Sunday, May 19, 2013

'Phenom'enal


February 7, 1997 at UFC 12 in Dothan, Alabama of all places; that is the first time anyone saw a 19 year old phenom named Vitor Belfort fight in The Octagon. It was actually only the second time anyone saw Vitor Belfort fight period. That is because prior to this appearance he only had 12 seconds of pro experience, winning his first and only bout by knockout in that amount of time.

He didn't spend too much time in his second and third fights, which took place on this night, either. That's because he won both with a total time of two minutes exactly. Already a black belt in jiu-jitsu under the late renowned Carlson Gracie, Belfort had something other jiu-jitsu practitioners at the time didn't have; striking ability with his hands that were as fast as any boxer you could think of. Thus, with a combination of striking and grappling that was unparalleled, the kid was aptly nicknamed "The Phenom."

Move forward 16+ years and the now 36 year old Belfort with a record of (23-10, 16 KO's 3 subs) is a former UFC Heavyweight and Light-Heavyweight (205 lbs.) Champion who is looking to be the next middleweight (185 lbs.) champion; thus making him the only three-division champion in UFC history. He already had one shot at the middleweight crown, in which he came up short in February 2011. However, after going (4-1) since, with his only loss being to light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones in a fight he pretty much took as a favor to the company, chances are looking good he'll get another shot soon.

This especially after the way he disposed of former Strikeforce middleweight champ Luke Rockhold on Saturday night in his home country of Brazil. In two and a half minutes of the first round with a spectacular spinning hook kick to the head that spelled the beginning of the end for Rockhold. Follow that up with some of Belfort's precise and powerful punches and the UFC newcomer was all but out when the referee jumped in to save him.

"Phenomenal" is the best way to describe how Belfort looked and it seems that like fine wine he is just getting better with age. A lot of that has to do with maturity; at 19 Belfort was talented, but like any kid his age he rested on his laurels assuming his talent would carry him. It took a beat down from a UFC newcomer named Randy Couture at UFC 15 in October 1997 to make him realize that talent will only take you so far.

So as time passed and life's experiences took their natural course in maturing Belfort, he had his ups and downs along the way; as do most people as they grow. That showed itself to be the case in his fights as well as there were moments of grandeur along with losses that left you wondering whether we'd ever really see the full potential of a truly great fighter.

It took a while, but better late than never because it looks as though the best Vitor Belfort is here now; primed, dedicated to both the sport and his family and as talented as ever. Now training with the Blackzilians camp in Florida, Belfort is expanding his game and it is showing. His work with kickboxing coach Henri Hooft is paying off as in 16 years, no one has seen a spinning hook kick from Vitor Belfort; in two and a half minutes on Saturday night he threw two and the second one proved the difference; in a word, 'phenom'enal!

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