Several hundred fans showed up at Mandalay Bay Events Center on Thursday afternoon to watch a few Ultimate Fighting Championship competitors go through cursory workouts and media interviews in advance of Saturday night’s card.
A select group of fans got an impromptu speech from Vitor Belfort, who will fight Anderson Silva for the middleweight title at UFC 126.
The 33-year-old former champion simply wanted to express his gratitude and deliver a message that he has been repeating leading up to the biggest fight of his life.
“To see these people here moved my heart. They leave their home and leave their city to come and buy expensive tickets to watch us. So I have a lot of (respect) for the fans. It doesn’t matter if you are rooting for me or my opponent, you made the effort to come watch us. I’m very honored to have them here. It was sincere and from my heart,” he said. “I wanted to thank them and say don’t negotiate the morals and values you have in your heart. Respect is the most important thing we need in the world today.”
His preachy message should come as no surprise. Belfort manages to weave a reference to Jesus into just about everything he says.
Belfort feels his beliefs will help him take the title from Silva, who has held the belt since 2006.
“I’m emotional; I’m on fire right now,” he said. “I have the fire of God inside of me. When you have (that), you can do anything.”
The Brazilian hasn’t always been so spiritual. He turned to a higher power after going through personal tragedy.
Belfort’s sister Priscilla was kidnapped in 2004. Her body was never found, but three years later a woman confessed to her role in the kidnapping and killing of Priscilla.
It was while trying to find a way to cope with the pain that Belfort embraced his relationship with Christ.
Now that bond has helped bring perspective to a career that has had a few high points but never quite lived up to the stratospheric expectations that were created when Belfort debuted.
“Every fight people have said, ‘This is the biggest fight of your life,’ ” he said. “But I’m telling you, my life is not depending on one event alone. I will keep doing what I’m doing. I wake up. I worship. I read. I hang with my family.”
Belfort, who trains in Las Vegas, rose to stardom almost immediately after making his professional debut at age 19 in 1996 with a 12-second knockout. He followed that up with two wins in one night to win the heavyweight tournament at UFC 12 in 1997. In 2004, “The Phenom” won the UFC light heavyweight title.
He lost the belt to Randy Couture in a rematch and left the organization after losing to Tito Ortiz in his next fight. For several years, Belfort and his immense talent bounced between famed Japanese organization Pride, short-lived Affliction and a few other smaller outfits.
He missed time early in his career with a neck injury and tested positive for steroids after a Pride card in Las Vegas in 2006.
Belfort finally found his way back to the UFC in September 2009 and knocked out Rich Franklin in the first round of a 195-pound catch-weight bout. He was awarded a title shot at 185 pounds but was unable to take the fight because of a severe shoulder injury.
Now he returns to action after more than 16 months. His first UFC fight at middleweight will be for the belt.
While acknowledging he still has a lot to accomplish in the sport, Belfort said one of the things that his spirituality helped him with was not worrying about living up to outside expectations.
“I used to have a lot of pressure. Everything was about, ‘You have to win.’ Everybody is expecting all of us to win, to accomplish these great things. It’s never enough,” he said. “You can never please everybody, so I’m just living today.”
Tomorrow, he can fulfill most of that promise with one victory.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509.