2013 was a pivotal year for Vitor Belfort as well as for the Ultimate Fighting Championship as a whole. Belfort, a pioneering fighter who had already won a UFC heavyweight tournament as well as the light heavyweight title, had dropped back down to middleweight and at age 36, was cutting a brutal swath through some of the division’s very best. He was doing so with an arsenal of techniques rarely seen in the Octagon, let alone as new wrinkles in the game of an aging veteran.
The flip side of Belfort’s remarkable reinvention was that he was the absolute poster boy for the testosterone replacement therapy that was becoming increasingly prevalent in the UFC at the time. The sight of a longtime boxer-grappler on the wrong side of his 30s suddenly unleashing spectacular spinning kicks rubbed many fans and fighters the wrong way, in particular because of Belfort’s multiple steroid violations over the years. To his detractors, Belfort’s TRT-fueled renaissance felt like abuse of the worst kind: years of cheating now papered over with a regulatory loophole. While there were many notable UFC fighters on TRT, Belfort was among the youngest and most visibly enhanced, and it is likely that he was foremost in the minds of the Nevada State Athletic Commission when they banned its use in 2014.
However, all of that was still months away. On May 18, 2013, Belfort and Top 10 contender Luke Rockhold met in the main event of UFC on FX 8 in the province of Santa Catarina, Brazil. It was the UFC debut for Rockhold, the final Strikeforce middleweight champion, and the winner was well-positioned to challenge the winner of the upcoming Anderson Silva-Chris Weidman title fight. The fight was a pick ‘em on the betting books.
Two minutes into the fight, Belfort launched a spinning heel kick that cleared Rockhold’s guard and landed flush on the jaw. Rockhold dropped, already out, but Belfort swarmed and landed a half-dozen punches to leave no doubt. Of Belfort’s three head kick knockouts that year, it was the most sensational, and it won Sherdog’s “Knockout of the Year” award for 2013.
From there, Belfort’s reign of terror was nearly over. With the middleweight title tied up by Weidman’s defeat of Silva and the immediate rematch, he took a fight at light heavyweight against fellow living legend and TRT beneficiary Dan Henderson. In that fight, a rematch of their first meeting at Pride 32, Belfort blasted “Hendo” with a head kick in just over a minute, completing one of MMA’s most improbable hat tricks. In 2013, Belfort had beaten three fighters—Henderson, Rockhold and Michael Bisping—by knockout. All three were Top-10 fighters, all were former or future UFC champions and head kicks were involved each time. To make the deal even sweeter for Belfort, all three wins took place in front of his countrymen.
With the banning of TRT the following year, Belfort declined rapidly. His title shot at Weidman, which he freely admitted had been delayed by the ban, was a one-sided thrashing. Post-TRT, Belfort has gone 2-4 with one no-contest, and declared his retirement in 2018. However, he came back out of retirement soon after, signed with One Championship and, back at heavyweight and looking in rare physical form, is scheduled to make his promotional debut against Alain Ngalani later this year.