UFC 12 and UFC 17 took place in 1997 and 1998, respectively. Current UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones was nine years old when former light heavyweight champ Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort first set foot in the Octagon. Jones was 10 when former Strikeforce light heavyweight champ Dan “Hendo” Henderson first set foot in UFC’s patented eight-sided cage. Today, Belfort is 36, Henderson is 43, and both are trying to remain relevant in a division that the 26-year-old Jones has been conquering for the last two and a half years.

On Saturday night, live from Goiania Arena in Goiania, Brazil, UFC Fight Night 32 features Belfort vs. Henderson, as two of the oldest-school MMA competitors clash for the second time in their combined 33 years of professional fighting.

The first time these two multiple-promotion former champions met was at Pride 32 in October of 2006 for a three-round title eliminator fight in the Pride middleweight division. That fight went the distance, turning out to be an epic back-and-forth battle with Hendo coming out the victor on all three scorecards. Hendo went on to win the title by knocking out Wanderlei Silva, before losing an attempt to unify the UFC light heavyweight and Pride middleweight belts nearly a year later.

Since their last meeting, Henderson has gone an off-and-on 8-5 with notable wins over Michael Bisping, Fedor Emelianenko and, in what is widely considered the greatest fight in MMA history, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Belfort has since gone an impressive 9-2 with notable knockouts of Rich Franklin, Bisping and Luke Rockhold. Belfort almost won the UFC light heavyweight title in September 2012 with an armbar he had sunk in on Jones, but Belfort didn’t finish the move and eventually submitted to Jones with a fourth-round keylock.

Belfort is currently riding a two-fight winning streak. Henderson, meanwhile, has suffered two losses in a row this year, both by split decision. Saturday night, on Belfort’s home soil, these two warriors face off for the second time, with the winner remaining relevant in a stacked division.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Henderson – 9, Belfort – 10

The first time Belfort and Hendo met, both men had a bunch of knockouts and a handful of decisions. Henderson’s handful was just a little bit bigger, because, while he is a heavy-handed fighter, he hasn’t always maintained the same level of knockout power as his Brazilian foe. Belfort is a fiery-handed, bum-rush type of striker, who, once he smells blood in the water, attacks like a rabid dog.

Henderson still packs his patented “H-Bomb,” his powerful right hand, but that shot hasn’t proven as effective in the last couple years, signaling that Hendo’s age may be catching up with him. In 2006, both men were known for their knockout power, but in a day when Belfort is knocking guys out with spinning hook kicks, Hendo has gone to three decisions in a row. Granted, Henderson went the distance with Lyoto Machida, Shogun and Rashad Evans, all of which have combined for only four knockout losses, but it still seems that his power is fading.

Belfort has been improving his speed, power and the variety of striking techniques, whereas Hendo’s striking game hasn’t been improving very significantly. Belfort has a better chance of taking this one on the feet.

Wrestling: Henderson – 10, Belfort – 9

Henderson’s striking power may be slipping as of late, but his wrestling skills are still some of the best to ever grace the Octagon. Easily one of the most decorated wrestlers in MMA, Henderson’s pedigree remains unknown only to a person living under a rock. In a nutshell, Hendo represented the United States in two Olympic Games, earned gold, silver and bronze medals at three Pan American Championships, earned silvers at two World Cups, and finished with a bronze in the Pan American Games. He has won dozens of other medals, awards and championships in wrestling from childhood through his 30s, including the 2010 Lifetime Service to Wrestling Award from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum.

Pedigree aside, Henderson has tremendous clinch work, amazing takedown defense (stuffing over 60 percent of takedown attempts) and exhibits superior body control over his opponents on the mat. Belfort does not have the wrestling-specific pedigree, but he is no slouch in similar positions. He exhibits power in the clinch, although his technique is understandably not quite as good as Henderson’s, and his takedown defense is also slightly behind that of the former Olympian.

For obvious reasons, Hendo’s wrestling takes the nod in this battle. Both men are powerful fighters, but Henderson’s technique is much better when translating his wrestling skills into the MMA setting.

Submission Grappling: Henderson – 9, Belfort – 10

Belfort may be a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and judo, but no person could ever say that “Belfort is to submission grappling as Hendo is to wrestling.” However, in 2001, the Brazilian did compete in the highest level of submission grappling in the world, earning a bronze medal at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships. Hendo has only won one MMA fight by a legitimate submission and has only been stopped three times, all by tapout.

This fight will most likely not come to a submission-grappling battle, because both men are brutal strikers. However, should it come to a submission game, Belfort has the advantage. He almost tapped out the champion, Jones, and choked out the heavy-handed Anthony Johnson less than two years ago.

X-factor

The x-factor in this fight is an ugly one in many fans’ eyes. After their first meeting, Belfort popped positive for steroids. Even though he played dumb about the whole incident, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at his size and vascularity to call that one a no-brainer.

Nowadays, they mask it under the guise of “testosterone replacement therapy,” of which Belfort is a participant, and most athletic commissions will issue a therapeutic use exemption for fighters requiring the spike. As an added twist, Hendo has also been on TRT since 2007, less than a year after Belfort was using for their first bout.

So, Hendo and Belfort are juicing, and both men have claimed they would stop for various one-off events, but who knows?

The fact of the matter is that, at Henderson’s age, he’s probably using it just to maintain his previous level of performance, but, at Belfort’s age, he’s been using since at least his late 20s and it is probably providing more of a “performance enhancement” versus a “performance maintenance.” In a combat sport, the TRT x-factor will weigh heavily in Belfort’s favor.

Total: Henderson – 28, Belfort – 29

Verdict: It’s a bummer to say after such a long and storied career, but while Belfort seems to be improving his game in every recent fight, Hendo appears to be fading. It’s nothing unusual for the former Olympian to go on a decision streak, but he seems to have lost some pop in his game. Always a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word, Hendo may be entering the Octagon for the last time in his career.

Belfort’s last few performances have been spectacular. He’s been knocking guys out, nearly submitted the champ and has been improving the variety of attacks in his already world-class game. Hendo will come out heavy, trying to grind out a win, but, at the end of the night, Belfort will most likely walk out the victor, handing Hendo his first stoppage loss in over five years.

Photo: Vitor Belfort (James Law/Heavy MMA)