Monday, August 27, 2012
Belfort to give Jones a taste of the past
By Franklin McNeil
When the call came from UFC officials, offering a title shot against light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, there wasn’t the slightest hesitation from Vitor Belfort.
|Vitor Belfort has never been the type of guy to think twice before making the plunge.|
Before the final words reached his ears, Belfort accepted. The only issue he had was, when would the fight take place?
Jones had turned down a fight with Chael Sonnen after his original opponent, Dan Henderson, pulled out of their Sept. 1 showdown at UFC 151 with a partially torn MCL.
The champion and his handlers weren’t interested in fighting Sonnen with eight days remaining 'til fight night.
Shortly thereafter, former UFC light heavyweight champions Lyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua said "no" to facing Jones on short notice. That's when the promotion turned to Belfort, who was willing to fight immediately.
Saving UFC 151 became his top priority. Belfort insisted he was the right man to fight Jones on a week’s notice and rescue that event, not Sonnen.
Eight days? No problem. Belfort, who was training for an Oct. 13 middleweight bout against Alan Belcher, was physically and mentally ready to go.
“If the fight would have happened next Saturday, I would have stepped in,” Belfort told ESPN.com. “That’s what I told them: ‘Don’t cancel! There are so many fans, we don’t want to bum them out. They deserve to see a fight. Let’s do it!’
“For Jones, on a personal level, fighting Chael Sonnen wasn’t worth it. Chael didn’t deserve to fight a guy like Jones.”
Belfort and Sonnen have spent the past few years competing at 185 pounds. Each also has light-heavyweight experience under his belt.
If the fight would have happened next Saturday, I would have stepped in. That's what I told them, 'Don't cancel! There are so many fans; we don't want to bum them out. They deserve to see a fight. Let's do it!'
-- Vitor Belfort, on trying to salvage UFC 151
Belfort not only takes a two-fight win streak into the cage against Jones but also can boast of being a former UFC light heavyweight champion.
Belfort lifted the 205-pound belt from Randy Couture on Jan. 31, 2004, with a first-round TKO. Couture would reclaim his title, via third-round TKO, during an immediate rematch in August 2004.
Besides, Belfort is old-school: no frills, no trash-talk. Throughout his career, Belfort has wanted to fight only the best, and he’s never given less than 100 percent effort.
It will be no different against Jones. Belfort is prepared to give the defending champion all he can handle.
And Belfort isn’t afraid to absorb a punch or kick or elbow in an effort to land some of his own -- and let the chips fall where they may.
“When you have a history like I do, somebody like me from the old days, we’re not divas,” Belfort said. “Carlson Gracie, during my first fight against a guy called Jon Hess, said, ‘Vitor, when your mind is ready, you are going to be dangerous for anybody.’
“Carlson taught me one thing I will never forget: ‘You have to just think of one thing -- never hesitate when a challenge comes. Just do it.’
“I’m focused on challenges and this definitely is a challenge. But in the end it’s just a fight. And I’m a fighter.
“I come from the old days. If I wasn’t in training, if I wasn’t preparing myself for a fight [in October], I still would have taken this fight with Jones. My God, this is a title fight!”
At 35, Belfort has battled a Who’s Who of mixed martial artists. He could retire tomorrow and be satisfied knowing that he competed against some of the very best this sport had to offer.
But the 25-year-old Jones is a different breed. This champion offers a style of mixed martial arts that Belfort and his colleagues of a few years ago could not have imagined.
Jones is the full package: youth, athleticism, size, speed, strength and confidence. He is also a fast-rising Madison Avenue darling.
It’s a lot to overcome, but Belfort can barely contain his enthusiasm when thinking about facing Jones inside the Octagon on Sept. 22 at the reworked UFC 152 in Toronto.
Belfort isn’t fighting for himself. He’s fighting for an era and for colleagues who are quickly fading into the history books.
Jones-Belfort is old school versus new school.
“I told [UFC chairman] Lorenzo [Fertitta] and [president] Dana [White] a while ago that I want to finish my career fighting the best fighters in the world,” Belfort said. “And having the privilege to fight the best fighter in the whole history of the UFC, Jon Jones, it’s a pleasure, it’s a dream.
“I admire him a lot. He’s the new version of the sport; I come from the old version. It’s a perfect fit. The fans are going to enjoy it.”