Vitor Belfort does not fit the mental picture of a man capable of such swift, sudden violence. He's genial and soft-spoken and speaks frequently of his devotion to God.
He wants to be a role model, an example of what one can become with faith, perseverance, dedication and effort.
He's proven that it's never too late to have a rebirth. At 37 and in his third stint in the UFC, he's fulfilling the vast potential that once led him to be nicknamed "The Phenom."
He's 5-2 in his most recent UFC run heading into Saturday's light heavyweight bout on Fox Sports 1 against Dan Henderson in Brazil. He wiped out elite fighters such as Luke Rockhold, Michael Bisping and Rich Franklin, among others, in this third go-round, and he nearly submitted light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
In many ways, he couldn't be in a better spot professionally. Though he's fighting Saturday's bout as a light heavyweight, he's in line for a middleweight title shot, and by his record, seems the most deserving of anyone in the UFC to face the winner of the Dec. 28 championship bout between Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva.
He does, though, face his share of problems. UFC president Dana White has frequently clashed with Belfort, so much so that White has asked CEO Lorenzo Fertitta to deal with him. Yet, despite their differences, White raves about Belfort's recent success.
"This version of Vitor Belfort is the best version I think there has ever been," White said. "He's finally gotten with a real team [Blackzillians] and he's doing what a lot of people thought he'd be doing years ago. He never really had a team and a good, stable training situation before. He just kind of went along, brought some guys in to train with him, but he never had a team and a coaching situation like he does now.
"The other big difference in him is that he's become very mentally tough. His reputation before was that he was weak mentally, and you could break him, but it's not that way now. He's dangerous, man. He's been destroying guys. This is by far the best he's ever been."
He's an idol in Brazil, where on Saturday tens of millions of people will tune to Globo to watch him fight Henderson in a rematch of a 2006 bout in Pride that Henderson won by decision.
Belfort isn't eager to discuss the first Henderson fight, noting it won't have an impact upon Saturday's clash. He said he doesn't like to talk about the past, good or bad, and says in that soft, lyrical voice of his, "I'm just focused on what I am doing right now."
He knows, though, that he is one of the most controversial fighters in mixed martial arts. A series of fighters, including but not limited to Bisping, Chael Sonnen and Tim Kennedy, have publicly bashed him. In a sport filled with three-letter acronyms – UFC, MMA, BJJ – he's haunted by an association with two of them:
PED (performance enhancing drug) and TRT (testosterone replacement therapy).
Belfort tested positive for the anabolic steroid 4-Hydroxytestosterone after the Henderson fight in 2006. He claimed he didn't knowingly cheat and use performance enhancing drugs. He speculated in testimony to the Nevada Athletic Commission that the 4-Hydroxytestosterone got into his body from a supplement he took or from an injection given by a doctor to help treat an injured knee.
But he was suspended for nine months and fined $10,000. That was his first documented association with PEDs.
During his current stint with the UFC, he began taking testosterone replacement therapy. He has explained his usage by saying it is medically necessary. He said he has a medical condition that has left his testosterone levels dangerously low and has been prescribed TRT as a treatment.
Belfort sighs when the topic turns to his usage of TRT. He's defended his use in the past, sometimes aggressively, sometimes analytically, but on this day, he seemed beaten down by it.
He told a Brazilian website that he would stop his TRT treatments if it were to become an impediment in getting a shot at the middleweight title.
If he's in that 1 percent of men from 18 to 40 who naturally produce lower-than-necessary amounts of testosterone, he clearly needs it to remain healthy.
It doesn't make sense, a reporter said to him, to offer to quit taking something he needs for medical reasons. So, the question was posed, why offer to quit just for the sake of a title fight?
He takes a deep breath before responding in a calm, almost genteel, manner. TRT is a topic others love to broach, but is one he'd prefer to avoid, if he could.
"People are so into talking about that," he said. "It's something that is out of my control. TRT does not beat technique. It's technique that wins fights. The [TRT] is a health issue. Some people have high blood pressure, so what do they do? They take medication to help fix that problem. My [testosterone] levels are lower than they should be. I need this medicine to correct that issue, and bring me back to normal, the same way that someone with high blood pressure needs to take his blood pressure medicine.
"I'm not taking this and putting my levels way up there. I am taking it so I am at normal levels, like everyone else. Otherwise, I am at a disadvantage. People like to talk about this, but it would be totally unfair if I didn't take it and that's what I want to get the attention to. This is necessary for my health and it's why I do it. I do not cheat like people think."
The problem Belfort faces in convincing the public and many of his peers that he's not cheating is four-fold:
First, the most common way for a man his age to have low testosterone production is prior steroid use. The use of synthetic testosterone inhibits the body's production of testosterone.
Second, his performance as a fighter has improved dramatically since he's gone on TRT.
Third, his body is more muscular and defined than it has ever been.
Fourth, his offer to quit taking TRT if he gets a title shot suggests he doesn't need it.
The skeptics don't understand, he says. He's not cheating, and he's tested regularly by the UFC to make sure his levels stay within normal range. White confirmed that point.
"To be honest with you, we test the [expletive] out of him," White said.
Belfort doesn't want his reputation tarnished and wants to be an example to children. The talk of TRT and the suggestions of cheating impedes that.
"You know, I do believe my legacy outside of the Octagon is just as good as it is inside of it," he said. "I have tried hard to be a good person. It's something I live for. I want to create a better environment for the kids who look up to me.
"I want them to know I'm not a perfect man, but I am a man who is willing to pay the price to do what is right. That's who I am."
He's on an incredible run and one that might soon make him the second-oldest man ever to win a UFC title.
As his success increases and his notoriety builds, so, too, however, will the talk of his use of TRT.
TRT has become synonymous with cheating in MMA.
Some may need it for legitimate reasons; others may take it to make up for past steroid usage or just to get an advantage.
Belfort said he falls into the former category, but knows it's a topic that isn't going to go away easily.
"I just have to live my life in a way that is accountable to God," he said. "My mindset as an athlete and as a man is to accept what God is asking me to do and to live my life expressing God's word. I can't let this talk get in the way of that."
- Martial Arts
- Sports & Recreation
- Vitor Belfort
- Dan Henderson
- Dana White