Yesterday we took a look at Anderson Silva as part 1 of our LiverKick.com take on Saturday’s big UFC 126 showdown between Silva and Vitor Belfort. If you missed it, be sure to read that article here for a look at Silva’s Muay Thai and Pro Boxing careers. Today, part 2 as we examine the boxing career of Saturday’s challenger: “The Phenom” Vitor Belfort.
Belfort’s career as a boxer has many similarities to Silva’s. Belfort has just one pro boxing bout to his name, and like Silva, Belfort’s opponent was another one and done fighter. But while Silva tried his hand at boxing just before hitting his MMA peak, Vitor’s boxing debut came at a very different point on his career trajectory.
Belfort made his boxing debut in April 2006, and while it was a small show in Brazil, there were many eyes on the fight. Because Vitor Belfort was only a year removed from his 2nd UFC run and the classic series of fights with Chuck Liddell, Marvin Eastman, Randy Couture, and Tito Ortiz. In the time since leaving the UFC, he had taken two fights (including his first encounter with Alistair Overeem); he had also spoken openly about his plans to compete as a boxer.
The idea of Vitor Belfort as a boxer makes a lot of sense. Despite talk of his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu pedigree, Vitor is and always has been a largely one dimensional MMA fighter, using his hand speed and power throughout his career (Belfort did try out a new wrestling based style in Pride, which was successful, though incredibly boring). And so fans were interested in what kind of skills Belfort the boxer would bring to the table when he met Josemario Neves.
As it turns out, Vitor Belfort the boxer is not much different from Vitor Belfort the MMA fighter, which in all honesty is not a bad thing. Belfort’s strength has always been his boxing, so for him to focus on those skills and really keep his game tuned to this strength is a smart move. And here we do see some nice examples of Belfort tightening up his technique. One quick exchange I like comes when Neves tries to trap Belfort against the ropes. Once he has Vitor pushed back, Neves goes for a punch, but Belfort ducks the punch and steps out to the side, escaping the punch and the bad positioning in one fluid motion.
This fight really displays Vitor’s greatest strength – the killer instinct and knowledge of when to finish a fight. Belfort is one of the best at this in the history of MMA – once he tags you, he simply unloads until you are done. If you watch Vitor’s left hand here you can see when he decides to switch gears and end the fight. For the majority of the fight, he keeps that left hand high and close to his chin in a very strong defensive position, ready to block any incoming punches. Once he hurts Neves just before the first knockdown, he gives up that defense in favor of landing as many heavy shots as he can as quickly as he can. In some ways it’s a gamble – leaving yourself open to go for the kill can get you hit – but Belfort knows when to time it so that he stays safe. It’s telling that Belfort has used that flurry to KO numerous opponents, but never once has an opponent landed a counter strike to drop Belfort during these rapid fire attacks.
One other interesting aspect from this fight is that, because this is boxing and not MMA, Vitor needs to do more than just overwhelm his opponent once suddenly – he needs to hurt him enough to keep him down or continue the assault after his opponent has time to recover. Here, Vitor’s power is not enough to keep Neves down for a 10 count, but it is enough that after the first knockdown, the fight is essentially over. The moment they begin to exchange again after that initial knockdown, it’s clear that Neves has nothing left to offer. Vitor swarms him again, then once more for the 3 knockdown victory.
When he faces Anderson Silva tomorrow night, all it will take is one opening for Vitor to launch that rapid fire attack, overwhelm Silva once, and again become UFC champion (though hopefully this time it will be a bit more legitimate). What’s tricky for Belfort is that, while no man has yet countered that quick attack, if there’s any man to do it, it’s Silva. Will Silva give Belfort the opening he needs? And if he does, will the sublime striking we know Silva is capable of be able to save him? We’ll know soon enough.