**This is a look at the career of MMA Legend, Vitor Vieira Belfort by Nikki Neversleep**
A lot of journalists, officials, and fans have mixed feelings about the Brazilian MMA Veteran that is Vitor "The Phenom" Belfort. Personally, I'm a huge fan of the lightning quick knockout artist. Some people would even say my fandom is borderline obessive. (haha)
Putting aside all my extreme love and blindness that comes from being THE Vitor Belfort fan, I'm going to do my best to do a full review of his career, and his impact on the sport of MMA. I can think of no better way to show my appreciation for this man's work than to break it down step by step. I won't be diving too much into his childhood, because let's face it, wikipedia is there for that but major life events will be mentioned.
"Vitor at 19 years old."
The best place to start talking about a fighter? When they started fighting of course!
Vitor Belfort made his MMA debut October 11, 1996 in Hawaii, at an event called "Superbrawl 2" his opponent was John Hess, who had a 7 inch height advantage and over a 100 lbs on the 19 year old Belfort. The young Brazilian dispatched of Hess in just 12 seconds via KO from punches. And it was then that early MMA fans took notice of Vitor's incredible handspeed which would later become is most valuable asset in the minds of many fans and fighters alike.
Vitor's second MMA fight came at UFC 12 on February 7, 1997 against Tra Telligman, in a UFC Heavyweight Tournament Semi-Final bout. The fight ended via a cut just over a minute (1:17) into the first round. Vitor blitzed Telligman and the older man had no idea how to react by the looks of it.
Belfort's third fight also came at UFC 12 on the same night he defeated Telligman, Vitor also finished Scott Ferrozzo with punches that led to a TKO just 43 seconds into the first round. In a total time of just 2 minutes Vitor managed to dispatch 2 men who outsized him and surpassed him in combat experience. He also became the youngest fighter in UFC history to earn a victory inside the Octagon. This feat earned him the nickname "The Phenom" from of the officials that night.
"Vitor (right) vs Tank Abbott (left) pictured above."
On May 30, 1997 Vitor faced MMA fan favorite David "Tank" Abbott, a name known to most any hardcore MMA fan in a non-tournament bout at HW. Tank greatly outweighed Vitor and was known for his punching power and brawler style. Vitor opened up immediately and attacked Tank, he knocked him down and finished him off with punches in just 52 seconds into the first round. This was Vitor's 4th consecutive victory via punches.
On October 17, 1997 Vitor would face the first very gifted grappler of his career in MMA, Randy "The Natural" Couture in a UFC Heavyweight Title Eliminator fight at UFC 15.
The fight was meant to be huge and it was a grueling experience for both men. Vitor the younger man, tried early to push Randy back and overwhelm, Randy saw this and reacted appropriately. He defended himself from Vitor's attacks very well, and managed to get ahold of Vitor and pin him to the cage the mat for most of the fight. Randy was known for a style many have come to call "dirty boxing" which involves clinching your opponents head in a modified single collar tie and unloading as many uppercuts and short hooks as you can to slowly tear their defense down and wear them out. This grinding style was the first of it's kind that Vitor had encountered in cagefighting.
"Vitor (bottom) vs Randy Couture (top) UFC 15 pictured above."
Randy's relentless pace would eventually prove too much for the young and inexperienced Vitor Belfort, Couture would go on to win via TKO at 8:16 of the first round (punches). Vitor would take this loss as a lesson in humility, his confidence before this fight is something he recollects in his "I Am Second" youtube video, where he talks about making a promise to God, to be a follower if He would give Vitor the strength to beat Randy.
December 21 of that same year, UFC would bring Belfort back for a special event in Yokohama, Japan. Vitor faced Joe Charles in a Heavyweight bout who he defeated via armbar 4:03 into the first round showing a new wrinkle in the young phenom's game.
"Vitor vs Joe Charles pictured above."
