When opportunity knocked, Vitor Belfort answered.
Belfort will challenge Jon Jones for the light heavyweight championship in the UFC 152 main event on Sept. 22 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The 35-year-old Brazilian was originally scheduled to lock horns with the surging Alan Belcher as a middleweight at UFC 153 on Oct. 13 in Brazil, but the possibility of reclaiming 205-pound gold proved too great a lure. Belfort held the crown for seven months back in 2004.
Jones drew the ire of fans, UFC President Dana White and many of his peers in August, when he declined a short-notice bout with Chael Sonnen at UFC 151 after his original challenger, Dan Henderson, withdrew with a knee injury. His refusal to fight led to the cancellation of the entire event, resulting in a financial and public relations nightmare for the promotion. Jones was instead moved onto the UFC 152 marquee. The polarizing 25-year-old Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts representative has yet to taste legitimate defeat as a professional -- his only loss was by disqualification -- and will enter the cage against Belfort as a prohibitive favorite on a seven-fight winning streak.
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under the late Carlson Gracie, Belfort has resurrected a career once feared lost. He has posted seven wins in his last eight appearances, losing only to UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Belfort last competed at UFC 142 in January, when he submitted an overweight Anthony Johnson with a first-round rear-naked choke. He has not fought at 205 pounds in nearly five years.
In this exclusive interview with Sherdog.com, Belfort addresses the decision to accept the fight with Jones, provides his view on what challenges the champion presents and discusses his decision to put down roots with the Blackzilians in Florida:
Sherdog.com: Is it true that not fighting at UFC 153 in Rio de Janeiro upset you?
Belfort: If you only knew how amazing it is to fight in Brazil. The energy from the audience puts you up there. In addition, I certainly would have had all my family and friends present in Rio, and they give me a lot of strength. However, I had to accept the fight with Jon Jones in Canada because the challenge is great and it gives me another shot at a belt. When the UFC came to me, I did not hesitate. I accepted immediately. I really want this fight.
Sherdog.com: How do you view Jones as an opponent?
Belfort: In the UFC, there are no easy fights. There may be a quick fight, but it’s never easy. You have to prepare very well because you’ll regret it if you don’t. This is already a struggle. Certainly, he’s a great opponent. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be the champion. Fighting at a high level motivates me a lot, as I’ve always tried to do it in my career. I expect a tough fight, but I’ll be in my best shape. You can mark it down.
Sherdog.com: How has the change in opponent from Alan Belcher to Jon Jones changed your preparation?
Belfort: Of course, I’ll analyze his fights, but beyond that, it does not change much. I was already training hard, and I was in good shape even before that. I changed my training camp to the Jaco Hybrid Training Center, and I’m now training with the Blackzilians. The team has fighters of the highest caliber, like Rashad Evans and Alistair Overeem. It is a very serious team, with a working philosophy that has pleased me very much. A professional fighter cannot reach his maximum potential by training only what he knows. He must be with a team that will help him think, create alternatives and improve his technique. I made a good choice when I entered this camp.
Sherdog.com: What do you expect in this fight?
Belfort: If you want to be successful in the UFC, you have to believe in one thing: your next fight will be your best fight. Hopefully, it will be a tremendous fight -- worthy of the title -- that people, especially Brazilians, will remember with great fondness and pride.
Sherdog.com: What would it mean for you to win this title?
Belfort: Dream of being the best in the world at what you do is not just something a fighter wants; it’s something any professional wants. I really want that title. In my head, I’m going after my greatest moment. Is it more important than the other two? I honestly cannot compare them well. Each one is like a son. How do you tell a son that he’s better than the other? You don’t. You love each one equally. But, yes, it is very important to me.
Sherdog.com: Do you have any messages for Jones?
Belfort: I am ready.