by Tom Hamlin, MMAWeekly.com
Before he flattened Terry Martin at Affliction “Banned” in July, the going consensus was that Vitor Belfort was world-class when he was on, and second-string when he was off.
Things may be turning around. His July bout was the third consecutive victory he’s strung together since 2001.
Belfort’s training partners at Xtreme Couture have raved about his abilities in the gym, saying “the old Vitor” is back.
But the man facing him at Affliction’s next event, Saturday’s “Day of Reckoning,” sees no distinction between the pre and post millennium Belfort.
“No matter what Vitor shows up, he’s a dangerous man,” says 38 year-old Matt Lindland. “He’s the same guy he’s always been. What could be new about him? The only thing is he’s gotten a little older and a little slower. But he’s still dangerous. I still think he’s gotta be one of the quickest guys at 185. I would put him and Chael Sonnen as two of the quickest guys I know, at any weight class.”
Lindland says there’s no chance he’s underestimating the former UFC champ.
“Of course I’m taking this fight seriously,” he says. “Vitor’s a top guy.”
To prepare, the Team Quest original recently sequestered himself at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. for a week of hard training. With a Portland gym to run and various family obligations, it was hard for him to get time to himself.
“For me, it’s a getaway,” says Lindland. “I stay with one of my best friends. He was on a couple of world teams with me, and he knows the kind of commitment you’ve gotta make to your training. It’s like, ‘hey, when you get home, I’ll have dinner ready for you.’ You can take a nap in between practices. It’s nice to get that break where you can just focus on you for a little while. As an athlete, you’ve really got to do that when you’ve got a big competition coming up.”
Lindland also spent time at American Top Team in Florida, working with Ricardio Liborio and Pit trainer John Hackleman. In between training seminars, Lindland rolled with the fighters, picking up new skills along the way.
“I was able to learn a lot,” he says. “That was far enough away from the fight where I was still going developmental. Two, three weeks out from your fight, you’re really not trying to add a whole lot to your game, you’ve got to hone what your best skills are. ”
And it seems a fight with Belfort caters to those skills. Lindland’s clinch work and wrestling skills helped write the book on “dirty boxing.” It’s his bread and butter, even though he wants to showcase the standup skills he’s worked so hard on.
“I honestly think I might bring out some surprises,” he says. “I certainly don’t think Vitor’s going to underestimate my standup skills or my ability to fight an MMA fight. I’m not a pure wrestler, although I did go back and spend some time at the training center. The rest of the entire camp has been doing MMA, and most of that involving what I need to improve most, which is my standup. That’s where I spend a lot of focus and a lot of my time. But I certainly don’t want to neglect my wrestling.”
Belfort’s hands are lighting fast when the so-called “new Vitor” show’s up. Lindland says he’ll need to move quickly to avoid a hail of punches.
“The key is to pressure him the whole fight,” Lindland continues. “Not give him time to rest, and set his feet, and get into his rhythm. If you let him control the pace, control where the fight goes, he’s dangerous.”
As a guy who rushed Fedor Emelianenko with an overhand left two years ago, Lindland is not risk-averse. Back then, he had trained for Emelianenko at the OTC, something he neglected to do for his last fight with Fabio Nascimento.
With Belfort, he’s anxious to show more than just the basics.
“I think I’m going to showcase my skills, and what I’ve been able to add,” he says.