by Steven Marrocco – MMAWeekly.com
A month ago, rumors circulated that Dana White was looking to sign Vitor Belfort as the next challenger to middleweight king Anderson Silva’s crown, keeping with a credo that friendship wouldn’t impede compelling match-ups (and breaking one to stay away from athletes signed to other organizations).

But when MMAWeekly.com caught up last week with Belfort at Xtreme Couture as he prepped for his battle with American Top Team standout Jorge Santiago at Affliction “Trilogy,” the two-time UFC champion hinted his time with the California-based promotion was not soon to end.

“I’m happy with Affliction,” he said. “So far, they’ve put in a new contract with my manager; that’s what I heard. I’m a very happy guy with what I have.”

Belfort shocked fans in his last performance at “Day of Reckoning,” flattening Matt Lindland with a left hand in 37 seconds. It was his second straight knockout victory, bolstering claims that the Brazilian had resolved his crisis of confidence.

He’ll need to be sharp against Santiago, who’s been on a tear since exiting the UFC on a blistering knockout loss to Alan Belcher in December 2006. Since then, Santiago has won nine straight bouts, most recently in January when he added to a spotless run in Sengoku by submitting Top 10 middleweight Kazuo Misaki. The win edged his ranking up to number four on MMAWeekly’s list, and crowned him Sengoku middleweight champion.

You won’t hear Belfort taking anything away from his countryman, even though he’s eaten southpaws for breakfast recently.

“He’s one of the champions, one of the best,” said Belfort. “I’ve studied him, and I see very good skills, a very well-rounded fighter from a good camp.”

Until his deal with Affliction, Belfort had bounced around with different groups, including a stint with Anderson Silva, the Nogueira brothers, and current light heavyweight champ Lyoto Machida at Black House in Brazil. He’s still friendly with the powerhouse fighters, but says his work prior to Couture’s was unfocused. The move to Las Vegas brought him stability.

“It’s good training and good coaching,” he said. “Everything’s settled; everybody’s here to work hard. The timing’s perfect. You come here and training starts at four. Everybody’s professional.”

It’s his third camp at the gym, and he looked both fluid and sharp in a session with Shawn Tompkins and Ray Sefo. He credits the two with elevating his game to another level.

“(Ray) can see every opening, so he knows what works and what doesn’t work,” said Belfort. “He’s like a guru of fighting. He knows everything as far as hands and legs. He helps me a lot with Shawn Tompkins.”

Though Affliction’s middleweight roster appears to hold little for his future – save for a working relationship with Strikeforce – Belfort is unconcerned about what comes after Santiago.

“Every time I fight, I train to face the best, so I’m trying to add things to my game and work on my weakness, and make my weakness a strong part of me, so that way, when I go to the fight, my weakness can be my strength.

“I have goals, I have things to reach, but we’ll go step by step. That’s how I see life: day by day.”