Vitor would then move on to face Wanderlei Silva, a promising striker from Belfort's own home country, Brazil at UFC Brazil October 16, 1998 in Sao Paulo. This was Vitor's Light Heavyweight debut, he finished the Muay Thai Vale Tudo striker Silva in just 44 seconds with a blitz of strikes that had become Vitor's trademark attack. People most remember Vitor's handspeed in this instance as he allegedly landed 27 strikes in just 30 seconds according to the commentary team.
"Vitor rushing Wanderlei at UFC Brazil."
Vitor's next fight would be at Pride 5 August 29, 1999 in Nagoya, Japan. at the time Pride was the premiere MMA organization. Vitor was set to face Kazushi Sakuraba a Japanese martial arts legend.
"Vitor vs Sakuraba at Pride 5."
The two fought back and forth for 15 minutes, at the end of the 2 round (Pride's 1st round was 10 minutes) the two were battered and hurting. Vitor had taken more punishment in this one fight than all of his previous fights combined. Kazushi had demonstrated the effectiveness of grappling from a top position and how it can be used to defeat a nearly pure striker. In the end Sakuraba emerged victorious via unanimous decision, and Vitor was sent home to continue learning.
Vitor's next fight his 9th came June 4, 2000 in an openweight bout against Heavyweight power puncher Gilbert Yvel at Pride 9.
Once again Vitor faced a man with a significant size advantage over him. But this did not stop Vitor. He was able to take the fight straight to Yvel and won a majority of the exchanges and was even able to take Yvel down. At the end of the bout, the judges agreed unanimously that Vitor was the victor.
Vitor's would show similar dominance in his next two bouts. The first he defeated Daijiro Matsui a Japanese local fighter via Unanimous decision at Pride 10, August 27 of 200 in Saitama, Japan. His very next fight would also take place in Saitama at Pride 13 where Vitor finished Bobby Southworth via Rear Naked Choke 4:09 into the first round.
"Vitor defeating Southworth via RNC."
These two consecutive wins set Vitor up for his biggest bout since the Sakuraba fight. Another open weight fight with a Heavyweight contender, Heath Herring at Pride 14 May 27, 2001.
"Vitor vs Herring at Pride 14." via Sherdog
Vitor started the fight quickly, catching a kick from Herring and pinning the bigger man straight to the mat in an attempt to use his superior Brazilian Jiu Jitsu skills. Herring managed to scramble out and get top position and very nearly took Vitor's back.
Upon returning to their feet it looked to be more of the same, Herring attempted another kick and was immediately taken down. He attempted to keep top control of Vitor but was reversed. He then returned to a standing position and took Vitor down. The two grinded in a grappling exchange for the majority of the round, and fatigue was very clearly showing for Herring.
Vitor started the second round by clinching up with Herring and taking him down, an attempt afterwards was reversed by Herring and the two were eventually stood up and Herring scored takedowns of his own. In the third Herring attempted a heavy headkick which Vitor caught and turned into a takedown, he spent the rest of the controlling the fight and even landing some ground strikes.
In the end the judges declared Vitor the victor via Unanimous Decision.
"Vitor winning via Decision at Pride 14."
Vitor's next bout would not be so fruitful. He made his anticipated return to the Octagon, at UFC 37.5 June 22 of 2002 and was scheduled to face Light Heavyweight Kempo Striker, Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell. The two would have quite the exchange matching blow for blow for the first 2 rounds, in the 3rd it was noticeable that Vitor had tired under Liddell's unforgiving pace. Liddell would go on to win the Unanimous Decision and Vitor was once again wondering where his career was heading.
"Liddell wins via Unanimous Decision, crushing Vitor's hopes of a successful UFC comeback."
Vitor would make his second UFC return appearance at UFC 43, June 6 of 2003, in devastating fashion. He fought quick striking Marvin Eastman in Las Vegas, Nevada. Vitor caught Eastman early with knees from the Muay Thai plum position and then TKO'd Eastman with a flurry of punches.
"Vitor Kneeing Eastman, UFC 43."
