History in the making: Vitor Belfort makes his middleweight debut by sending Terry Martin through the ropes at Affliction 'Banned'

Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

“The death of a dream can in fact serve as the vehicle that endows it with new form, with reinvigorated substance, a fresh flow of ideas, and splendidly revitalized color. In short, the power of a certain kind of dream is such that death need not indicate finality at all, but rather signify a metaphysical and metaphorical leap forward.” ― Aberjhani

If the only thing that keeps you from flopping to the pavement is a frozen theater rope, chances are you just got KTFO.

Mixed martial arts (MMA), in 2008, was almost a completely different sport than the one we're familiar with today. Brock Lesnar was heavyweight champion, Kimbo Slice was television's biggest draw and a t-shirt company named Affliction decided it would rather be a competitor than a sponsor when it came to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

And, like any promotion looking to get off the ground, the quickest and easiest way to gain notoriety was by signing UFC veterans who still had a little pop to their names.

Like Vitor Belfort.

"The Phenom" was a classic example of the adage, "brightest stars burn out the quickest." After his UFC debut at just 19 years old, the man with what some would argue were the fastest hands in MMA would rack up a 12-3 record with nine finishes.

Then, the competition got a little tougher and Belfort failed to adjust.

The result was a dismal 4-5 run, which relegated him to competing on overseas fight cards headlined by David Abbott, the same "Tank" he plastered way back at UFC 13. References were often made to "the old Vitor," but the once-promising prospect seemed to be sleepwalking through the prime of his career.

And, like any fighter in need of a rebirth, the answer was to drop a weight class and start over.

Affliction wasted little time in scooping up the floundering Brazilian for "Banned," its inaugural pay-per-view (PPV) effort scheduled for July 19, 2008 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. Belfort, in the interest of fan favor, was paired off against a fellow hard-hitting UFC veteran in Terry Martin.

No one was quite sure what to make of the now-middleweight "Phenom," who had not only changed his physique, but also his preparations, aligning himself with the late Shawn Tompkins at Xtreme Couture.

Here's what happened.

Martin comes out the aggressor and walks his opponent down. Belfort responds with a wicked high kick that bounces off the dome of the stocky slugger, who doesn't even bat an eyelash in response. Hands are exchanged and a half-hearted takedown attempt by Martin leads to a clinch against the ropes.

The boo birds let 'em have it and they break away.

Martin resumes stalking and eats a straight left. He pulls the bull-in-china-shop routine and tries to unload a flurry in the corner, but this time it's Vitor who clinches and turns him around. Once again, the crowd showers them in disapproval and "The Phenom" lets him go.

Terry tags him with an overhand right when they meet in the center of the cage.

The final minute of the opening frame unfolds much like the opening minute. Belfort in retreat, working the jab while Martin looks for the home run. When the bell rings for their 60-second reprieve, fans in attendance get antsy. Randy Couture and Shawn Tompkins, both in the Brazilian's corner, flay him for inactivity.

Martin lands a punishing lead hook to open the second stanza.

When Belfort uncorks a kick to the bread basket, Martin snatches his heel and dumps him on his ass. "Dangerous" plops into an open guard and struggles to make hay while the sun shines. Belfort effortlessly gets his legs free and jumps back up to his feet.

They reset and return to the stand-up, where Belfort executes a perfectly-timed jumping knee that connects. Martin is stunned and instinctively drops for a single leg. "The Phenom" jerks it free and floors him with a right/left combination.

Martin's body violently snaps together like a middleweight mousetrap as he spills into the bottom two ropes.

Game over.

Belfort, who was back inside the Octagon just over a year later, will now try to keep another former champion from holding a win in his high-profile debut with a new promotion.

The last man to wear the Strikeforce 185-pound strap, Luke Rockhold, will challenge "The Phenom" in the main event of UFC on FX 8, which takes place at Arena Jaragua in Santa Catarina, Brazil. A win, for either man, is likely to position them in a spot atop the very short list of division title contenders.

And for the loser, there will be no ropes to catch them.

Only steel.

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