Some people watch sports to cheer their favorites along. Others to mercilessly boo athletes they've come to despise. It's become the American way.
If you are one of those people, this new series of articles is for you. What follows is fodder for your messageboard posts or forays into the comments. Do you know you hate Vitor Belfort, but can't say exactly why? Allow me to help.
This isn't about Vitor the person. He may be a wonderful man, a community treasure who makes lives around him better by his mere presence. That's real life stuff and this isn't about the real Vitor Belfort at all. This is about his cypher—a construct, a media creation who follows him everywhere he goes. This is about the power of the media, the big lie, about how lies become truth if you just repeat them loudly enough.
The media Belfort is a fraud. He's has been mythologized to the point of incoherence, but it's important to remember—Belfort isn't who they say he is. There is no "old" Vitor Belfort. There's just Vitor Belfort, a fighter who has failed over and over again whenever the going got tough.
Don't get it twisted. Belfort is a perfectly serviceable fighter, a solid pro who can compete at the highest levels of the sport. And if that was how he was portrayed, I'd have no problem with him or his cronies. But it's not. He's presented as a legend, his failures white washed, his handful of successes magnified 100 times. A thousand. A billion.
Belfort, like Ken Shamrock before him, was exactly what comic books and late-night action movies taught us a fighter was supposed to look like. In short, he was prettier than your girlfriend: a six-pack of abs attached to the chiseled face of your garden-variety Greek god, and 230 solid pounds of muscle with a mean glare and two sledgehammer fists.
Don't let the fast hands fool you. They're just a smokescreen behind which fans and promoters hid their vaguely homoerotic love. You know Vitor Belfort's name today because of his giant, water-logged, steroid-enhanced muscles. There is no other reason. Vitor was a pretty boy, all alone in a sea of fat biker types and wrestlers like Dan Severn, who looked like your slightly gone-to-pot uncle.
The old "Vitor" you hear announcers talk about, the one long-time fans genuflect upon whenever they get a chance to reminisce? He's not real. That reputation was built on the bloated carcasses of David "Tank" Abbott and Scott Ferrozzo, two knuckleheads who combined to tip the scales at 600 pounds-plus.
Have you seen the video of these two goofballs rolling around in someone's backyard recently? Embarrassing, right? Well, that's not really all that different than what their fights looked like in their UFC "prime." On such, the Vitor Belfort myth was constructed.
The UFC planned to build the sport around him. That's how keenly his impact was felt. He was the star of the future, the modern fighter, the ultimate expression of mixed martial arts. If you think I'm exaggerating, go back and watch him in his prime, or more importantly, listen to the announcers build him into a deity. The UFC was in the Belfort business back in 1997, and business was looking good.
Unfortunately for the UFC and Belfort fanatics, he ran into a red, white and blue brick wall by the name of Randy Couture, a former Olympian and Army soldier who was led to the cage like a lamb to the slaughter.
If you took a look at the two men, just a glance in either direction, like you were about to cross the street, you wouldn't think twice about the outcome. Belfort was jacked, to the point even artist Rob Liefeld, a guy who literally invented muscles to add to the human form in his Image Comics heyday, was like, "Dude, that doesn't even look real."
Couture, even then, looked old. Balding and kind of sad looking, with perpetual bags under his eyes, he appeared to be nothing more than a punching bag. He was one of those man-sized bags with one unique attribute—a pulse.
Then, the unthinkable: The punching bag punched back. Belfort looked shocked when it happened, like the idea of someone fighting back had never crossed his mind. "This man is hitting me," his terror-filled eyes seemed to say. "But that cannot be. Doesn't he know I'm Vitor Belfort?"
If that had been it for Belfort, had he sunk into what would become of career of high-level mediocrity, things would be fine. He'd be a veteran I could respect. He would know his place in the hierarchy. There would be no delusions of grandeur, no aura built around the average.
Instead, he had to go and knock out Wanderlei Silva.
You know, Silva? The Axe Murderer. The scariest man in all of MMA. A man who haunted the dreams of Japanese fans during his Pride heyday, part man and part unquenchable monster, out only for the blood of the nation's native pro wrestlers. Silva was the scariest man in a sport built on scary men. And Vitor Belfort knocked him out in just seconds, catching him with a punch and then following the retreating Silva across the cage, peppering his face with punch after punch, the speed and dexterity remarkable to behold.
It was an incredible moment, though one time would show what was a little bit of a fluke. But it was enough. With that series of punches, and with every subsequent Silva win, the myth of Vitor Belfort grew.
It wasn't his accomplishments that fed it, mind you. It was Silva's success that buoyed Belfort. The fighter himself was outclassed by Kazushi Sakuraba, Chuck Liddell, Couture. That didn't matter.
The potential he showed in those few magical moments carried the idea of Vitor Belfort forward. They spoke of potential, harkening back to the days he was mercilessly beating guys like Jon Hess. If he could do that to Silva, that ubiquitous highlight seemed to say, he could do it to anybody.
The new UFC was just as enamored with Belfort as the old one had been. UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta is said to be a huge fan, suckered in like many before by the Belfort mystique. Perhaps that explains why Belfort was gifted a title shot against the great Couture just one fight after losing to Liddell?
Apparently, a win over journeyman Marvin Eastman was enough to put Belfort right back into "the mix," and Belfort made the most of it. Or, at least, his glove did. For Belfort, it was another fortuitous moment, life once again going his way.
The edge of his aforementioned glove caught Couture's eyelid in the opening moments of the fight. Couture's eyelid was sliced to shreds. Belfort's hand was raised. An equipment malfunction that wrote Belfort's name in the history books. You can see it right there on Wikipedia. You can hear it every time Bruce Buffer announces him in the cage:
"Foooooormer UFC Light Heavyweight champion...."
What a crock. Couture handled him easily in a rematch, once again proving himself a better man. Belfort was a champion in name only, just keeping the title warm for the real boss. They may have strapped a title belt around his waist, but he was never the champ. What followed proved it—Belfort lost five of his next seven, unable to keep up when matched with the cream of the crop.
In 2006, the inevitable finally happened. Vitor Belfort, the poster boy for chemical enhancement, was caught using steroids. He ignored the penalty laid down by the Nevada Athletic Commission, taking his talents to London instead of sitting nine months out.
When he made his return, he kept to California, or to rogue commission states like Texas, where his wild west style wasn't as frowned upon. For his title shot against Anderson Silva in 2011, he was finally welcomed back to Nevada, all forgiven apparently when there was a title fight coming to town.
Again, it was a title shot that felt more like a gift. Belfort had fought just twice at middleweight before coming back to the UFC for a catchweight fight with Rich Franklin. He flagrantly pounded Franklin out with punches to the back of the head before, voila, there he was in the main event. As he had time and time again, Belfort failed to step up to the moment. Instead, Silva made him a perpetual highlight, kicking him squarely in the face with a technique he claimed to have learned from actor Steven Seagal of all people.
And now, history is repeating itself. Once more, Belfort finds himself with the opportunity of a lifetime. Despite not having fought a scheduled bout at light heavyweight since 2007, he is somehow challenging for the world title.
Can anyone beat light heavyweight champion Jon Jones? If someone could, it would be the old Vitor. Too bad he's not real. Instead, we'll watch Jones obliterate Belfort in epic fashion. And I'll be smiling the whole time. It will be another nail in the coffin, another step closer to putting to rest the myth of Vitor Belfort.