Belfort’s Secret Skill: Karate

By Marcelo Alonso Sep 12, 2009
LAS VEGAS -- Wide stance. A different scream before each attack. The Vitor Belfort I saw at Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts was different from the one I’ve followed since he was 15 years old.

After the training session, I met with one of his sparring partners, Jayme Sandall -- considered one of the best Shotokan Karate artists in Brazil, along with the Chinzo and Lyoto Machida. While Belfort showered, Sandall revealed that Yoshizo Machida was one of the former UFC light heavyweight champion’s trainers with the Brazilian national team and that he had become close friends with both the Machida brothers.

“Actually, Vitor has trained karate for a long time with Vinicius Antony, but he couldn’t stay here for one month before the fight, so he asked me to come and help Belfort,” Sandall said. “I’m really impressed by the way he learns fast. I’m sure people will be able to recognize some differences in his next fight.”

Sandall lost to Lyoto Machida in the final of a Brazilian national karate championship and believes the reigning light heavyweight king has spread his art through his rise to stardom in MMA.

“Lyoto and his brother, Chinzo, are definitely the best Shotokan fighters we have in Brazil, and the karate community is very happy that they are showing the world how good Shotokan Karate technique is,” Sandall said.

After a tough sparring session with Sandall and Xtreme Couture stablemate Ray Sefo, Belfort outlined the benefits of Shotokan Karate.

Dave Mandel/

Vitor Belfort
“I trained karate in 2001 to fight Heath Herring,” said Belfort, who will face former middleweight champion Rich Franklin in the UFC 103 main event on Sept. 19 in Dallas. “People have a lot of respect for boxing and wrestling, but I’ve always had the vision of bringing things that are not being used in the sport, like I did with boxing. After that, I contacted Lyoto. We trained together a couple of times in Rio de Janeiro, and I felt his timing was from karate, so I started to get interested in karate again. Of course, I made some adaptations, as I combined karate with my boxing game. I’m adding a couple of nice things from Shotokan to my game.”

Though he maintains a residence in Brazil, Belfort bought a car and rented a house in Las Vegas, where he lives with Sandall.

“My idea is to have two bases,” Belfort said. “I keep my family in Rio, and when I have a fight scheduled, I will come to Vegas to train here at Xtreme Couture, which I consider the best place for a MMA fighter to be.”

Asked about what aspects of karate impressed him the most, Belfort gave no pause. “It keeps you relaxed all the time,” he said. “You never show what you are going to do; you always do what the opponent doesn’t expect. I should say that karate is the art of hit and not getting hit. What impressed me the most was the reaction time. Jayme is helping me a lot in our everyday training. That’s the interesting thing about MMA; you’re able to combine as many techniques as you can. There is no more of that representing only one art.”

Belfort maintains his edge in other aspects of MMA, too.

“Today, I’m pretty much focused on my karate training, but I’m also training my muay Thai and boxing with Shawn Tompkins, who is an amazing trainer,” he said. “Today, I should say that karate is the basis of my stand-up fighting, together with boxing.”

The 32-year-old Belfort promised an intense encounter with Franklin. He will carry a four-fight winning streak into his first UFC appearance in almost five years.

“It’s going to be a pretty much tactical fight,” he said. “No one can make mistakes, and I’m training hard to apply my karate, my boxing and my jiu-jitsu. It’s just about letting the techniques flow and hoping that everything works fine. I already consider myself a winner when I overcome the everyday training, which is the worst part. Franklin is a great fighter, and I truly hope we can make a good show in my return to UFC.”

Marcelo Alonso/

Jayme Sandall (right) has been training Belfort (center) in karate.
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