MMA: Sao Paolo
January, 15, 2013
By Franklin McNeil
Ed Mulholland for ESPNFirst things first: Vitor Belfort is focused more on opponent Michael Bisping than on future title shots.
A UFC middleweight title shot awaits Michael Bisping if he leaves the Octagon victorious Saturday night in Sao Paulo, Brazil, according to promotion president Dana White.
No such guarantee has been extended to Bisping’s opponent, Vitor Belfort. But that’s just fine with the former UFC light heavyweight champion. Belfort could make a fuss about it, and 10 years ago he probably would have. In the early days of his mixed martial arts career, Belfort was more about himself.
How could he not be, after winning a UFC heavyweight tournament in February 1997 at age 19?
Time, however, has a way of forcing some men to dig deep and examine their attitudes. Not everyone is willing to take such a task seriously -- but Belfort did. And the once self-centered teenager didn’t necessarily like what he discovered. Over the years, Belfort would become a husband and father -- and his life changed for the better.
No longer is he at the center of his world; Belfort’s top priority these days is his family. He'll do anything to secure their present and future, even if it means becoming a company man.
The Brazil native is a UFC company man. It is the reason he has remained calm after not being guaranteed a 185-pound title shot with a win Saturday night in his home country.
“I am very happy,” Belfort, 35, told ESPN.com. “Dana White knows what he is doing and I trust him. He’s the promoter of the organization. My job is to just follow orders and I accept it. And I will make sure I do my part and deliver. I’m always there for the organization and the fans.
Dana White knows what he is doing and I trust him. He's the promoter of the organization. My job is to just follow orders and I accept it.” -- Vitor Belfort, on being a company fighter and putting his trust in the hands of his promoter
“So this will be just another day at the office, and I will stop Michael Bisping. That’s it, that’s my job.”
Some might wonder, what has gotten into Belfort? Has he lost his edge, his fire, his competitiveness? Has he sold out to UFC’s corporate dollars?
It’s none of those things. What has happened to Belfort over the years is that he simply matured. Belfort is at peace with himself. He’s in a better place these days. Life has been very good to him and he appreciates every day to its fullest.
His love for mixed martial arts over the years has also greatly improved. He now puts his heart and soul into the sport. And the result is reflected in his level preparation for Saturday night’s showdown with Bisping.
“Today, I weigh 198 [pounds]; I’m treating myself good, great diet,” Belfort said. “I’m in the best shape of my life.
“[Training partner and former UFC light heavyweight champion] Rashad Evans said: ‘Man, the last time I saw you like this was when you were 19 years old.’
“I feel young. I feel motivated.”
Like a 19-year-old?
Ed Mulholland for ESPNThirty-five, going on 19: A revitalized Vitor Belfort feels as strong as he did when he first won a UFC title.
Belfort’s rejuvenation isn’t just physical or emotional. He might not get an immediate title shot with a win over Bisping, but becoming a champion still remains his ultimate goal -- even if he isn’t ready to come right out and say it. He’s knows the reason White will not grant him a second shot at middleweight titleholder Anderson Silva at this time. That first-round knockout he suffered -- via a Silva front kick to the jaw at UFC 126 -- is too fresh on the minds of fight fans.
But Belfort is a very spiritual man, and he greatly believes a title shot is in his foreseeable future. He just needs to keep winning -- that fourth-round submission loss to light heavyweight champion Jon Jones in September has no bearing on his standing at middleweight.
Taking that fight with Jones at UFC 152 was Belfort being the consummate company man. UFC won’t hold that setback against him, and Belfort knows it.
“I’m in the best time of my life,” Belfort said. “I’m enjoying every single moment. I’m happy; I’m ready to win [Saturday night]. I’m ready to conquer each step that’s in front of me toward my main goal.
“I’m just taking it step by step. It’s not being arrogant, but I don’t like to talk about something that’s in the future. Right now I have Michael Bisping and that’s the most important fight of my career. We can talk about the future after this fight.
“But my ultimate goal, everybody knows, is winning, getting to the top of the chain. That’s my main goal.”