Vitor Belfort had his chance.
An 8-1 underdog as the challenger to Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight titleholder Jon Jones on Saturday night, Belfort went for the upset bid early, catching Jones in a deep armbar and nearly pulling off the unthinkable.
The armbar was the closest the Endicott, N.Y., native has come to a legitimate defeat in his career, with his one loss a questionable disqualification in 2009. But Jones toughed it out at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, escaped the hold, and returned to display the dominance expected of him. Jones finished the bout via fourth-round submission to retain the title at UFC 151.
"He had it in there deep, man," said Jones (17-1). "I could feel it popping. But he was going to have to break my arm to finish the fight, because I wasn't about to tap out."
Jones asserted himself soon after Belfort's upset attempt, nearly finishing the bout with a series of elbows in the first round. Over the remainder of the fight, the 35-year-old Belfort repeatedly attempted to utilize his jiu-jitsu. But this tactic backfired in Round 4, as Jones swiftly maneuvered into position and finished the bout with an Americana armlock, earning the submission at 54 seconds of the fourth round.
The win was Jones' fifth in a row over fighters who previously had held the UFC's 205-pound title.
"He's tough," said Belfort (21-10). "I was trying to work my jiu-jitsu, but he was long, moves his pace pretty well. That's why he's the champion."
The victory ended a tumultuous month for the 25-year-old Jones, after his involvement in the first event cancellation in UFC history. Jones was scheduled to defend his title against Dan Henderson at UFC 151 in Las Vegas on Sept. 1, but Henderson had to pull out of the fight with a knee injury. Jones refused to take a bout with replacement Chael Sonnen, and with no marketable main event, White pulled the plug on the show.
Jones later agreed to fight Belfort, a former UFC light heavyweight champion who spent the past three years competing at middleweight.
"I've learned from this," Jones said. "I stand before you a wiser and stronger young man."
In the co-feature bout, Seattle's Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson became the inaugural UFC flyweight (125-lb.) champion with a split-decision victory over Joseph Benavidez of Las Cruces, N.M.
Johnson used his exemplary speed and footwork to fluster Benavidez. Benavidez had his moments, including a well-executed choke submission attempt in the fourth round. But Johnson connected on several takedown attempts, while Benavidez (16-3) was unsuccessful his most of his takedown tries.
Judges' scores were 48-47, 47-48 and 49-46 in favor of Johnson (16-2-1).
In a key middleweight division bout, veteran Michael Bisping (22-4) defeated Brian Stann (12-4) of Scranton, Pa., via unanimous decision. Bisping, a popular British fighter who recently relocated to Orange County, Calif., nullified Stann's knockout power by using an effective jab to set up a series of takedowns. Bisping won on across-the-board scores of 29-28, losing the first round and taking the last two.
In other bouts of note, Cub Swanson (18-5) of Palm Springs, Calif., scored an impressive knockout of Brazil's Charles Oliveira (16-3, 1 no-contest). Swanson connected with a sizzling overhand right to the temple to end the bout at 2:40 of the first round and win his third consecutive bout.
Deaf light heavyweight Matt Hamill of Utica, N.Y., was successful in his return from a year-long retirement. Hamill (11-4) scored a unanimous decision over Nova Scotia's Roger Hollett (13-4).