On Saturday night at the Goiania Arena in Goiania, Brazil, Vitor Belfort managed to do what no other fighter has ever done before: he knocked out MMA legend Dan Henderson.
It took just 78 seconds, and it came via a brutal left high kick to the face of the aging 43-year-old legend. The devastating kick was preceded by a crushing Belfort left uppercut that sent his opponent crumbling to the mat in the main event of UFC Fight Night 32.
With the win over the former Olympian and fan-favorite, Belfort now finds himself on an impressive three-fight winning streak. Having defeated contenders Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold, and Henderson, “The Phenom” is on the cusp of UFC gold once again.
A former UFC champion in his first run with the company in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the thought of Belfort returning to championship status was once unfathomable. Many thought Belfort was finished as a contender after a brutal 2-5 run from August 2004 to October 2006, beginning with a devastating three-fight losing streak to Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, and Alistair Overeem, respectively.
With UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman defending his belt against Anderson Silva in a rematch on Dec. 28 in Las Vegas at UFC 168, the division is on hold.
However, as UFC president Dana White said at the UFC Fight Night 32 post-fight press conference, the company has already found its next contender for the 185-pound strap.
“Big things for Vitor Belfort. Big things,” said White. “He did something no one in 39 fights was able to do; he stopped Dan Henderson.
“Vitor is a completely different fighter than when he was younger. He’s mentally there. He’s physically there. He’s more well-rounded than he’s ever been. I’m blown away by tonight’s performance.”
He continued, “Anderson’s gonna fight Dec. 28 in Las Vegas and it’s going to be the biggest fight we’ve ever done. The gate is already at $5.6 million and the pay-per-view is going to be huge. It’s going to be a massive event.
“And, yes, whoever wins will face Vitor Belfort. Unless something crazy happens and somebody gets hurt.”
Things haven’t always been sunshine and rainbows between the two. Just this past July after Weidman upset Silva at UFC 162, Belfort was texting White non-stop for a shot at the new champion. At the time, White made it abundantly clear that Belfort would have no chance at fighting for UFC gold.
Three consecutive stunning knockouts, however, changes things a bit.
“Vitor gets crazy sometimes. He gets his head a little over the skis,” he said about his prior run-ins with Belfort. “So we end up butting heads a little bit here and there. But I like Vitor. I respect Vitor. It’s tough to not respect the fighter he’s become. I think he’s a thousand times the fighter he used to be. Not only physically, but mentally.
“Mentally, Vitor used to have some issues where, you know, he wasn’t as confident in his abilities. He used to fight very one-dimensional. He would always try to use his hands and get the big knockout. And now you see this guy is kicking, punching… did you see the way he came into the Octagon tonight? He ran into the Octagon. The new Vitor Belfort is (expletive) awesome. I love it.”
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