Throughout his career, Vitor Belfort has built a reputation as someone who doesn’t pull punches or cut corners. Whether in the cage or out, he gives it to you straight.
And Saturday night when he steps in the Octagon at UFC Fight Night 32 for a main-event showdown in Goiania, Brazil, with Dan Henderson, fans will get the best Belfort has to offer. He will not shy away from the action or pull punches.
The same can be expected from Henderson.
While the fight is being contested at light heavyweight, Belfort is very much aware that a win likely lands him the middleweight title shot he has coveted for a while. At 36 years old, and competing in a 185-pound division that has gotten much deeper with the recent addition of former 205-pound champion Lyoto Machida, a loss Saturday night could end Belfort’s title hopes.
A possibility of getting a middleweight title shot can’t be completely ignored. Belfort admits that much, but he refuses to allow it to consume his thoughts. His mind is fully on Henderson. To do otherwise would almost assure defeat.
“I’m looking forward to Dan Henderson,” Belfort said. “That’s what I can talk about; he’s my challenge right now. My mind is on him.
“I don’t care what people think, talk or say. It’s doesn’t take my focus away. I do want to fight for and win the UFC title, but I don’t need to keep talking about it over and over.
“I’m about to have one of the hardest fights of my career, so there is no reason to start talking about what is next. It’s totally disrespectful to [Henderson]. And I don’t have that kind of attitude; I’m focused on winning this fight. He’s one of the legends of this sport. He beats guys and he’s defeated me one time [by unanimous decision at Pride 32 in Las Vegas on Oct. 21, 2006] in the past. This is a great fight. What most people remember, however, is your last fight.”
That’s Belfort being Belfort. There’s no need to shy away from the matter at hand -- beating Henderson. He will address what comes next, a potential title shot, when the time arrives.
This method of handling fight-related matters has served Belfort well in recent outings. He’s won four of his five most recent fights, the lone loss coming in a 205-pound title loss to champion Jon Jones at UFC 152 in September 2012.
But Belfort doesn’t just fight to remain relevant at middleweight, he must battle the perception of being a cheater. To be competitive, Belfort regularly requests and receives exemption for testosterone replacement therapy.
No matter how hard he trains; no matter how impressive he looks inside the Octagon, Belfort never receives full credit. His critics are loud and relentless.
The criticism has been a little less voluminous than usual lately; maybe it has to do with the fact that Henderson also receives TRT exemptions. But the attacks will return to normal after the fight, especially if a title shot is granted.
Belfort is prepared for the onslaught.
“The [TRT] critics are always going to be there,” Belfort said. “If you do it, they will say, ‘he cheated.’ What people don’t know is that we do good work.
“I was the only guy to do blood work. Now Dan Henderson has to go through blood work; it’s in our contract. All the fighters have to do blood work. With the blood work you can track if they [fighters] use testosterone. We know some guys do it; they do things to cheat. My lab work is right there. My levels are right there, every week.”
Belfort makes no apology for seeking and receiving TRT exemptions and he does not intend to relinquish the process. He does what is necessary to remain a competitive fighter. There’s nothing wrong with that.
“I’m not doing anything illegal. It’s a treatment,” Belfort said. “Actually, if I go without it I will be at a disadvantage. It will be like the other guy is on something and I’m not.
“If you have asthma you get treatment. If your have high blood pressure, you get treatment for it. This is my treatment. Everybody knows.”
Belfort isn’t hiding anything. His testosterone levels are available to all proper authorities. But there is a circumstance under which Belfort will relinquish his medical treatment -- for a title shot.
Some have questioned whether Belfort is avoiding a bout in the United States, especially Las Vegas, to receive TRT. That’s the furthest thing from the truth, Belfort says.
As usual, Belfort holds nothing back when addressing another attack from his critics.
“I’d love to fight in Las Vegas; I’ve fought in Canada,” said Belfort, who trains in Boca Raton, Fla., but has not fought in the United States since his first-round knockout of Yoshihiro Akiyama in August 2011. “I love fighting in America, I have lots of fans here. I have just as many fans here in America as I have in Brazil. Of course I want to fight here, I live in America.”