Vitor Belfort has been competing in mixed martial arts for the past thirteen years. But despite being a former Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight titlist and engaging in epic wars with Randy Couture, most casual fans will get their first glimpse of “The Phenom” when he takes on Rich Franklin in the headlining bout of UFC 103 Franklin Vs. Belfort.
While the bout will be contested at a catch weight of 195 pounds, Belfort has spent the past year re-inventing himself as a middleweight and training with his old nemesis at Xtreme Couture. If the 32-year-old is able to extend his win streak to five, he’ll likely be in contention to fight current middleweight titleholder Anderson Silva in what UFC president Dana White considers a dream match.
Looking back, it’s not hard to understand why White – and the rest of the diehard MMA community – feels this way. Belfort possesses knockout power and submission genius that equals Silva – yes, “The Phenom” is that impressive.
A jiu-jitsu black belt under Carlson Gracie, and well-versed in boxing, Belfort made his MMA debut in 1996 with a twelve-second knockout over John Hess at Superbrawl 2. He would immediately join the UFC and rack up three consecutive knockouts in less than three minutes combined. At only 20-years-old, the Brazilian was developing a reputation as a lethal headhunter who finished fights quickly. Though he wound up with a loss courtesy of Randy Couture, he left the UFC in vicious style back in ‘98 by destroying Wanderlei Silva in a meager 44 seconds.
Belfort then tested the waters in Japan and achieved similar results. Despite breaking his hand in a losing effort to the legendary Kazushi Sakuraba, “The Phenom” registered four victories that went the distance (save a submission win over Bobby Southworth) and re-joined the UFC in 2002, which was now under Zuffa control.
Aside from a unanimous decision loss at the hands of Chuck Liddell, Belfort punished Marvin Eastman and went onto defeat Randy Couture in January 2004 for the UFC light heavyweight championship in their second outing.
It was a defining moment for the Brazilian, but he couldn’t celebrate. His sister, Priscila, was kidnapped (and ultimately murdered) weeks earlier back home in Brazil and that weighed on him heavily. Between that and nagging injuries, “The Phenom” would drop the title to Couture in his next fight and spend the next three years floundering in and out of a plethora of promotions. During this time, he would also make his pro boxing debut (he knocked out a dude within a minute in April 2006 and hasn’t fought since) and after received a nine-month suspension after testing positive for an anabolic steroid following a decision loss to Dan Henderson at Pride 32: The Real Deal. The time off would be beneficial.
He re-appeared in the now-defunct British organization Cage Rage in 2007 where he steamrolled through the competition en route to the promotion’s light heavyweight championship. Around the same time, back in Brazil, a woman stepped forward and confessed to participating in the kidnapping and murder of Priscila Belfort. Finally, the Belfort family had some closure and could start the healing process.
Belfot signed with Affliction Entertainment in 2008, left Brazil to Las Vegas to work exclusively with Couture and Shawn Tompkins, and re-invented himself as a middleweight. “The Phenom” debuted for the apparel giant at their inaugural event Banned and defeated Chicago’s Terry Martin in the second round.
Belfort’s next fight would be at the following event Day Of Reckoning where he took on Matt Lindland, a legitimate top five middleweight. When the two fought in January, “The Phenom” knocked out the fighter-turned-political candidate in less than a minute. Dude didn’t even break a sweat.
Dana White was impressed and gushed to members of the media about wanting to bring him in for a potential superfight with fellow countrymen Anderson Silva. But Belfort was under contract to the so-called t-shirt guys, which made hope for the mega encounter appear dim.
This past July, however, Affliction closed their doors ten days before Belfort was slated to tangle with Jorge Santiago at Affliction: Trilogy. Zuffa picked up his contract and on Sept. 19, well find out if Belforts best days are behind him or yet to come.