Vitor's joyous celebration would quickly be overshadowed by a horrendous family tragedy. On January 9, 2004, Vítor's sister, Priscila Belfort disappeared. According to all accounts Vitor's mother dropped the young woman at her work and she was never seen again. No evidence of her alleged murder was ever found and to this day the culprits responsible have not been apprehended. This awful event struck Vitor in a terrible way. He and his sister were very close and for a long time Vitor recalls blaming this occurrence on himself to some level.
At UFC 46, January 31 of 2006, Vitor stepped into the Octagon once again to face Randy Couture in a rematch this time for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship only this time it was with a heavy heart. He entered the arena wearing a custom T-shirt on it, his sister's picture and the words "Volta Priscila" Portuguese for "Return Priscila." The fight ended quickly and unexpectedly. At 49 seconds into the first round a seam from Vitor's glove had punctured Randy and cut him in a manner that left him unable to compete. Thus Vitor was declared the victor and the new Light Heavyweight Champion of the UFC.
"A heartbroken Vitor wearing the UFC title."
Vitor would spiral into a depressive state and it showed in his next 3 MMA bouts. He rematched Randy Couture at UFC 49 (August 21, 2004) where he was defeated via TKO (doctor stoppage) at the end of the 3rd round. He was bloodied and battered, losing his UFC title. He would then go on to face Tito Ortiz at UFC 51 (February 5, 2005) in a close fight where Tito ended up winning a split decision. Many fighters, including Chuck Liddell, felt Vitor had won the bout. Vitor's third loss in a row came via guillotine choke at the hands of Dutch MMA and Kickboxing star Alistair Overeem at Pride Total Elimination April 23, 2005.
Vitor took some time off to try and clear his head, and he returned to active fighting at Cage Rage 14 (December 3, 2005) where he knocked out Anthony Rea at 1:14 of the second round, improving Vitor's record to 13-6.
"A bloodied Vitor at the hand of Couture, UFC 49."
Vitor would then lose a unanimous decision to Alistair Overeem at Strikeforce: Revenge June 9, 2006. The two have had a few heated words in the past, but have since come to respect one another and be civil in each other's company.
Vitor moved on to face Kazuo Takahashi at Pride Critical Countdown Absolute (July 2, 2006) where he would come out victorious over the overzealous Japanese fighter via KO just 36 seconds into the first round.
Vitor's next fight was a unanimous decision loss to Former US Olympian, Dan Henderson at Pride 32 October 21, 2006 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A fight many people thought should've been declared a draw, and some even felt Vitor had done enough to secure the win. It was after this fight that Vitor tested positive for the substance known as 4-hydroxytestosterone which elevated his testosterone levels above the allowed limit.
"In his defense, Belfort argued that he purchased an over the counter supplement which contained 4-Hydroxytestosterone. Belfort also explained that he may have received 4-Hydroxytestosterone as the result of rehabilitative injections given to him by Brazilian endocrinologist Dr. Rodrigo M. Greco after his surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee in the summer of 2006. The Nevada State Athletic Commission eventually received a statement from Dr. Greco stating that he did give Belfort post surgical injections containing testosterone. While conceding that Belfort may have not known about the testosterone, the NSAC explained that even if Belfort was given injections by a medical practitioner who did not inform him that they contained anabolic steroids, it would still be a violation of the banned substances policy. On December 21, 2006 he was suspended for nine months from the date of the hearing and fined $10,000." - via his wikipedia page.
Vitor would serve his time suspended and pay the fine without complaint, assuring that he did not intentionally violate the rules.He would then return to the cage April 27, 2007 at Cage rage 21 where he would finish Ivan Serrati via TKO and in September of 2007 at Cage Rage 23 beat James Zikic via Unanimous Decision.
These two smaller wins caught the attention of the upstart MMA organization, Affliction home of MMA stars like Andrei Arlovski former UFC Heavyweight champ, Tim Sylvia another former UFC Heavyweight Champ, and the #1 ranked MMA fighter of that time, Fedor Emelianenko.
