Six months remain until the 2013 mixed martial arts year officially concludes, but already several knockouts have left lasting impressions.
While some have been more devastating than others, timing and circumstance also are significant factors in determining which knockouts stand out from the pack. And none stands out more than middleweight contender Vitor Belfort’s spinning heel kick on May 18 that finished Strikeforce titleholder Luke Rockhold at UFC on FX 8.
The strike was quick, precise and unexpected. After it connected, Rockhold was on his way to sleep before absorbing a few more of Belfort’s punches, which forced referee Leon Roberts to stop the assault at 2:32 of the first round.
The knockout was so impressive that ESPN.com voted it the best of 2013 thus far.
Rockhold had no chance of defending himself; he didn’t see the head-rattling strike coming. It caught Rockhold just under his left ear. The kick, which likely will be talked about throughout this year and many more to come, was a thing of beauty.
In fact, everything about Belfort that evening was beautiful. His body was chiseled, there was that nostalgic sparkle in his eyes and he exuded an extremely high level of confidence that hadn’t been seen in a long time. Belfort was going to leave to Octagon victorious, and there wasn’t a doubt in his mind about it. The 36-year-old Belfort appeared to have found the fountain of youth: His hand speed and reflexes conjured up images of the 19-year-old “Phenom” who knocked out Tank Abbott in 59 seconds at UFC 13 in May 1997.
These images, however, are the reason this knockout will struggle to retain its top spot at the end of 2013. Heading into the bout, Rockhold repeatedly raised concerns about Belfort’s reliance on testosterone replacement therapy. The topic hovered over this bout like a toxic cloud and fueled hostility between the fighters.
“I don’t necessarily trust him. And I don’t necessarily trust the system,” Rockhold said before the fight. “Do I think he’s cheating? Yes, I do.
With Belfort’s previous positive test for elevated testosterone levels and the fight taking place in his native Brazil, where questions abound regarding the lack of stringent drug-testing, Rockhold’s concerns seemed reasonable. The outcome only increased suspicion.
But until proven otherwise, Belfort is presumed innocent. And his knockout of Rockhold is the best midway through 2013.
The knockout secured Belfort’s place among the top two 185-pound contenders. He is likely first in line to face the Silva-Chris Weidman winner -- which takes place July 6 in Las Vegas.
But cries have already begun for Belfort’s next fight to be held in the United States. Each fight he has participated in this year has been in Brazil. Belfort won both fights by knockout -- perennial contender Michael Bisping went down in the second round Jan. 19. And yes, Belfort looked physically ripped in that fight.
Belfort didn’t simply beat Bisping and Rockhold; he stopped them with punishing knockouts. It’s hard to imagine any middleweight surviving the strikes Belfort delivered in those two fights.
To begin erasing doubts about the validity of his recent performances, Belfort must prove his resurgence isn’t the result of having a home-field advantage. He must show off his renewed speed, cardio and physical physique under the Association of Boxing Commission’s closely monitored therapeutic-use-exemption guidelines. Otherwise, the doubts will escalate.
Other notable knockouts:
No. 2: Emanuel Newton KO1 Muhammed Lawal: Bellator 90 (Feb. 21). Newton’s spinning back fist that knocked out former Strikeforce light heavyweight titleholder and huge pre-fight favorite “King Mo” Lawal was a thing of beauty.
No. 3: Antonio Silva KO3 Alistair Overeem: UFC 156 (Feb. 2). “Bigfoot” Silva earned a rematch and title shot against Cain Velasquez with an impressive third-round stoppage of top contender Alistair Overeem.
No. 4: Muhammed Lawal KO1 Seth Petruzelli: Bellator 96 (June 19). Lawal makes his second appearance on the KO list, but as the winner this time. His first-round knockout of Seth Petruzelli was about as brutal as they come.
No. 5: Mark Hunt KO3 Stefan Struve: UFC on Fuel 8 (March 2). Stefan Struve suffered a broken jaw and a hit to his title contendership at the heavy hands of Mark Hunt.