The return of Vitor (The Phenom) Belfort

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DALLAS - A former champion who turned heads as a teenager. A family tragedy. A positive drug test. Vitor Belfort's life is a compelling story.
The 32-year-old Brazilian mixed martial arts fighter returns to the UFC after an absence of more than four years when he takes on Rich Franklin at UFC 103 on Saturday at the American Airlines Center (available on pay per view). Belfort sees it as a second chance, turning to the scriptures for meaning.
"The Bible said the glory of the second house is bigger than the first one," he said.
Belfort was just 19 when he started to tear through the UFC the first time. Built like the Hulk, with explosive hands, he took down his first three opponents in a combined two minutes 53 seconds.
Belfort was fast, dangerous and unlike other Brazilian fighters. He was dubbed The Phenom.
"He was ahead of everyone in his time as far as MMA," said fellow fighter Jorge Gurgel. "He was a Brazilian (jiu-jitsu) black belt that was explosive. Very very quick hands, quick on his feet, knew how to do takedowns and defend the takedown,
"Back in the day when Vitor was champion, Vitor was beating everyone up, until he lost to Randy Couture. . . . Vitor, along with Frank Shamrock, set the standard for the new generation of fighters."
Couture beat Belfort the first time they met at UFC 15 in October 1997, handing the Brazilian his first loss in the UFC. But Belfort, after leaving to fight in Japan for Pride, won the rematch and the UFC light-heavyweight title at UFC 46 in January 2004 when Couture was unable to continue because of a nasty cut to his eyelid, caused accidentally by a seam on Belfort's glove.
Three weeks earlier Belfort's sister Priscila had been kidnapped in Brazil. Several years later, a woman confessed to her kidnapping and killing.
Belfort lost the title back to Couture in August 2004 at UFC 49. And he fought one more time in the UFC, losing a split decision to Tito Ortiz at UFC 51 in February 2005, before quitting the organization seemingly for good.
"I made a mistake in the past, me and the people that surround me, to leave the UFC." he says today. "It wasn't a smart move. Now to be back and have an opportunity again, I thank God every day."
Belfort subsequently went 4-3 in Pride and Cage Rage, suffering another setback when he flunked a steroids test after a Pride show in Las Vegas in October 2006. He was fined US$10,000 and suspended nine months.
Most recently he was with Affliction where he showed signs of the power that made his famous. He stopped Terry Martin in the second round in July 2008 and knocked out Matt Lindland in just 37 seconds in January.
When Affliction cancelled its Aug. 1 show and folded as a promoter, Belfort was one of the fighters picked up by the UFC.
A win Saturday and Belfort could vault to the front of the line of UFC middleweight contenders.
"Him and (champion) Anderson Silva is an interesting fight," UFC president Dana White mused
The question is which Belfort will step into the cage?
"The thing is with Vitor you never know what to expect," White said. "Is the old Vitor going to be here when he comes out guns ablazing, just like he did against (Matt) Lindland and against a bunch of other people? Or we've seen the other Vitor too, this laid-back . . . gun-shy (fighter). If he's that Vitor, he'll get outworked by Rich Franklin. Rich is a workhorse."
The two will meet at a catchweight of 195 pounds, with Belfort destined to campaign afterwards at 185 pounds and Franklin at 205 pounds.

Organizations: American Airlines Center, The Bible

Geographic location: DALLAS, Japan, Brazil Las Vegas

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