It was vintage Vitor Belfort on Saturday in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Belfort (25-11) delivered an emphatic conclusion to his trilogy with Dan Henderson, earning a TKO finish at 2:07 of the first round due to strikes on the ground. The middleweight fight headlined UFC Fight Night at Ibirapuera Gymnasium.
The result was a familiar one. The two met in November 2013, also in Brazil, and Belfort put Henderson (31-14) away with a head kick just 77 seconds into the fight. That win was actually the last time Belfort had his hand raised before Saturday. The 38-year-old fought just once in the interim, losing a title fight to Chris Weidman in May.
“Sometimes you fall down, but you pick yourself back up,” Belfort told the Brazilian crowd after the fight.
Henderson, who won the initial meeting in 2006 via unanimous decision, came into the third fight with a vastly different game plan than he did two years ago. Rather than putting pressure on Belfort, the California native held back and kept a distance between them. He popped Belfort with a few early leg kicks, but mostly stayed out of range.
The change in strategy ultimately didn’t matter, as Belfort finally agreed to walk him down following a long feel-out process. He threw a single high left head kick, which Henderson ducked right into. The strike sent Henderson crashing into the fence and two follow-up left hands sent him to the canvas.
The former Olympic wrestler attempted to sit up and draw Belfort into him, but Belfort, who trained for the fight out of a private facility in southern Florida, had nothing of it. He pressed Henderson’s back to the canvas and delivered several hard left hands that brought in referee Mario Yamasaki.
Henderson appeared to go out briefly from one of the shots, but he awoke instantly and grabbed at Yamasaki. Afterwards, he said he was conscious throughout the finish but didn’t protest the stoppage. It marks the third knockout loss of Henderson’s career.
“Obviously, he caught me with a nice kick,” Henderson said. “I ducked right into it. I felt like from that point on, I knew what was going on but obviously, Mario is out there to protect us. I was aware of what was going on, but I can completely understand.
“I’m just disappointed in myself. The game plan was going well. I just ducked into a nice head kick.”
The win was Belfort’s first since he came off controversial testosterone-replacement therapy (TRT) early last year. Much of the pre-fight talk centered around Belfort’s TRT use and the physical changes that his body has underwent since, even though he passed multiple random drug tests ahead of the fight.
Coming into the weekend, ESPN.com ranked Belfort the No. 5 middleweight in the world. He enjoyed a monster year in 2013 while fighting exclusively in Brazil, knocking out Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Henderson.
A former multi-divisional champion in PRIDE, Henderson is now 2-6 in his last eight appearances. Three of those losses have come via knockout. Prior to Saturday’s loss, he scored a 28-second knockout over Tim Boetsch in June.
Henderson did not mention any plans of retirement following the loss. He has one fight remaining on his current UFC contract.
Teixeira dominates Cummings
Cummins (8-3) scored four takedowns in the opening round, but he couldn’t keep Teixeira (24-4) on the floor and eventually paid for it.
Teixeira stiffened him with jabs and left hooks, while mixing in the right hand. The right uppercut was a major weapon, as he repeatedly put Cummins’ back to the fence. Cummins showed heart and tried to stick around, but he was saved by the bell at the end of the first.
After starting his UFC career on a 5-0 run, Teixeira, 36, dropped back-to-back fights last year, including a decision loss to then-champion Jon Jones. He has since bounced back with finishes against Ovince St. Preux and Cummins.
Cummins fell to 1-2 in his last three bouts.
• Rising bantamweight prospect Thomas Almeida (20-0) painted Anthony Birchak (12-3) with a right hand along the fence, earning a KO stoppage at 4:24 of the first round. The 24-year-old Chute Boxe product met Birchak in the center of the Octagon and consistently got the better of the exchanges. He is 4-0 in the UFC, with knockouts in his last three fights.
• Lightweight Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira (13-3-1) knocked out Piotr Hallmann (15-4), of Poland, with a right hand at the 51-second mark of the third round. Oliveira struggled in the second round with Hallmann’s wrestling, but was otherwise dominant, battering Hallmann with punches and knees on the feet. The Brazilian signed with the UFC in 2015 and has compiled a 3-1 record this year.
• Dagestani lightweight Rashid Magomedov (19-1) handed Gilbert Burns (10-1) his first professional loss in a surgical three-round unanimous decision (30-27). Burns converted his first takedown of the night but it was tough sledding from then on, as Magomedov shut down Burns’ grappling the rest of the way and ate him alive standing. Magomedov, who trains at American Top Team, is 4-0 in the UFC.
• Light heavyweight Corey Anderson (7-1) picked up an easy short-notice win against Fabio Maldonado (22-9), out-pointing the Brazilian by unanimous 30-27 scores. Fighting out of Robbinsville, New Jersey, Anderson took Maldonado down at will. The 26-year-old accepted the matchup when Tom Lawlor withdrew due to injury.