Vitor Belfort began his mixed martial arts career 17 years ago, exploding onto the scene, a 19-year-old ball of fire.
He was the epitome of “kill or be killed,” knocking out five of his first seven opponents, submitting one, and getting knocked out by the other.
Belfort KO’d Tank Abbot, Tre Teligman and Wanderlei Silva, but somewhere along the way, he lost focus. He stumbled through the middle portion of his career, not fighting with the same zest that he had in the beginning.
Recently, Belfort has rekindled the spirit that drove him so many years ago.
Following up a knockout of Michael Bisping earlier this year, Belfort landed a stunning heel kick knockout of former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold at UFC on FX 8 on Saturday night in Brazil.
Many detractors will point to his use of Testosterone Replacement Therapy. It’s something, although legal, that Belfort doesn’t like to talk about that, which he clearly pointed out when asked about it at the UFC on FX 8 post-fight press conference.
He, however, points to promises he made and a team – the Blackzilians – that is unlike any other that he’s surrounded himself with in his career.
“I was part of two jungles. I'm T-Rex, surviving in this new jungle,” Belfort said during a Fuel TV post-fight interview. “I think it is just a burning inside of me that you didn't accomplish (what you could have).
“I did so many mistakes and Dana and Lorenzo give me the chance. I promise them. I sat down in the meeting and I say, ‘I promise I'm gonna give you my best. I'm gonna finish as strong as I can finish.’ I make a promise to my family, for my spiritual father, for all my family for my kids. Dad is gonna finish strong.
“If I don't have the desire to go to the gym; if I don't have the desire to train, to improve new skills; I should retire. I still have a lot of gas in my tank.”
Gas in the tank has been a criticism often leveled at Belfort. He’s strong out of the gate, but fades in the later rounds. Not his heart, but his physical stamina.
He added, however, that is no longer the case.
“I was ready to go (the distance). I was doing 15 rounds. We did a sparring session: seven rounds of seven minutes with four different guys,” he stated. “We really have the best of the best in every area. The Blackzilians have a set-up now that I never have in my life.”
Having defeated Yoshihiro Akiyama, Anthony Johnson (in a catchweight bout), Michael Bisping, and now Luke Rockhold, since he failed to take the belt from Anderson Silva little more than two years ago, many questions also center on the UFC middleweight champion and a possible rematch.
Like TRT, however, Anderson Silva is a subject that is currently taboo with Belfort.
Although he said that he would be rooting for his countryman when Silva steps in the Octagon to defend his belt against Chris Weidman at UFC 162 in July, Belfort doesn’t really want to think about what’s next.
He knows what is next, and it doesn’t involve fighting at all. It involves his wife, his kids, and waves.
“I want my vacation now. I promised my wife,” laughed Belfort. “Kelly Slater, I want to go to your house in Hawaii. I wanna go surf.”