Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort fights like your younger sibling in Tekken: walking forward while spamming two buttons with a misplaced sense of optimism. Back when he was young and built like an 80’s villain, this won him fights in record time. Now that he’s old and built like 80’s Skylark, he’s having trouble against everyone. His only win in his last four fights was against Nate Marquardt, a man who is 3-8 in his current UFC run.
But newer fans deserve to know why Vitor was beloved in his heyday. He wasn’t always a deflated shell and a video-game haircut. So let’s recount some of the best moments of the “Phenom”.
Vitor Belfort vs. Wanderlei Silva: Everything is Punches
When Vitor was only 21 years old and the UFC still let you wear shoes, he met Wanderlei “Axe Murderer” Silva. Wanderlei was only six fights into his career but still extremely dangerous. After all, no one who made fun of his excessive nickname seems to have survived. It was supposed to be a battle of the Brazilian juggernauts, a bloody slugfest for the fans.
Instead, Vitor ran forward and punched Wanderlei so many times that he earned a 1-UP mushroom. Wanderlei ate so many headshots in succession that the impact was keeping him from collapsing to the canvas. Eventually, his brain told his legs to give up and Wanderlei fell the same moment the referee did his job.
Yes, Vitor waded forward and churned his fists like he was milking a sideways cow on a race course. But in all fairness, I don’t know a cow alive that’d survive that.
Vitor Belfort vs. Randy Couture II: See me with your good eye
In their first meeting, a 20-year-old Vitor lost to Randy “The Natural” Couture in a brutal back and forth fight. Vitor would go on to 7-2 after that loss and Couture would beat some of the greatest fighters in UFC history until their rematch.
Randy employed the exact strategy that brought him success; leg kicks and boxing until he got the clinch. And for 40 seconds, it looked like he’d accomplished just that. Which didn’t explain why John McCarthy called time and Randy was essentially blind in one eye. A slow-motion replay showed that as Randy lunged with a right hand, Vitor leaned back and threw a sizzling left. The American’s head was so far turned that Vitor ended up slicing his left eye.
That’s like getting a gutter-ball so hard that it ramps into the next lane and gets a strike.
It may seem “lucky”, but Randy always had a habit of “chasing” and Chuck Liddell would use it to beat him twice. Vitor essentially wrote the playbook and won the UFC light heavyweight title in doing so.
Vitor Belfort vs. Rich Franklin: Wait, what?
No one knew what to make of Vitor when he returned at UFC 103.
He was coming off two vicious knockout victories under the Affliction banner, but hadn’t shed his reputation of crumbling in big fights against top-flight opposition. Rich “Ace” Franklin was an ex-champion who had defended his title twice until Anderson Silva slept him twice. Vitor was more explosive but Franklin was the type of fighter who could weather and break him.
But three minutes into the round, Vitor threw a left hand that seemed to miss Franklin entirely. Strangely, Franklin channeled the spirit of James Brown and split-legged down to the canvas while Vitor pounded him out. The replay was like an urban legend.
Vitor’s left hand hit Franklin’s temple so fast that it forced the ex-champion’s head sideways. His skull offered so little resistance that Vitor’s fist kept traveling as though it had whiffed while Franklin surrendered all sense of balance and collapsed to the mat like it was a long-lost lover returning from sea.
Yes, there are far “better” UFC highlights for Vitor Belfort. There are his two head kicks over Dan Henderson and the spinning wheel kick over Luke Rockhold, but those are tainted by the evidence that Vitor was abusing TRT. And since its prohibition and subsequent testing, Vitor has looked like a shell of a shell of himself.
So if you’re a newer fan and wonder why your friends have a soft spot for someone who’s essentially a sideshow, remember this Vitor. Remember the young man who dealt with immense family tragedy and carved out a name with blistering speed and awe-inspiring power.
Remember the “Phenom”.