Vitor fought 2 bouts under the Affliction banner (July 19, 2008-January 24, 2009) one with Terry Martin whom he KO'd at 3:12 of the 2nd round in Vitor's middleweight debut and the other against Matt Lindland, a well known MMA veteran, who Vitor also KO'd this time in the first round at 37 seconds in just his second Middleweight fight.
Vitor then got a call from UFC President Dana White, who asked Vitor to face former UFC Middleweight Champion Rich Franklin who'd lost his title to Anderson Silva. Vitor accepted and the two met at UFC 103, September 19 of 2009 in Dallas Texas. The fight originally scheduled to be a middleweight fight, was made a 195lbs catchweight fight (making time for Franklin to the lose the weight) and a title eliminator bout for Vitor, meaning if he won he was then to face champion Anderson Silva.
Vitor made quick work of Rich Franklin KO'ing him at just 3:12 into the first round, moving Vitor's record to 19-8 a guaranteeing him a title shot.
After a series of rescheduled fights, including one where Vitor was slated to fight Yushin Okami (another middleweight contender). Vitor was scheduled to headline UFC 126 (February 5, 2011), fighting champion Anderson Silva for the UFC Middleweight Championship of the world.
The two were very vocal about their dislike of one another, Vitor went so far as to say Anderson wore a mask in front of the fans as if to say he was being dishonest with the people who followed his career or looked up to the Spider. Anderson in retaliation, decided to wear a blank, almost phantom of the opera-esk mask to the weigh ins with Belfort which resulted in a shoving exchange between the two that was broken up by UFC Pres. Dana White.
"UFC 126 weigh ins."
The fight itself, while hyped before, was a slower paced fight. The two came out and did a lot of circling with Vitor chasing after Anderson. The referee at one point had to step in and tell them to engage. So Vitor did what Vitor is known for, he took a quick rush and landed a right straight but missing a leaping left. In a frantic exchange at one point Vitor hooked the leg of Anderson, who was attempted a headkick, and slammed the champion to the mat where Vitor attempted two more head strikes missing both. Anderson was able to pop back to his feet and the two stared at each other for a short while, before Anderson through what is considered by many the most spectacular kick in the history of MMA. Which gave Vitor his first ever KO loss.
Vitor was however, very gracious in defeat and congratulated Anderson on winning, saying he was only ever there to fight and that he would "bring the fire again."
Vitor's middleweight run would not end there however, and he then faced Judoka Fighter Yoshihiro Akiyama a Japanese superstar at UFC 133 (August 6, 2011). Belfort would once again show his lightning quick speed, finishing Akiyama at 1:52 into the first round via KO (punches).
Belfort's next opponent was also to be a middleweight bout, Anthony Johnson who'd made a name for himself as a power punching Welterweight. Johnson missed weight, coming in over the 186 lbs allowance by 11 lbs. Vitor said he would still fight Anthony, if Anthony did not weigh more than 205 lbs. Johnson eventually made weight at 204 lbs, and the fight took place at UFC 142 (January 14, 2012). Vitor ended up winning the fight via Rear Naked Choke in the very first round 4:49 in, his first submission victory in over a decade.
"Vitor puts the squeeze on Rumble."
He was then slated to face Wanderlei Silva in a rematch after the filming of The Ultimate Brazil, but Belfort had this to say about that fight, "I guess Wanderlei will be able to fight in October but I only want that my next bout that accredits me to dispute the belt. I don’t know, maybe Michael Bisping. I was only defeated once recently, by Anderson Silva, and all my wins were very convincing." He went on, "I don’t know how long I will stay in this division. I wanted to do more two or three fights. If my body will no longer permit this big weight cutting, I will go up (to 205 lbs). I am not afraid of Jon Jones or somebody else... It's not for me to choose my opponents." (credit to Fighter's Only Magazine for the quote)
Vitor was in talks to face Alan Belcher at UFC 153 but ended up getting a much better opportunity. He stepped in for Lyoto Machida to face Jon Jones for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship with just a month's time to prep for a very drastic change in opponents, and a camp change to the Blackzillians based in Boca Raton, Florida coached by former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion and former Training Partner of Jon Jones, Rashad Evans.
