Entering the Fortaleza arena to the trademark sounds of “300 Violin Orchestra”, Vitor Belfort was greeted like a king. Walking through swathes of his Brazilian compatriots, his chest puffed out with pride at his aforementioned admirers chanting the name of their idol, ‘The Phenom’ stepped foot into the eight-sided cage like the greatest of ancient gladiators which MMA combatants have evolved from.
Under four minutes later, the once boisterous arena had fallen deadly silent. The heralded warrior was looking up at the lights in a dazed and confused state – an all but increasingly familiar sight. Three out of the previous four bouts Belfort had participated in, the Brazilian had suffered the same fate. Since the UFC confirmed its intrusive out-of-competition testing with USADA, Belfort has only bested a lone figure in Dan Henderson – a fighter seven years his elder.
The writing is unfortunately on the wall for the Brazilian superstar and yet Belfort has painfully continued to path out a prosperous future within the cage.
“I have even one idea I want to present for the UFC: It’s creating a new league inside the UFC,” Belfort told MMAJunkie days prior to his main event bout. “What I want to propose to them is creating a league inside the UFC, the Legend League, so we can bring back these retired people – bring them back to the game and sell more tickets – give more opportunities so they can make more revenue.
“I can lead that. We can make a title fight between me and one of the legends, and that can be a new program in the UFC.”
It’s an all too common sight in the fight game, but fighters will always look to find ways to hold onto their former glories. To his credit, Belfort has found a unique niche for himself. He has successfully identified a path of least resistance for his own personal gain: if he can set out his own parameters within the cage, he can continue to thrive in the profession that has engulfed his life for the past 21 years. The harsh reality, however, is that expecting a league of your own in the UFC is anything but possible.
The UFC have never bowed to the whims of their own fighters, especially those on the last legs of their fighting career. They may hand out a favourable retirement bout here and there but to propose a whole new division or league? The UFC are still yet to acknowledge that they have a women’s featherweight champion within their own rankings.
With the former UFC light heavyweight champion in his current state, the question needs to be asked of just why Vitor Belfort willingly accepted such a bout as the one he lost on Saturday night. With such a dangerous opponent standing opposite in Kelvin Gastelum, and Belfort apparently more than aware of his limitations, just what was Belfort expecting? If he had already created a blueprint of a legends league where his ability to be competitive would exponentially rise, surely he would know the impending consequences of a man half his age chomping at the bit to add him to his growing CV?
Now it must be said that losing to Kelvin Gastelum, a fighter rejuvenated at middleweight and with his best years ahead of him, isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Many fighters have and will suffer the same acrimonious end that Belfort endured. Yet, Belfort is a man whose own game has become a parody of itself: expect at most one round of surprising speed and you’ll have seen all he has to offer.
In recent bouts, however, the only fighters with success in the opening stanza have been Belfort’s adversaries. ‘The Phenom’ had only been stopped due to strikes twice before a flash front kick from Anderson Silva became the UFC’s iconic advertisement in 2011. Six years later, he has been stopped with relative ease by his past three opponents.
The days of the UFC touting Belfort as having ‘no known weakness’ are well and truly over. The undefeated concept of ‘Father Time’ has claimed another victim and while Vitor Belfort may delay the invetible with his fingertips hanging onto the cliff edge of his career, for his own sake, it’s probably best to stop challenging him to one more match.