The reward for Michael Bisping in his middleweight fight Saturday against Vitor Belfort in the main event of UFC on FX 7 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is obvious:
Win, and Bisping's next outing will be against Anderson Silva for the UFC middleweight title.
A victory over Belfort would lead to a potentially life-altering moment for the brash Brit.
For Belfort, though, the prize is not so obvious.
When UFC president Dana White was asked what was in the fight for Belfort, he uncharacteristically hemmed and hawed.
"Well, the position Vitor is in, what he has done, the way he lost to Anderson Silva, he's going to need to clean out the division to get another shot [at the middleweight title]," White said. "It will be another notch on his belt."
Belfort, comfortable at nearly 36 and regularly referring to himself as "the old lion," couldn't do much better.
There is nothing but pride on the line for Belfort. He's fighting in his home country in front of what is expected to be a passionate crowd roaring its approval of his every move. Making that large group happy will have to suffice.
He is, after all, a guy who got shots at both the middleweight titles and light heavyweight titles in a 19-month span. He was knocked out in 3:25 of the first round in his title challenge against Silva at UFC 126 on Feb. 5, 2011. Then, in September, he was submitted by Jon Jones at UFC 152 in a light heavyweight title bout.
There are so many other logical contenders in both divisions that, win or lose, it's possible Belfort will never again get a championship match again.
"If Dana, the boss, says I'm not going to fight for the title, how can I be disappointed?" Belfort says in a soft, sing-songy voice. "It's not my job to make those decisions. That's Dana's job. That's Lorenzo [Fertitta's] job. I just try to be a respectful, honorable person and do my job.
"My joy comes from my faith, my heart, my house, my family. I don't worry about things like titles. I fight the best that I can, whether it is a title fight or not. That's all I can do and I don't worry about the rest."
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Belfort knows that Bisping will fight as if his career depends upon it Saturday because of what is at stake for the Brit. As a result, he's prepared himself for the intensity he knows he's going to see.
He lauded his opponent in an interview with Yahoo! Sports, even though Bisping said that Brazilian reporters told him Belfort had trashed him in interviews done in Portuguese.
Whether or not he did is immaterial to whether he will be ready to match Bisping's intensity level given the difference in stakes.
He pulled out the old lion analogy to essentially say that as a veteran, he's learned to respect every opponent.
"The way I think now for every fight, whoever they put in front of me, I'm happy with that and I'll get ready to give my all," he said. "Look, Michael Bisping is one of the best from this younger generation. He's one of the pound-for-pound best in the division. He's accomplished a lot already.
"As the old lion, I learned through trial and error, you have to respect all opponents and to be ready for them. The most important fight in my career is always the one coming up and so to me, the most important fight of my life is on Saturday against Michael Bisping."
He would, he says, like the opportunity to make amends for the loss to Silva. He was injured before both the Silva fight and the Jones fight, but went ahead and competed anyway.
He said he'll always be nagged by the thought of what might have been had he fought Silva while healthy and hopes that the chance will come one day to prove that in the cage.
He won't, though, make a fuss if that chance never arises.
"I got to fight them both and they're two of the greatest to ever step into the cage," Belfort said. "They really and truly are both great, great fighters, you know what I'm saying? It's a privilege and an honor even to have been in there against them. For me now, I can honor the sport and honor my fans by being 1,000 percent ready every time they call on me and by giving my opponent everything that I have.
"That's what I'm going to do with Michael Bisping. I'm going to give him my best because I respect him, the sport, Dana White, the Fertittas and because that is the way a professional handles business."
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