"Vitor's near victory via Armbar over Champion Jon Jones."
Vitor very nearly submitted Jones in the very first round with an incredibly tight armbar, Jones managed to work his way through it and escape the armbar. In the second round, Vitor has stated that he suffered a cracked rib from a kick delievered to his side by Jones and fought until the fourth round with the cracked rib until Jones ended up securing a takedown and winning the fight via Americana/Keylock submission.
"Vitor and Jones showing mutual respect after the fight."
After his loss to Jones. Vitor began Testosterone Replacement Therapy, to sort out an imbalance that allegedly caused depression for Vitor, possibly a result of his previous unintentional abuse of anabolics. Vitor received a ton of criticism for his use of the treatment given his offense from the past. But Vitor under went a voluntary set of testing to ensure he would not have any slip ups and restore good faith from the company but from his fans.
Vitor's very next opponent was vocal in his criticism of Vitor's TRT use, longtime Middleweight Contender Michael Bisping, accused Vitor of needing an escape and a loophole to cheat. A bout was scheduled between the two January 19, 2013 on UFC on FX: Belfort vs Bisping. Vitor won the fight via TKO after a headkick and a series of punches at 1:27 into the second round. Showing yet another new wrinkle in his game, his kicks.
"Vitor's headkick on Bisping."
Vitor then faced former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion, Luke Rockhold on May 18, 2013 on another UFC on FX card. Vitor won the fight in the first round via KO, after a spinning wheelkick and series of ground strikes. Vitor says this fight is when he realized he had "evolved" as a fighter from his days as just a pure puncher. He also said it was nice to have the challenge of two forming champions headlining the card.
"Vitor's spinning wheelkick."
At UFC Fight Night 32 (November 9, 2013) Belfort made a temporary return to the Light Heavyweight division, while waiting to for the outcome of the Anderson Silva vs Chris Weidman match up, preferring to bide his time for his deserved title shot. There he faced former Pride Middleweight and Welterweight Champion, Dan Henderson who had previously defeated Vitor via Unanimous Decision. The night would prove to be a night of retribution for Vitor, as he finished Dan Henderson via KO in the first round after a very solid headkick landed for the Brazilian Phenom. This was Dan Henderson's first ever KO loss.
"Vitor's heavy landing Headkick on Dan."
Soon after Vitor's number one contendership for Chris Weidman's Middleweight Title was announced and the two prepared to meet head on in a bought at UFC 173, in Las Vegas, Nevada scheduled for May 5, 2014. But after a new regulation was passed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, banning all use of TRT in the sport, Vitor was forced to withdraw from the fight being unable to meet the new specifications/regulations set by the NVSAC. Vitor had already been administered TRT during his preparation for the fight and did not want his test results to be sullied by the fact that he was unprepared for the NVSAC's ruling on the matter.
Vitor has stated that he is still in line to face the winner of Weidman and Machida (Vitor's fill-in and former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion) but this has not been confirmed by the UFC.
In a full reading and with all my knowledge of this man, I have come to love all that he stands for. Despite his ups and downs, Vitor is a motivational figure in the sport of MMA. He inspires younger fighters to work harder and strive for greater feats. His wisdom and compassion are almost unmatched by any other representative of the sport. He's sincere and fair when speaking and he's a great meet for any fan of the sport.
So from the bottom of my heart, I'd like to thank Vitor for all of his years of putting his body on the line for us and for his family and for the sport we all love. His dedication is truly on another level. If he reads this, at least this one section I hope he knows he's inspired me to be a better fan, a better mother, a better daughter, a better person. Thank you Vitor.