaning of the word.
The first fight was seven years ago, fought in a Pride ring at a time when Henderson was on his way to winning that promotion's middleweight championship and Belfort was in the midst of a downward spiral -- five losses in seven bouts -- after reigning as UFC light heavyweight champion. They were pugilists passing in the night, and it's not like this weekend's fight has been in the making ever since or been clammored for by fans. If anything, this UFC Fight Night main event (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1) in Goiâna, Brazil, has snuck up on us.
For one thing, it is being contested at light heavyweight despite Belfort currently being one of the top contenders at middleweight, on the cusp of a title shot. Perhap it's being fought at 205 pounds because of the Brazilian's standing in the 185 pecking order. He's said he will not take a fight at middleweight unless it's for the championship, and he's spoken of this bout as if it has no bearing on his position in the queue, as if a loss to "Hendo" at light heavy would have no ill effect on his status at middleweight. That's a bizarre perspective, one that UFC president Dana White has made clear he does not share.
So there are stakes here. There always are. Every fighter is either rising or falling, solidifying job security or walking a tightrope. That goes for Henderson as much as it does for Belfort, although in Dan's case there's no longer title talk.
A little over a year ago, he was scheduled to fight Jon Jones for the UFC light heavyweight belt, but an injury in training forced him out of the bout (and resulted in the cancellation of the whole event). Since then, Henderson has lost two bouts and looked like a 43-year-old, after seeming ageless for so many years.
So this weekend Henderson will be the one doing the high-wire act. Will he be a goner if he loses this fight? That likely depends as much on how he fights as on whether he gets his hand raised in the end. As recently as two years ago, he was part of a Fight of the Year. But ever since that brutal five-round decision victory over "Shogun" Rua, he's not shown the explosiveness that made him must-see entertainment.
"This was a dream come true," Jon Jones was saying, the dreaminess adding a sparkle of bliss in his voice. Was the UFC light heavyweight champ speaking of the night 2½ years ago when he first secured the brass-and-leather title bout around his waist? No, he was talking about the moment when he learned that he will be pictured on the cover of the new UFC video game.
"Bones" actually will share the spotlight. EA Sports is conducting a fan vote throughout this month to determine the other fighter who'll be on the cover. Interestingly, Cain Velasquez is not among the 16 candidates because, according to Dana White, as heavyweight champ Velasquez "doesn't want to be in a vote to see if he should be on the cover." That's a fair point by the baddest man on the planet.
But Jones is on the cover, and he's thrilled because he's a huge video game fan. How much of a gamer? On the day of the big announcement, I got the champ on the phone to talk about it.
SI.com: Have you always been into video games?
Jones: Yes, I grew up as a gamer, along with my brothers. In fact, my first exposure to mixed martial arts was through an old Pride video game back in the day. That was the first time I'd ever seen MMA and learned the moves, playing the game with my brothers.
SI.com: Can you really learn MMA moves through a video game?
Jones: Well, it can be useful in some ways. When I'm in training, I'll sometimes play a game as myself and have one of my friends play as my upcoming opponent, just so I can get familiar with seeing myself in with him. Then, when the fight comes, I'm already comfortable with the whole experience.
SI.com: Wait, are you kidding me? You can use a video game as a training tool?
Jones: It's basically a fight simulator. And the other way the video game helps is in helping me relax while still keeping my mind in the game, in martial arts.
SI.com: You mentioned your brothers. Both Arthur and Chandler play in the NFL. Can you beat either of them in a football video game? Can they beat you in the UFC game?
Jones: Chandler would definitely beat me in a football video game. But an MMA game? They're not beating me, no way.
SI.com: I know they're not beating you in the octagon. But they can't take you even in a video game MMA fight?
Jones: It's more than just pushing buttons, my friend. You've got to have strategy.
SI.com: OK, let's say you and I sit down to play this new UFC game. We flip a coin to see who gets first pick of which fighter he wants to play as, and I win. I choose to be Jon Jones. What's your move?
SI.com: C'mon. I'm Jon Jones, waiting for my fight. Who you going to be?
Jones: I think we're going to have to re-flip that coin.
SI.com: Really? So you refuse to fight unless you get to be Jon Jones?
Jones: Yes. I've got to play as myself.
SI.com: OK, I guess I understand you not wanting to fight against yourself. But what if we agree that Jon Jones will sit this one out, watch from the first row of octagon-side seats. Now I'll give you first choice of all other fighters. Who are you going to be?
Jones: Hmm, let's see. [Long pause.] I'll probably be Chuck Liddell.
SI.com: Why "The Iceman"?
Jones: Chuck had great natural power, great takedown defense. He has the type of style I like to play with. So that's who I'm going to be.
SI.com: Well, in case we ever do meet in front of a video game console, I have to confess that I'm terrible. I'm so inept at video games that I might stand less of a chance against you in the UFC game than I would in a real fight in the octagon.
Jones: You wouldn't get out of the first round, either way.
SI.com: Yeah, but the video version of the fight would hurt less. I have to say, though, after hearing what you just said: You seem really confident in your video game ability and a lot more boastful than you are in the promotion of real fights.
Jones: [Laughs.] That's true. When it comes to gaming, I allow myself to be more outspoken than when I'm doing actual martial arts. Maybe it's because I've played so long with my brothers and we're all very competitive with each other. I am more in peoples' faces than I am in the real world.