Belfort mentally strong as challenge awaits

TORONTO -- When Vitor Belfort agreed to fight light heavyweight champion Jon Jones on short notice, there were a few luxuries he probably knew he'd forfeit.

Enough time to scientifically add weight was one of them.

Belfort returns this weekend to the light heavyweight division for the first time in five years, and one has to wonder how the extra 20 pounds will affect him.

During a recent interview with media members, Belfort admitted he didn't even realize it had been so long since he fought at this weight. He mistakenly answered his last fight in the division was against Rich Franklin in 2009. Actually, Vitor, it was September 2007 when you fought for the 205-pound title in another promotion, Cage Rage.

"It's been a long time, wow," Belfort responded. "It's a great challenge."

Belfort the middleweight is not entirely different from Belfort the light heavyweight, but there is a marked difference. His face is much fuller this week; his upper body as well. He doesn't look out of shape by any means, but he looks big.

The greatest concern with moving up in weight in a short time frame -- especially if you're fighting Jones -- is loss of speed.

Mario Sperry, head trainer of Belfort's current team, the Blackzillians, acknowledged his fighter would have to close distances quickly and explosively against Jones. He also said, believe it or not, Belfort has shown greater speed at this weight.

"You know, it's funny, I find him faster right now because he's stronger," Sperry told ESPN.com. "When he's fighting at 185 pounds, he spends so much time cutting weight he forgets about training. He was so relaxed that he's training much better. He’s at least the same speed -- and I swear, I think he’s even faster.”

The second concern would be stamina -- again, a concern that's heightened by the style in which Jones fights.

When asked specifically about the potential of fighting 25 minutes, Belfort answered endurance is more mental for him than physical. The extra weight shouldn't matter.

"It's all mind," Belfort said. "Today, it's a lot about science. I came from an era where you just do what you love. As far as I know, I've got five rounds. One minute of rest, then a round. I'm focusing on the five minutes; every minute, make it everything I've got. It's all about mentality. When the body cannot take it, it's about the mind."

Stylistically, Belfort has been accused in recent fights of "freezing" in the cage -- being too stationary, standing in front of his opponent.

Whether that's because at 35 he can't maintain the pace he did early in his career, or a simple strategy change, is up for debate. Sperry says it's hard for fans to tell exactly what's going on in the cage when they are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of each fighter.

"It's easy to say from the outside," Sperry said. "What he does is focus and calibrate his weapon. It's not just go out there and throw punches at will. He has to calibrate, get the distance and that's exactly what he does."

Belfort's adjustment to the weight class is, of course, just one aspect of what oddsmakers have deemed a lopsided fight.

As Sperry put it, the greatest challenge in taking on Jones on short notice wasn't figuring out weight, getting into shape for a five-round fight, or anything like that. It's Jon Jones.

"He's the man to be beaten," Sperry said. "His game is pretty complete. He's got an amazing reach. Whenever you cut this reach, you are in short distance, now you can be taken down. If you are taken down, you have to put up with his ground and pound.

"His game and strategy is dangerous. That was the biggest issue."