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UFC Fortaleza, the Morning After: Belfort suggests “League of Legends” for aging UFC stars

Is Vitor’s idea as crazy as it sounds?

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Belfort vs Gastelum Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

UFC Fight Night 106 was a great night for violence. Kelvin Gastelum found out that Vitor was still dangerous, but finished him in the first with blistering combinations. (see it here) Shogun got himself a TKO win, Ray Borg and Jussier Formiga went back and forth in a dizzying contest, Betche Correira fought to a majority draw with Marion Renaeu, Alex Oliveira choked out Tim Means, Kevin Lee submitted Fransisco Trinaldo. But undoubtedly, the most spectacular KO of the night belonged to Edson Barboza, over Beneil Dariush.

That one will stay on the highlight reels for a while.

Vitor’s Crazy Plan

Vitor Belfort didn’t appreciate getting ended by a 25-year old with lightning hands. He’s considering retirement after his next fight- unless the UFC implements something very different.

Vitor would like to see the UFC institute a “legends league” that would “revolutionize the market”, and make it easier for aging stars such as himself to compete. (see Ryan Harkness’s insight on why that’s not practical in Shots After the Bell) Belfort debuted in 1996, over twenty years ago. His highly unusual career is nearly over, unless the UFC can find ways to make it easier for aging athletes to compete. Belfort reaped the benefits of testosterone replacement therapy for years, helping to extend his career well past the usual arc. However, he says his idea is a serious one, and claims he has received support from fighters he has talked to.

“Not ‘Masters’. It would be the ‘Legends’”, Vitor chuckled. When asked if he had support from other legendary fighters, he responded, “I’m sure that I represent them. I know that if we had this division, as many fighters came up to me and said, what a great idea. You know, when you retire, you’d have an extra job, you’d have work. I have the whole idea, I’ve written everything down. I have the project, I can show it to you tomorrow.”

While the suggestion may seem ludicrous on the face of it, it reveals a lot about what older stars, and Vitor in particular, find difficult about competing with a lot of wear and tear on their bodies.

“I think this division’s ready. You as the media would love to see it- wouldn’t you like to see that? People coming back, with rules that would maybe- I can say three things that would really help: No elbows, no knees; the rounds would be three minutes long; time on the ground would be thirty seconds, so the fight would have more action. You guys would be even more entertained. The rest time between rounds would be a minute and a half so you can sell more advertisement space, so, I think around the world it would sell. I think it’s something that is missing, something that is lacking.”

Stamina is a recurring issue. Recovery times are longer. And, for Vitor, the ground game is exhausting. Not every older fighter meets these criteria, of course. Vitor has always had an aversion to extended sequences on the ground. He also has historically been known as an explosive first-round fighter who fades down the stretch, so three-minute rounds would suit him much better.

Vitor’s plan also highlights the quintessential quandary faced by promoters with older fighters who don’t know when to quit. It typically takes a very long time to build a name in combat sports, and those older fighters are valuable commodities because they can draw a larger audience. We have seen Bellator exploit this formula over and over in it’s more extreme forms, but the UFC is guilty as well, most recently with BJ Penn. Their performance can rarely match that of their younger peers, and the moral difficulty lies in determining when their dependence on the rush and money of prize fighting only makes them a danger to themselves. They no longer have the tools to compete on a level playing field with the hungry young lions.

Vitor poses the idea, should we even ask them to? Wouldn’t it be less brutal to give the Dan Hendersons, Fedor Emelienenkos, and Tito Ortizes of the world a more forgiving platform to continue their careers? Or does that just encourage them to take more head trauma?

He is right when he says there is a market for older fighters. The success of Gracie and Shamrock showed how far that idea can be stretched (infinitely far, seemingly). There are questions about how the criteria for being a part of this league of legends would go. It would need to involve some self-selection. Damien Maia, for instance, wouldn’t be interested in that thirty-second ground rule. Leaving aside these pesky details, though, the essential question remains: If promoters are going to exploit an aging star’s celebrity at the expense of their health, could they do so in a more forgiving manner?

Does Vitor’s idea represent a better way?

“I have that idea because I want to continue fighting, but... training is very tiring for someone who has been fighting for twenty years, and is a little bit older. I don’t think- it’s not easy. Everything has a beginning, middle, and end. My body’s not the same. But I like competing, I want to compete, so let’s see.”

The Other Awesome Stuff:

Shogun, an aging legend in his own right, found a home for his right hand over and over, and finally a dramatic finish of Gian Villante in the third round:

Even the prelims saw amazing action

He may not have retired on a loss last night, but Josh Burkman says he knows his UFC run is done, and it contemplating future options. Let’s not forget what he has been able to accomplish in his career.

Regional MMA also witnessed some violence.

Boxing may have just seen the KO of the year:

Quick and Hot

Podcasts and Audio:

The Rear View Mirror,’s own post-fight show:

Bushido Talk with the disembodied voice of Tommy Toehold:

The 6th round post-fight show:

Enjoy your Sunday, Maniacs!

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