Vitor Belfort – The Career of a Phenom

When you think of a legitimately terrifying mixed martial artist, it’s quite difficult to look beyond Brazilian favourite Vitor ‘The Phenom’ Belfort.

A lifetime of skill, aggression, determination and raw talent stemming from his humble beginnings in 1996, Belfort is undeniably one of the greatest strikers in the history of combat sports, with a sure foot in the UFC Hall of Fame upon his approaching retirement.

With some of the most ferocious hands in the business, Vitor’s incredible ability to swarm a stunned opponent has been unmatched in the octagon to this day in my opinion, and his continued evolution at the age of 35 to incorporate kicks and spinning attacks into his arsenal, makes ‘The Phenom’ one of MMA’s true pioneers and earth shattering forces.

A hugely decorated achiever, Vitor held the UFC Light-Heavyweight title, took the UFC 12 heavyweight tournament crown and an ADCC bronze medal but it may be his killer instinct and world class ability to finish a fight that cement’s Belfort’s legacy as one of the best to grace the cage.

Making his octagon bow at UFC 12, two first round finishes for Vitor saw him capture the UFC Heavyweight tournament trophy, firstly forcing a doctor stoppage in his appearance against Texas native Tra Telligman, who later went on to beat the dangerous Igor Vovchanchyn. A brutal stoppage followed in his final pairing with the 328lbs Scott Ferrozzo, catching the much larger American with a right hand before taking his back and landing a brutal barrage of right hands, before a young, not so ‘Big’ John McCarthy saved Ferrozzo from further punishment.

Vitor quickly established himself as a legitimate, heavy handed knockout artist, scoring two stoppage wins, first over Tank Abbott and then shockingly Wanderlei Silva, either side of his first professional loss at the hands of future UFC double weight king Randy Couture.

The aforementioned bludgeoning of his fellow Brazilian Silva may be one of Vitor’s most memorable performances. As the commentator informed the watching audience that Vitor wouldn’t be allowed to kick as he was wearing shoes, Vitor showed us his first and now famous barrage and sudden aggression, landing clean on ‘The Axe Murderer’ before almost chasing the future PRIDE star to the fence and landing a series of damaging strikes to bring an end to Wanderlei’s night. Many believe this was the first real display of ‘The Phenom’ that is Vitor Belfort.

His first of three UFC stints was brief as the Rio born Belfort made the transition to the now defunct PRIDE Fighting Championships, finding considerable success in the Japanese promotion after an initial defeat to iconic catch wrestler Kazushi Sakuraba. Vitor went on to pick up two consecutive decisions over the often criticised Gilbert Yvel and Judo expert Daijiro Matsui. A submission win over The Ultimate Fighter contestant Bobby Southworth soon followed for the striking dominant Belfort. His final match in PRIDE seen him paired with Heath Herring, adding yet another decision victory to his already impressive resumé.

A meeting with fellow MMA pioneer Chuck Liddell was next for Vitor in his UFC return, losing to ‘The Iceman’ via unanimous decision at UFC 37.5 in a dominant display from the UFC title holder Liddell. A highly anticipated meeting between Vitor and Marvin Eastman was next slated for UFC 43, where we witnessed one of the worst cuts in UFC history. An all too familiar aggressive knee combination from Vitor dropped Eastman and when he eventually rose to his feet, an enormous gash over his right eye was visible, with colour commentator Joe Rogan stating that it looked like Eastman was just “hit with an axe”.

That spectacular stoppage earned Vitor a second shot at Randy Couture, and subsequently, his premier quest at UFC gold. Seizing the opportunity with both hands, quite literally, Vitor managed to claim the UFC Light Heavyweight crown in controversial circumstances, when his glove managed to cause a corneal abrasion, with a doctor stoppage awarding the title to ‘The Phenom’. A third bout was then scheduled with Vitor attempting to make his first defence of the 205lb crown. Amazingly, a second consecutive doctor stoppage saw the title changes hands, with Couture stopping Vitor with a third round barrage.

The loss to ‘The Natural’ Couture thus began the worst spell of Belfort’s career results wise, dropping two more losses to UFC 37.5 planned foe Tito Ortiz, finding himself on the wrong side of a razor thin decision, despite landing some good shots against ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ in the opening round, before the wrestling of Ortiz turned the contest on it’s head in the later rounds. A second trip to Japan in the form of PRIDE: Total Elimination 2005, was next on the cards for ‘The Phenom’, as he faced the dominant and highly dangerous Alistair Overeem.

Despite his incredible striking ability, it was the underrated grappling of Overeem that handed Vitor his 6th career defeat. A patented guillotine from ‘The Reem’ spelled the end of Belfort’s night. A brief spell in the Cage Rage promotion saw Vitor return to winning ways against Antony Rea, before he was paired in the Strikeforce promotion against Overeem again, losing his fourth bout in five, this time going the distance with the Dutch striker.

Another journey to PRIDE saw the Brazilian stop Kazuo Takahasi in brutal fashion within half a minute. This period in PRIDE also seen the beginning of his trilogy with then Middleweight champion Dan Henderson, and also seen the first of his infamous infringements with testosterone. The Brazilian dropped yet another decision, but after the bout with Henderson, he tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone, subsequently putting a question mark over his previous achievements in the sport.

Upon his second spell in England with Cage Rage, Vitor went on to win their Light Heavyweight title stopping Ivan Setari before a decision victory over then champ James Zikic, beginning his career best five fight win streak. A transition to the Affliction promotion brought back the Vitor of old, as he starched both Terry Martin and more shockingly, Matt Lindland.

