Confidence is something that Vitor Belfort never lacks before a fight. And his confidence level is as high as ever heading into UFC 142.
Belfort will compete under the UFC banner in his native Brazil for the first time since Oct. 16, 1998, when he knocked out Wanderlei Silva in the first round. He was fighting at light heavyweight for the very first time that evening. From that performance, it was reasonable to assume that Belfort was on his way to accomplishing great things at 205 pounds.
And eventually he would: Belfort briefly held the UFC light heavyweight title in 2004.
He’s home again, but this time as a middleweight contender. Belfort is a big, strong, powerful 185-pound mixed martial artist, and he intends to impose his will on the man slated to stand across from him -- Anthony Johnson.
“I’m going to test his heart and I’m going to be 100 percent for him; he’s going to face a hungry, hungry lion,” Belfort said recently. “No man can stand against me when I am in this frame of mind. Once I am in the Octagon and the door slams shut, it is all business. Anthony Johnson will be defeated in my homeland.”
A former UFC heavyweight contender, Belfort has gradually moved down in weight in hopes of recapturing a title belt.
Johnson on the other hand, is on a quest for UFC title glory. Rather than battle to cut more weight, the former welterweight contender is keeping additional pounds on his body.
A massive 170-pound fighter, Johnson will make his middleweight debut at UFC 142. And based on the way Johnson is feeling these days, this is possibly the worst time for anyone to be facing him -- including Belfort.
Rather than shredding 55 pounds from his body, Johnson now has to only cut 40. The extra 15 pounds has Johnson feeling stronger, faster and extremely confident how he will perform Saturday.
“I’m going to be a lot more well-rounded; I’m going to put on a lot more pressure than ever before,” Johnson told ESPN.com. “Vitor thinks Randy [Couture] put pressure on him and did some things to him, and Anderson [Silva]? Wait till I get ahold of him. It’s going to be another story.
“I’m a better wrestler than Randy, with a different style, of course. And with Anderson, I do a totally different style of kicks and punches. Vitor is in for the ride of his life. Jan. 14 is going to be the worst day of his life.”
The source of Johnson’s physical improvements and increased confidence can be found at his training camp -- the Brackzilians.
Johnson heads into his bout against Belfort having participated in his third camp with the Boca Raton, Fla.-based team. This will be his second fight as a member of the Blackzilians, and according to Johnson, it’s the best preparation he’s had in his pro career.
“Since I’ve been with the Blackzilians, life has been beautiful. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my whole life,” said Johnson, who takes a 10-3 professional record and two-fight win streak into Brazil. “Coming here, joining this team and joining Authentic Sports Management, it’s been golden. I’ve never been as happy as I am now.
“Now I know for a fact that the sky is the limit for me. I’ve become a new person compared to what people used to see.”
Johnson intends to prove that he is also a new fighter -- bigger, stronger, faster and on his way toward becoming a force at middleweight.
In some ways, Johnson’s situation is eerily similar to what Belfort experienced at UFC Brazil in October 1998, when he KO’d Wanderlei in less than a minute. Johnson now finds himself in the role of hard-punching guy who is making his divisional debut -- much like Belfort did a little more than 13 years ago.