In 1997, a fresh faced 19-year old made his Octagon debut in what was just his second fight in the UFC. In that fight (and four out of the five that followed) he rag-dolled his opponent, Tra Telligman in a first round destruction that signified the arrival of “The Phenom” to the big leagues.
This young competitor is Vitor Belfort and since that fight, Belfort has rose the ranks and fought some of the best in the world across four different promotions before returning to the UFC in late 2009 following four fight win streak outside of the UFC with three of those wins coming by highlight-reel knockouts.
With his return came five memorable fights in what is his third stint in the Octagon, three of which headlined their respective cards. This is a man who comes to fight in the most literal extent of the phrase. Every fight is a guaranteed ‘Fight of the Night’ contender with most being included in the ‘Knockout of the Night’ discussion. He is an absolute buzzsaw who undoubtedly loves to fight.
Among his past five fights, Belfort has only dropped two fights. Although being finished in both, he was facing the undisputed two best fighters on the planet, one of which, he was given only a short matter of weeks to prepare for; an unenviable feat in itself. And even with the odds stacked against him, Belfort secured an armbar early in the first against Jon Jones at UFC 152 that was easily the closest anyone had come to dethroning the 205-pound king.
This, along with his prior victory, a first round submission victory over Anthony Johnson at the beginning of the year, just proves that ‘The Phenom’ continues to implement his underrated ground game while remaining a terrifying force on the feet, rounding out his skill set. When coming up with a game plan to defeat Belfort, one must have every single aspect of their own game mastered and at their instant disposal or they will probably wake up with a flashlight in their face and Bruce Buffer in their ear, announcing Belfort as the winner.
He now stares down the barrel of one of the most pivotal fights of his career as he fights potential top contender Michael Bisping. Although Belfort, unlike Bisping, is not promised a title shot with a win, he is still looking to declare his triumphant return to the middleweight division after an extremely brief stint at light-heavyweight.
The fight takes place on January 19th at the UFC on FX 7 card in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This simply raises the stakes for the extremely proud Brazilian who will be headlining his first Brazilian card in a highly anticipated main event. And, again, with no title shot promised with a win, Belfort is going for a decisive win that will propel him up the ladder in a violent return to number one contender status.
So the now the lion of 185 lays in wait for his opponent to enter the Octagon opposite him to try and serve up to Belfort a loss in his home country, a feat that isn’t restricted to the physical constructs of fighting but instead driven to the boundaries of one’s mental capacity. Even in a sport where a case can be made for half of success coming from a strong mental game, Belfort is on higher level than most.
With 16 years of experience under his belt, the faith-driven Belfort still dedicates each fight to his sister, Priscila, who went missing on January 9th, 2004. For the mathematically inept, that’s a mere 10 days off one of the most substantial points in Belfort’s life, and one that easily one third of his motivation along with his faith in God and providing for his family. Needless to say this may be the most motivated we’ve seen Belfort, outside of a title fight, in his entire career.
MMA Record: 21-10
UFC Record: 10-6
UFC 12 Heavyweight Tournament winner
Former UFC Light heavyweight champion
Former Cage Rage Light heavyweight champion
Fights to watch:
TKO (1) vs. Marvin Eastman; UFC 43
KO (1) vs. Kazuo Takahashi; PRIDE Critical Countdown Absolution
KO (1) Matt Lindland; Affliction