Over three years ago Vitor Belfort decided to cut down to middleweight after having started his career as a heavyweight and then spending a majority of it at 205-pounds. The Brazilian felt this was the right move to guarantee career longevity.
The plan proved to be a stroke of genius after "The Phenom" scored two knockouts at each Affliction pay-per-view (PPV) event. The second was particularly brutal. A little over half a minute into his bout with Matt Lindland, the Team Quest fighter was out cold and stiffer than a Stan Hansen lariat.
When the clothing company turned mixed martial arts (MMA) promoter went belly up, Belfort returned to the Octagon. His first fight back was against Rich Franklin who met a fate not too dissimilar from that of "The Law." It took place at a catchweight of 195-pounds but the message was clear: Vitor Belfort was a force to be reckoned with at middleweight.
One Steven Seagal-inspired kick later and "The Phenom" finds himself having to climb back up the ladder. At 34-years of age, he's no spring chicken. He realizes he's not the teenager that took the UFC by storm and is planning accordingly.
What's the plan? Read on to find out!
Belfort was slated to take on Cung Le on next month's UFC 139 card but had to pull out due to an injury. "The doctor told me to take time off to rehabilitate," Belfort explained. "He said, 'You're not a young guy anymore. This might not cost you now but it might in the future'."
In his place, fellow Brazilian Wanderlei Silva has been booked to take on the former Strikeforce middleweight champion. But the injury was minor enough that Belfort is expecting to be well enough to fight before year's end. He's gunning for the co-main event slot supporting the Brock Lesnar/Alistair Overeem bout at UFC 141.
Belfort said, "I have a plan to go five more years. I want to be ready for December but I don't want to jeopardize my career. I also don't want to go inside the Octagon sloppy and insecure. Starting a camp with an injury is not a smart thing. I had to listen to the doctor. I apologized to Lorenzo [Fertitta] and told him I had to pull out."
The injury wasn't something that sprang up overnight. It was something that had been bothering him since before his fight with Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 133. "Nobody knew but I almost pulled out. We drained the knee a lot," the Brazilian revealed. "I'm 100 percent now. I'm going back to the gym Monday so I can get ready for December."
Exactly who "The Phenom" will face still isn't known. When asked if he would like to take on Chael Sonnen after the American won his UFC 136 bout against Brian Stann, Belfort said, "I've been dreaming of that fight. Dana said the winner will take on Anderson but I hope they change their mind.
"Chael is an exciting fighter when talking but inside the Octagon, all he knows what to do is wrestle. His ground and pound isn't vicious. But he has a will, a drive and never stops coming forward."
There may be a bit of egg on Belfort's face as the wrestler managed to score a submission win with a slick arm triangle in the second round. Sonnen responded to the Brazilian at the event's post-fight press conference, "He's a fool. He knows not what he says."
Sonnen added, "If my name comes out of his mouth again, I will bury him where he stands." A rivalry seems to be brewing between the two but Belfort insists it's all business. "The only guy I have a personal problem with is the devil," he said.
In fact, "The Phenom" doesn't seem to take anything about his profession personally. "I want to get to the title. The way I beat Akiyama was convincing. He had never been knocked out. I'm just looking for someone who can get me to the title. I want to be the only person to win a title in three different weight classes."
While you won't see the Brazilian's name in the UFC heavyweight title lineage, Belfort did win a heavyweight tournament way back at UFC 12 and won the light heavyweight strap at UFC 46. But while his focus is on getting the middleweight title around his waist, he admits he thinks about how he would fare if he went back to the weight he started off his career off at.
"The weight cut is tough. Right now, I'm 220 pounds," he said. "Sometimes I think it would be easier to fight at heavyweight. I've got power but also speed. I like to challenge myself, though. Fighting at middleweight is a challenge."
When the topic of his UFC 126 bout with Anderson Silva was brought up, Belfort didn't have much to say. "I don't think too much in a way that will get me depressed. It was his night, he delivered." His demeanor wasn't one that implied annoyance at the question but instead acceptance. It's a maturity that comes with a decade and a half in the fight game. It's that same maturity that keeps revenge off "The Phenom's" mind.
If Sonnen were to beat Silva, Belfort said he would rather fight for the belt and then defend it against "The Spider." Belfort added, "The belt isn't personal, it's a goal."
A hot topic in MMA right now is whether or not fighters who train together should be expected to fight each other. It nearly tore Greg Jackson MMA apart and has led to a near endless debate. Belfort's opinion is a bit different from most inside the fight game.
He said he didn't understand how fighters could call themselves professionals but refuse to fight certain people. "Let’s be friends? No! If my brother was in my weight division, I would fight him." He added, "This is a sport, this is a competition. I’m not going to war. I’m here to compete."
"Imagine if the Lakers never competed with the Heat."
For Belfort, it's nothing personal. It's just business.