MMA Ratings Podcast

June 2, 2017

UFC 212: Vitor Belfort Will Leave the UFC With An Unclear Legacy

By Adam Martin

One storyline that is perhaps flying under the radar heading into this weekend’s UFC 212 card in Brazil is that it will be former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Vitor Belfort’s last fight inside the Octagon. This is the 40-year-old Brazilian superstar’s last fight on his current UFC contract and he’s made it clear that he intends to pursue other opportunities in other organizations, with rumors linking him to Bellator MMA, although this week Belfort said he's open to a UFC return as well.

For now, though, Belfort still has one more fight left in the UFC, and he’ll take on Nate Marquardt in a three-round middleweight bout that takes place on the main pay-per-view card at UFC 212. It’s a fan-friendly fight between two aging veterans who are known for both their knockout power as well as their tendency to be knocked out, and it’s likely this will be an exciting fight that sees someone get knocked out. Regardless of the result of Saturday’s fight between Belfort and Marquardt, however,it’s normal to wonder what Belfort’s UFC legacy will look like once he’s finally left the Octagon for good.

Back in 1996, a 19-year-old Belfort made his pro debut fighting in Hawaii for SuperBrawl, knocking out Jon Hess in his 12 seconds. The UFC wasted no time in signing him, and he debuted at UFC 12 as part of the heavyweight tournament. Still just 19, Belfort knocked out Tra Telligman in just over a minute and then knocked out Scott Ferrozzo in just 43 seconds to win the heavyweight tournament. With his muscular frame and blazing-fast hand speed, Belfort looked like a Roman gladiator, and quickly became one of the faces of the sport.

A 52-second knockout win over Tank Abbott at UFC 13 was enough to earn a 20-year-old version of Belfort a title shot against Randy Couture, but his lack of conditioning saw him lose the fight just over eight minutes into the first round. Belfort bounced back though, defeating Joe Charles via submission at UFC Japan before knocking out Wanderlei Silva at UFC Brazil with a brutal first-round flurry just 44 seconds into the fight. It’s still arguably the most infamous moment in Belfort’s career and remains one of the sport’s defining knockouts to this day.

After knocking out Silva, Belfort received a big contract from PRIDE FC in Japan, and he went there and won four of his five fights before eventually returning to the UFC. He would lose his return bout to the UFC against Chuck Liddell at UFC 37.5, but a TKO win over Marvin Eastman at UFC 43 -- still one of the worst cut stoppages ever in MMA -- set up him for a rematch against Randy Couture at UFC 46. Just 49 seconds into the fight, a cut over Couture’s eyelid was enough to force a stop to the fight and Belfort won the UFC Light heavyweight Championship, still his lone UFC title to this day. He would end up losing the title back to Couture at UFC 49 via third-round TKO and then lost a split decision to Tito Ortiz before once again leaving for PRIDE FC. He would go 6-3 fighting in PRIDE, Cage Rage, Strikeforce, and Affliction before a brutal knockout win over Matt Lindland was enough to get him back in the UFC for a third time.

Belfort’s return bout at UFC 103 was in the middleweight division, and it saw him brutally knock out Rich Franklin to earn a title shot against Anderson Silva. Belfort then fought Silva at UFC 126, only to be on the receiving end of one of MMA’s most notable knockouts, courtesy of a Silva front kick. Belfort rebounded with a knockout win over Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 133 and then submitted Anthony Johnson at UFC 142 in a catchweight bout, which was enough to earn him a title shot against light heavyweight champion Jon Jones at UFC 152. Despite nearly submitting Jones with an armbar in the first round, Belfort’s lack of conditioning would once again hurt him, as he lost via fourth-round submission.

Then the “TRT Vitor” era began. Although Belfort had been granted a license for testosterone replacement therapy for the Jones fight, no one was aware. But it was public knowledge Belfort was on TRT when he fought Michael Bisping at UFC on FX 7, when he knocked out Bisping with a head kick. He then fought Luke Rockhold at UFC on FX 8, once again winning the fight via head kick, this time of the spinning hook kick variety. Then his next outing saw him knock out Dan Henderson at UFC Fight Night 32, once again with a head kick.

Those three KO wins were enough to earn Belfort a title shot against Chris Weidman, but this was after TRT was banned, and he lost the fight via first-round TKO. Another knockout win over Henderson at UFC Fight Night 77 followed, but then he was brutally knocked out by Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza at UFC 198 and then Gegard Mousasi at UFC 204, before losing once again via KO to Kelvin Gastelum at UFC Fight Night 106, only to see the result get overturned to a No Contest due to Gastelum testing positive for marijuana.

Overall, Belfort has a 14-9, 1 NC record in the UFC, with 12 wins by knockout and two by submission, though that record will change after he fights Marquardt. His nine losses have come six times via knockout, twice by decision, and once by submission. He’s a fighter who either kills or gets killed, and it’s defined his entire career. His ability to get fans out of the seats with his brutal first-round knockouts was something that has excited fans for years, but his poor chin and conditioning have also cost him the chance to ever be one of the game’s true greats. However, he’s certainly going in the Hall of Fame when it’s all said and done.

I can’t help but imagine, though, that his legacy won’t be defined so much by his KO power as it will be by his usage of PEDs. It’s clear that Belfort abused TRT, and likely other PEDs in his younger days, and when people look back at his career this will stand out like a sore thumb. Yes, TRT was legal at the time, but it was clear it benefited Belfort, and without it I don’t think he would have had the late-career surge he did, at least until the TRT ban took away his medicine for good.

Still, Belfort will go down as one of the most feared knockout artists to ever compete inside the Octagon. His combination of blazing-fast hands to go along with huge power was something that helped bring new fans to the sport in the early days, and even in his later days he was still putting on a show. You can never look past the drug use, but Belfort has had a pretty great career in the UFC. It will be interesting to see what his legacy becomes as the years go by.

UFC 212: Aldo vs. Holloway takes place June 3, 2017 at HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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