Light-heavyweight champion Jon (Bones) Jones survived an early scare to submit former title-holder Vitor (The Phenom) Belfort in the fourth round at UFC 152 on Saturday night.
Belfort was game and came close with an armbar in the first round. But Jones' reach, varied attack and ground and pound took a toll on the veteran challenger, whose face went from bad to worse each round.
Unable to get his striking game going, Belfort tried to take the fight to the ground where he could use his jiu-jitsu. Most times, he paid a price doing it and finally fell victim to an Americana submission 54 seconds into the round.
In the co-main event at the Air Canada Centre, Demetrious (Mighty Mouse) Johnson won a split 48-47, 47-48, 49-46 decision over Joseph Benavidez to become the UFC's first flyweight (125-pound) champion in a battle of cage-fighting Energizer bunnies.
Jones took Belfort down 30 seconds after the opening bell. The Brazilian responded with an armbar attempt that looked dangerous. Jones slammed Belfort down to the canvas and eventually wriggled free as the crowd began to chant "Vitor."
"I've never had my arm pop like that before," said Jones, who said he would have let his arm break rather than tap out.
Jones (17-1) remained on top and began to throw elbows, cutting Belfort. The doctor had a look at the battered challenger between rounds.
Belfort, who does his best work traditionally in the first round, came out punching in the second. But he had a hard time penetrating Jones' reach. The champion began to pick away at Belfort, who pulled guard later in the round to bring the fight back to the ground.
Belfort (21-10) ate some more elbows as he tried to get into position for another submission attempt.
Jones put him down with a kick to the rib in the third. This time, Jones let him get back up only to have Belfort pull guard again.
"Go with your punches if you want to win this fight," Belfort's cornerman yelled between rounds.
He did but pulled guard again and Jones went to work with some elbows before cranking Belfort's arm back and forcing the tapout.
"That's why he's a champion," said Belfort, who said he had hurt his rib in training.
The card opened to plenty of empty seats. But latecomers missed three quick, decisive finishes and some great Canadian performances on an entertaining undercard.
Canadians went 3-1 on the night, with impressive wins by welterweight Sean (The Punisher) Pierson of Pickering, Ont., lightweight T.J. Grant of Cole Harbour, N.S., and bantamweight Mitch Gagnon of Sudbury, Ont.
Halifax light-heavyweight Roger (The Hulk) Hollett lost his UFC debut by dull decision to Matt (The Hammer) Hamill. In his defence, Hollett was on and off the card, only finally getting the green light less than two weeks ago.
Johnson (16-2-1) beat Benavidez in the battle of the little men — Johnson is five foot three and Benavidez 5-4. Both looked like they should have been in bed for the 11:30 p.m. fight start.
They make up for lack of size with speed although these two seemed to cancel each other out for the opening two rounds of a technical battle that drew some boos.
Benavidez (16-3) looked to press but the faster Johnson simply wore him down. He had a cut on his left eye in the third round, as well as redness on his legs from Johnson kicks.
Benavidez did get Johnson down in the fourth round, but failed to take advantage. He tried for a choke and ended up having to fight off a leg lock. Johnson opened the fifth with a pair of quick takedowns.
Both fighters raised their hands in victory after the fight but Johnson did it faster and with more conviction.
"I was a little shocked," Johnson said of the fact it was a split decision.
"I"ve still got to prove a lot of things," he added before walking out with the shiny new belt over his shoulder.
It can only have helped that Johnson looked as fresh as a daisy while Benavidez wore the scars of a five-round fight.
Bisping moving towards Silva
English middleweight Michael (The Count) Bisping showed his all-round game in winning a unanimous 29-28 decision over (All American) Brian Stann.
Bisping's movement, accurate striking and takedowns were the difference against Stann's limited arsenal. The victory moved Bisping a step closer to an 185-pound title shot, although champion Anderson Silva's dance card seems full for the next little while.
After an acrimonious faceoff at the pre-fight news conference, the two did not touch gloves to start. But they embraced at the end.
"Brian Stann, what a competitor. Nothing but respect for that guy, inside the cage, outside the cage," Bisping said of the former marine war hero.
Bisping's mouth — and lack of a self-edit function — has made him one of the bad boys of the UFC. But he has enjoyed an image makeover of sorts recently and heard "Let's Go Bisping" cheers in the first round.
Bisping (24-4) marked Stann's face with some precise striking but took a right to the head that hurt late in the first round. He failed on two early takedown attempts, finally dumping Stann (12-5) twice in the second.