by Ken Pishna
According to Dictionary.com, a Phenom is: a phenomenon, especially a remarkable or outstanding person. Vitor Belfort’s career has portrayed him as anything but remarkable lately. He has lost three consecutive fights (to Alistair Overeem, Tito Ortiz, and Randy Couture) and has dropped four of his past six fights (the fourth loss being to UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddell).
The only good thing about that list of defeats? They are all Top Ten ranked fighters. But that does nothing to dispel the fact that they are all losses. Nor does it deflect the spotlight shining on Belfort’s omission from the list.
Belfort started his career as a ball of fire, destroying his first four opponents in a combined total of 3 minutes and 15 seconds. He rolled through the likes of Tra Telligman, Tank Abbott, and even Wanderlei Silva before bolting from the UFC looking to test his skills in Japan, then returning once again to his old stomping grounds. Upon his return to the UFC, Belfort dropped a close decision in an epic battle with Chuck Liddell before laying the hammer down on Marvin Eastman, opening up one of the most gruesome cuts in MMA history. He even laid claim to the UFC Light Heavyweight title at one point following a quirky win over Randy Couture in their rematch. Couture had won their first meeting some six years earlier.
Following a loss to Couture in their rubber match and a disappointing defeat at the hands of Tito Ortiz at UFC 51, Belfort once again packed his bags and made the move to the Land of the Rising Sun. Upon his arrival in Pride, things didn’t get much better for him. Excited to take part in Pride’s Middleweight Grand Prix, Belfort made a lackluster appearance in his first round bout with Alistair Overeem getting choked out just before the end of the first round.
Stepping into the ring of England’s premier MMA promotion, Cage Rage, this weekend, Belfort is looking for more than a win, he’s looking to revitalize a career that, once so promising, has gone wildly astray and this is an excellent opportunity for him to do that.
Anthony Rea is no walk in the park. He wouldn’t be in a feature bout with a fighter the magnitude of Vitor Belfort if he were. But he’s also no Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, or Tito Ortiz. If Belfort is to get back on track, he has to win against this type of opposition. That’s why he’s at Cage Rage, plain and simple.
A tough, well-rounded enough fighter, Rea carries a respectable record of 9-4 into the cage. His losses are all to solid competitors: Canadian Jason Macdonald, Team Quest’s Matt Horwich, veteran Marvin Eastman and UFC Champion Rich Franklin. If you’re going to lose, those are definitely worthy opponents to lose to. Still, a loss is a loss and Rea hasn’t exactly stepped up to beat the top competition that he has faced. He has credible wins against the likes of Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos, but hasn’t been able to knock off the top guys and, depending upon which Vitor shows up, Belfort may be his toughest test to date.
With his propensity for striking and lightning-quick hands, especially early on in his career, many forget that Belfort is also a Brazilian Jiujitsu Black Belt, has been for many years, and has decent wrestling skills as well. A physically gifted athlete, he can compete in just about any range that the fight goes. Belfort’s only real problem has been his lack of consistency. He is almost always a fast starter; just ask Marvin Eastman who was left with a gaping gash over his eye little more than a minute into their contest. But beyond the opening moments, it is very difficult to tell which Belfort will show up.
If Belfort wanders in with his head somewhere else, as he is known to do from time to time, Rea is the type of fighter that can and will take advantage. Rea is strong enough and talented enough to capitalize on a Belfort that isn’t on his game. But if Belfort even comes close to resembling the guy that defeated Eastman, Heath Herring, Gilbert Yvel, Wanderlei Silva, and many others, he should win this fight.
With Belfort’s athletic talents, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him push Rea early and often, trying to wear him down. If Belfort doesn’t get the early knockout, expect Rea to tire and Belfort to attack. With much to prove in this fight and everything to lose, look for an overly aggressive Belfort to go for a knockout or ground and pound win.
Although he is only 28 years old, a loss here would be devastating to Belfort’s career. But as he has been on the brink many times before, Belfort usually responds and puts up a solid effort. Expect nothing less against Rea.