By Dwight Wakabayashi
The original “Phenom” Vitor Belfort will take on brash Brit Michael Bisping this weekend at UFC on Sportsnet in his native country of Brazil in a fight that could earn him another shot at Anderson Silva and the UFC middleweight title.
The Brazilian legend has been fighting the best of the best in the world over the last 16-plus years of his career and has had a recent resurgence in the heart and minds of fans all across the world. His longevity at the top and his accomplishments inside the cage make him one of the best fighters of all time and a sure-fire UFC Hall of Famer.
Here are my top five moments in Vitor Belfort’s UFC career.
5. Belfort wins UFC tournament at 19 years old – UFC 12, Feb. 7, 1997, Dothan, Alabama
Belfort shocked the world in his very first appearance inside the UFC cage when at only 19 years old, he defeated Tra Telligman and then Scott Ferrozzo to win the UFC 12 Tournament. Both fights ended in first-round TKOs and Belfort became the youngest fighter to ever win inside the Octagon. The Phenom was on his way.
4. The Phenom silences the Tank – UFC 13, May 30, 1997, Augusta, Georgia
Many fans had grown tired of Tank Abbott’s classless persona and one-dimensional skill set by the time he faced Belfort at UFC 13 in 1997. Abbott had already been exposed as not being able to beat the best grapplers and many wanted Belfort to show him his hands were falling behind the times as well.
Riding high off his tournament win earlier in the year, Belfort came out and blitzed Abbott, knocking him down to the canvas right away and ending the fight with ground and pound. It proved without a doubt that the bar brawlers in the UFC were being passed over by the new athlete.
3. Belfort gets even with Couture to win LHW Title – UFC 46, Jan. 31, 2004, Las Vegas
Belfort suffered his first professional loss at UFC 15 in 1997 when Randy Couture TKO’d him near the end of the first round. UFC 46 gave him his chance at revenge and the UFC light-heavyweight title. Belfort was in deep despair at the time over the disappearance of his sister in Brazil only a few weeks earlier. The MMA gods were in full effect as Belfort grazed Couture’s eye with the seam of his glove, cutting the champion and forcing the referee to put a halt to the fight. Belfort won the title at 27 years old.
2. Within an inch of stopping Jones – UFC 152, Sept. 22, 2012, Toronto
Tough to rank a fight that ended in a loss as a top moment but it was the first round that lands this fight on this list. Over eight years after he won it the first time, the Brazilian legend got another shot at the light-heavyweight title and a chance to stop Jon Jones. Belfort almost shocked the world in the first round when he snatched Jones’ arm from his back and secured a very tight armbar. The champ struggled to get out with pain etched on his face as the crowd roared in a frenzy.
Seconds seemed like minutes as Jones refused to tap and was able to finally wiggle free of the dangerous hold. It was as close as Jones has ever been to defeat and proved that at 36 years old this year, Belfort is still at the very top of the UFC food chain.
1. The Phenom blitzes the Axe Murderer – UFC Brazil, Oct. 16, 1998, Sao Paulo, Brazil
At UFC Brazil in 1998, Belfort was matched up against a new young and rising destroyer out of Brazil who went by the nickname “The Axe Murderer.” Belfort vs. Wanderlei Silva pitted the country’s best star against the country’s best prospect and the fight generated the most hype and anticipation in the history of the sport to that point. Fans were warned not to blink but few could have guessed what would happen when the bell rang to let these two animals go.
Belfort came straight out and landed a left cross, that sent Silva retreating straight back towards the cage. Belfort chased him down throwing piston-like punches that Ip Man and Wing Chun practitioners could behold for years to come. Silva had no escape and crumpled down to the canvas via TKO at 0:44 seconds of the first round.
It is one of, if not the best highlights in the early history of the UFC.
Will Belfort deliver another historic highlight-reel moment Saturday in his Sao Paulo return? We shall see.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report UFC and regular contributor to Sportsnet.ca’s UFC section. Follow him on Twitter @wakafightermma.