BJPenn.Com Exclusive: Mario Sperry Discusses Preparing Vitor Belfort for His Bout with Jon Jones
Mario Sperry is a trusted and respected coach with a well documented background in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He is one of the founding Fathers of the famed Brazilian Top Team and has worked alongside some of the best fighters the sport has ever seen including Ricardo Arona, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
After Mike Van Arsdale decided to leave his post as head coach of the Blackzilians, Sperry stepped in and has quickly taken charge of one of the more talented gyms in the sport today. Glenn Robinson has assembled a team of talented fighters and helped foster a true family environment.
For Sperry the transition has been a seamless one and finds himself in a position that many coaches would envy. He realizes the wealth of talent at his disposal and is prepared to make the most of this opportunity. There is no place he’d rather be than in Boca Raton, FL surrounded by quality people who all have the same goals in mind.
“Everything here is going great, in fact things couldn’t be better,” Sperry told BJPenn.Com. “I am very pleased to be here; in fact I am a very lucky coach to have so many talented fighters and great coaches to work with.”
Sperry has a lot of challenges in front of him, but right now he is focused on preparing Vitor Belfort for his fight with Jon Jones this Saturday in Toronto. This fight is a tough test for both student and pupil and although they didn’t have the benefit of a full training camp to prepare for Jones, Sperry trusts that Belfort will be ready come fight night.
“Despite the fact that this fight came on such short notice he looks very good,” said Sperry. “Vitor was preparing for another fight, but everything changed along the way. Jon Jones is a phenomenal athlete and presents a tough test for any fighter. I have known Vitor for a long time and have watched his career from the beginning. I used to work with him as we are from the same neighborhood.”
“He has been responding very well throughout this training camp. He has increased his power, his strength and his speed; everything is where it needs to be. We all know that this fight presents a huge challenge, but he’s going to be ready. In fact he’s ready right now. It’s going to be a tough fight, but we are very confident we can put on a good show.”
Belfort began training with the Blackzilians in preparation for this fight with Jones and is taking full advantage of everything the camp has to offer. One of the fighters he is working very closely with is Rashad Evans who fought Jones in April and can offer Belfort some inside tips having trained with light heavyweight champion at Jackson’s MMA.
“He’s been training with a bunch of different training partners,” Sperry stated. “Right now he’s working with Rashad, Tyrone Spong, Roy Jones and we brought in some kickboxers and jiu-jitsu guys to help him prepare. Everyone is working together to insure he is at his best when it’s time to fight. His coaches are Henri Hooft, Babak is his wresting coach and I am working very closely with him. We’ve put together a strategy that we believe will help him do well.”
“There are a lot of great benefits for fighters who come to train with us,” said Sperry. “The weather here is beautiful just like in Brazil, the food is good and we are like a big happy family here. We are still growing as a team every day. The environment is very positive and I like the way Vitor is behaving, he seems very comfortable. He is very relaxed and very well prepared for this fight.”
Jones is not only younger than Belfort, he is bigger, stronger and has those long arms that he uses to his advatage. With that being said, Sperry believes that Belfort has nothing to lose and everything to gain in this fight, unlike the 25-year-old Jones.
“He definitely presents a lot of problems for any fighter,” admitted Sperry. “Jones is one of the most complete fighters in the sport today. On the other hand the pressure is all on Jon Jones and we have to explore a way to take advantage of that. He’s the champion, he’s younger and he’s the bigger guy and he has everything to lose. I believe we can use that against him.”
Jones opened up as an incredible favorite and while the odds have come down a bit, you won’t find too many people who believe that Belfort will walk out of the Octagon on Saturday night as the two-time UFC Light Heavyweight Champion.
“Well its understandable Vitor is lighter and older than Jones,” Sperry said. “He has also been competing as a middleweight for quite some time now. Of the course the odds are in Jones favor, he’s the champion and he’s undefeated. Again, that is something we plan on using in our favor.”
When Belfort burst on to the scene back in 1997 he was just 19-years-old and earned the nickname “The Phenom” because of his power and incredible hand speed. Here we are 15 years later and he is facing a man many consider to be the new phenom. Belfort still has the hand speed and the power, but Sperry believes Belfort is a much different fighter today than he was back then.
“Today he is a much more complete fighter than he was before,” Sperry offered. “He always had the quick hands and the power, but today he is more mature. His wrestling is better and while his hands are not as fast as they used to be, they are still very quick and he has developed a much better technique.”
If Belfort defeats Jones at UFC 152 and wins the light heavyweight title he will obviously remain in that division as long as he is the champion. Regardless of the outcome, Sperry believes the best weight for Belfort is 185 and he will drop back down should he lose on Saturday night.
“We haven’t discussed what will happen after this fight, but I believe he will be back at 185,” Sperry said. “Of course if he wins he will have more fights in the light heavyweight division, but I believe his best weight is at middleweight.”
Win or lose Belfort stepped up and took a fight that no one else besides Chael Sonnen wanted to take. Evans was able to take Jones a full five rounds when they met in April at UFC 145, but Sperry doesn’t see that happening here. Belfort hasn’t had a fight reach the second round since he defeated Terry Martin in July of 2008. That is something Sperry believes will work against Belfort should he be unable to finish the fight quickly.
“I don’t believe this fight will last more than two rounds,” Sperry said. “Vitor has to utilize his speed because Jones is bigger and stronger and has a big weight advantage. I think he can finish the fight in the first or second round, after that he is taking a risk. I predict the fight will be over in two rounds and it could go either way. If Belfort doesn’t finish the fight within that time I think Jones can.”