As soon as Vitor Belfort stopped talking, I knew one thing: Either he was crazy or I was. There's no other explanation for how two men could have two such divergent world views.
To be fair to Belfort, he had just finished a cage fight, disposing of top contender Michael Bisping with a head kick that required a recalibration of the UFC's carefully crafted schemes for the middleweight division in 2013. He was never really rocked, but he took a few to the noggin. I could forgive him some confusion.
But his speech didn't just seem a little off to me. It was straight bonkers. The stuff of fiction. Crazy talk. Judge for yourself:
Take that punk Chael Sonnen...get him out. Dana, Lorenzo, kick him out. Let me fight Jon Jones. I need that rematch. Take that clown away. Go home...You did a reality show. Go home. Let me fight the real champion. Champion against champion, not that clown.
As a monologue, it wasn't quite Shakespeare. But inside the cage isn't often where a man does his best thinking. Later on Fuel TV, after the adrenaline had died down a bit, Belfort attempted to gather his thoughts and try again. The essence, however, was much the same:
[Sonnen] is a clown. Get out. Get out of the way. He just got knocked out pretty bad by Anderson Silva then he fights Jon Jones. He doesn’t deserve the reality show. Let me fight—real champion versus real champion. I know he’s a good athlete, but he needs to go to the back of the line. Let me fight the rematch.
So let's get this straight. Not only does Belfort apparently think that he is a UFC champion, despite not holding a title since 2004, he also wants the UFC to cancel a fight it has invested millions of dollars in and hours of television time in order to allow him to step in and take on the best light heavyweight in the world? A light heavyweight who, by the way, dismantled him in brutal fashion just a matter of months ago.
Sonnen recently lost decisively to Anderson Silva at middleweight and doesn't deserve the shot.
Everything about his bizarre request is antithetical to real sport. Belfort, in case you missed it, was fighting Bisping at middleweight, not light heavyweight. That's a division he hasn't competed in regularly since all the way back in 2007.
Further complicating the issue?
He's just 3-2 in his last five fights.
The idea of Belfort, or Sonnen for that matter, being granted a title shot would seem ludicrous were it not for the precedent set by—and here's where it really gets trippy—Vitor Belfort.
His critique of Sonnen's title shot was tinted with more than a little irony. Belfort, too, was granted a shot at Jon Jones, despite having spent years fighting at middleweight. Belfort too was granted his shot despite losing, in an all-time highlight reel knockout fashion, to Silva.
Don't get me wrong. There is every reason to rail against Sonnen's title shot. It's insulting to the very idea of sport, a blatant money grab that demeans the work done to separate cage fighting from boxing and pro wrestling, its combat sports brethren not known for transparent or sensible matchmaking.
But Belfort has walked in Chael's shoes. There's every reason for fighters to be huffy about Sonnen's unearned opportunities. Belfort, however, lives in the sport's only other glass house. Almost anyone can complain—except Vitor Belfort.
I can understand Belfort's confusion in the cage. UFC matchmaker Joe Silva has encouraged fighters to call out specific opponents, giving potential matchups some extra oomph and excitement, making a typical fight feel more like a grudge match. For Belfort, picking a target couldn't have been easy. He's already lost in devastating fashion to both Silva and Jones. He's a top-tier fighter, but one without a clear path to the title.
So, in a roundabout way, he actually called out Chael Sonnen. Sure he ostensibly demanded a shot at Jones, but it was Sonnen he insulted, Sonnen he name called and Sonnen who responded to his verbal assault on Fuel TV:
I'm really confused as to what's going on? We're not in the same weight class. I don't know if he knows he's not the champion. I keep hearing him say champion versus the champion. He keeps saying to move out of the way. I wouldn't tell somebody to move out of the way, but I'd damn sure knock them out of the way. And Vitor, that's one thing you're not going to be able to do...Let me be really clear and speak directly to you Vitor. You have been telling the world that you want to meet Jesus and I will gladly arrange that travel, but first I am going to get rid of Jon Jones, then you are next. Vitor, I accept. Don't make any mistake about that. You have called me out twice now.
The result here was brilliant. If Sonnen beats Jones, Belfort has made himself a logical choice to be Chael's first defense. After all, we've already established that rules and records are out the window when it comes to these two men.
If Jones beats Sonnen, as most experts predict he will, Belfort is still a super opponent for Chael's next fight. It won't be for the title, but thanks to all the back and forth, will still be the hottest grudge match of the year.
Vitor Belfort may indeed be crazy. But if so, he's crazy like a fox. His insane post-fight rambling may not earn him a shot at Jones and may have caused many to scratch their heads in confusion, including me. He knew exactly what he was doing, though. A high-profile bout with Sonnen, the best money match he could possibly hope for, awaits.