Belfort landed a check left hook on the chin of Lindland before stiffening the American with ground and pound, with Matt requiring some medical attention after the bout. Now on a four fight high, Belfort was once more signed by the Ultimate Fighting Championship and highlighted his contender status and danger in a fantastic display against former UFC middleweigght champion Rich Franklin, earning him his first of two middleweight title shots.

Belfort clashed with then UFC middleweight king Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva in a heated match up. At the weigh ins, Silva produced a white face mask and put it on before squaring off with his compatriot. In the octagon, the dynamic striking of Silva was at it’s sparkling best, rivalled only by his master class against Forest Griffin. Measuring Belfort in a tentative first round, Silva sprang with a beautifully timed front kick, collapsing Vitor into his own frame and landing two more shots before Mario Yamasaki stopped the bout. The first time Vitor had been really flat lined in his career.

In his first match after the iconic knockout, Belfort, stopped Yoshihiro Akiyama with a classic Vitor flurry and barrage, earning him his premier Knockout of The Night accolade, before welcoming fellow knockout artist Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson to his native Brazil. Displaying his often forgot about grappling, Belfort survived the early ‘Rumble’ onslaught to secure a rear-naked choke over the two time UFC light heavyweight title chaser. Vitor was then booked to face Jon ‘Bones’ Jones for the UFC Light Heavyweight championship.

Utilizing his superior wrestling pedigree, Jones took Vitor down with ease, but incredibly, almost had his arm broken by the ADCC bronze medallist. Swivelling his hips, Belfort locked up a tight arm bar forcing Jones to hold Vitor up to break his grip, with his right arm severely hyper extended. Surviving maybe the biggest threat to his title to date, Jones began bloodying Belfort with ground and pound before stopping the title siege with a submission of his own, a fourth round Americana.

After that loss to Jones, the TRT era of Vitor Belfort began in breath taking fashion. Looking legitimately terrifying, Vitor moved back to his old stomping ground of 185lbs, and was paired with eventual UFC middleweight champ Michael Bisping.

In Sao Paulo, Belfort managed to pull of a spectacular left high kick knockout, detaching the retina of Bisping in the process, with the Mancunian requiring five separate surgeries to repair the injury. Throwing multiple feints, Belfort unleashed a lightning fast left kick sending Bisping to the canvas and opened a cut on “The Count”.

Serving as the welcoming party for Luke Rockhold’s UFC bow, once again in his home country, Belfort displayed the constant evolution of his already immaculate skill set, missing with maybe the first wheel kick of his career, before landing with the second soon after, sending a helpless Rockhold to the mat before Belfort finished the future champ with strikes.

Vitor continued his hat trick of wins with a hat trick of head kick stoppages, this time stopping former PRIDE foe Dan Henderson with a left high kick after tagging Henderson on the feet in the pairs second encounter. Vitor would go on to receive his final title shot to date with these three middleweight wins, facing Anderson Silva slayer Chris Weidman.

Belfort was expected to face ‘The All American’ back at UFC 173 but withdrew from the scheduled bout due to the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s ban on testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). Vitor was eventually re-booked alongside Weidman for UFC 187 after multiple injuries to Weidman and a random drug test failure for Vitor for elevated testosterone, the second of his storied career.

Similarly to the Silva weigh ins, controversy was on full display for those in attendance. Weidman questioned how Vitor’s testosterone levels could be higher than his own, considering his age. In the fight, Belfort landed some good strikes early on before Weidman landed his first takedown, sliced though to mount Belfort and finish with ground and pound.

After the bout with Weidman many called for a rubber match between Belfort and Henderson, which eventually took place at UFC Fight Night in Sao Paulo. Unbelievably, Belfort landed another high kick to finish Henderson and take the trilogy in the process. ‘Hendo’, similarly to the second contest ducked right into the brunt of the kick, with Vitor following up with severe ground and pound.

An all Brazilian clash co-headlined UFC 198 as Belfort faced decorated grappler Jacaré Souza who after establishing mount inflicted a TKO loss on the record of ‘The Phenom’.

Belfort met Gegard Mousasi at UFC 204 and after landing big early on, like he often does, faded with Mousasi keeping his composure before eventually teeing off on the Rio de Janeiro native and forcing referee Marc Goddard to come to his rescue.

A third consecutive knockout loss fell upon Belfort as he faced the slick boxing skills of Kelvin Gastelum, who originally scored a first round win, but saw the result overturned to a ‘No Contest’ after a failed drug test showed the presence of marijuana metabolites.

In his most recent trip to the octagon, Belfort stood across from former Strikeforce middleweight champion and the recently retired Nate ‘The Great’ Marquardt and despite a close back and forth, Vitor was handed a rather dubious unanimous decision in his hometown.

‘The Phenom’ announced his plans to retire after his meeting with the flashy Uriah ‘Prime Time’ Hall, no matter the result, but just a day before the scheduled meeting at UFC Fight Night St. Louis, Hall was rushed to the hospital after seemingly suffering a weight cutting induced seizure and kidney damage.

An emotional Belfort who had already successfully made weight, compared the feeling to the time his sister Priscilla was kidnapped in 2004. With UFC Fight Night London in March still without a confirmed main event, rumblings of a rematch between Michael Bisping and ‘The Phenom’ are rife, where both men could bow out in a double retirement, after a storied and accolade rich 22 year career, is there a better way to close the curtain on ‘The Phenom’?