Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - It’s a staple on the list of most longtime UFC fans’ favorite images – Vitor Belfort, just 20 years old, blasting through his opponents with blistering hand speed and power. These displays rightfully earned him the nickname of ‘The Phenom’, and even as he matured into a man who eventually held the UFC light heavyweight title in 2004, the fans never left his side. On September 19th, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, Belfort returns to the Octagon for the first time in over four years to take on former middleweight champion Rich Franklin in the light heavyweight main event of UFC 103.
It’s a staple on the list of most longtime UFC fans’ favorite images – Vitor Belfort, just 20 years old, blasting through his opponents with blistering hand speed and power. These displays rightfully earned him the nickname of ‘The Phenom’, and even as he matured into a man who eventually held the UFC light heavyweight title in 2004, the fans never left his side. On September 19th, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, Belfort returns to the Octagon for the first time in over four years to take on former middleweight champion Rich Franklin in the light heavyweight main event of UFC 103.
The announcement came today from UFC President Dana White, as he explained why a rematch between Franklin and Dan Henderson was replaced at the top of the UFC 103 bill.
“When we announced that Rich Franklin was fighting Dan Henderson, there was some backlash, and people didn’t like it,” said White. “So we went out and just signed Vitor Belfort. The fans didn’t like the card, we changed it and it’s now Rich Franklin vs Vitor Belfort headlining in Dallas.”
Born in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, Belfort (18-8) burst onto the world scene in February of 1997 with blistering stoppages of Tra Telligman and Scott Ferrozzo on the UFC 12 card that lasted a combined two minutes. Three months later, he destroyed Tank Abbott in less than a minute before an upset loss to Randy Couture at UFC 15 in October of 1997.
Belfort would log two more UFC wins over Joe Charles and Wanderlei Silva before traveling to Japan to fight in the PRIDE organization. There, Belfort went 4-1 with his only loss coming to Japanese superstar Kazushi Sakuraba.
In 2002, he returned to the UFC, with wins over Marvin Eastman and Couture (the latter earning him the UFC 205-pound title) sandwiched by losses to Couture, Chuck Liddell, and Tito Ortiz. After the close loss to Ortiz at UFC 51 in 2005, Belfort again took his show on the road, defeating UFC vets Terry Martin and Ivan Serati along the way. In his most recent bout, on January 24th, Belfort scored a spectacular 37 second knockout of Matt Lindland in the Affliction organization. In fact, Belfort, who has won four straight, has scored KOs or TKOs in seven of his last eight victories, proving once and for all that “The Phenom” is back.
“Vitor’s been on a streak again, and he’s back mentally and physically,” said White. “His contract came up and we were interested. I’ve been hinting around at bringing him back, we got it done and it worked out. I think him and Rich is a fun fight.”
Tickets for UFC 103: Franklin vs Belfort, are on sale now.
WHAT ABOUT HENDO – Henderson, who is fresh from a big knockout of Michael Bisping at UFC 100 on July 11th, will be next in line for a shot at UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who submitted Hendo in 2008. Since that bout, Henderson is 3-0, with wins over Rousimar Palhares, Franklin, and Michael Bisping. There is no timetable for the rematch, with the organization keeping an eye on what happens when Silva moves up to the light heavyweight division again to face Forrest Griffin at UFC 101 in Philadelphia on August 8th.
WHITE ON FEDOR – Following the cancellation of the Affliction bout between former PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko and Josh Barnett and the subsequent close of the organization, speculation centered on the possibility of a deal between Emelianenko and the UFC. Negotiations took place with the two parties, but Emelianenko’s team’s insistence on co-promoting with the UFC was a deal breaker.
“To turn down a deal like this, you don’t care about proving you’re the best in the world, you don’t want to fight the best in the world, you don’t care about money,” continued an incredulous White. “There is no compromise on the co-promotion. Why would I let anybody come in and co-promote with us? This thing we built, the Fertittas risked all their money, all the things that we’ve done and busted our asses over for the ten years that we’ve been in this business, and these guys are gonna walk in and say ‘yeah, we’re gonna be in business with these guys.’
“I was so confident this was gonna happen,” he concluded. “I went into this thing with the attitude that we’re gonna make it happen. The fans really want to see this fight (Brock Lesnar vs Fedor), I want to see how good this guy really is against the best in the world, so let’s do this thing. It didn’t happen. But if they want to make a deal, they can call me right now and we can do it.”
UFC AND WEC WELCOME NEWCOMERS – White announced that in addition to Belfort, former Affliction fighters Dan Lauzon, Ben Rothwell, Chase Gormley, Rafaello Oliveira, and Paul Daley will all be coming to the UFC in the near future. The WEC will welcome Javier Vazquez, Mark Hominick and LC Davis, and White said that talks are continuing with other undisclosed fighters on the defunct promotion’s roster.