Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort returns to the octagon Saturday, March 11th in Fortaleza, Brazil for UFC Fight Night 106. The 39 year-old Brazilian looks to end a 2 fight-losing streak by turning back TUF 17 winner Kelvin Gastelum. Belfort’s significance to Brazil, combined with his impressive accolades are the chief reasons why he remains a headliner in the sports most prestigious organization.
The last time Vitor Belfort was not a part of a main or co-main event was in January of 2009 on a somehow stacked Affliction card. Since then seven of his fights have been main event showcases while five have been co-mains. How can one account for such a lengthy spotlight for a fighter who is by all means past his prime?
Up until his 2013 fight with Dan Henderson, Belfort remained in the spotlight not just based on his stature as a future Hall of Famer but also his relevancy. Since the implementation of USADA and the abolishment of Testosterone Replacement Therapy, the now famous “TRT Vitor” has shriveled into a man affectionately called “Dad-Bod Belfort”. But don’t let those saggy tits fool you. “The Phenom” still has legitimate ability, although he has dropped three of his last four fights all by TKO.
As it stands, the Brazilian remains a headliner largely based on his stature as probably the scariest Middleweight to ever live and his relevance to the Brazilian market. As was the case with B.J. Penn, Belfort’s star power travels far in front of his waning ability. Hardcore fans will continue to watch out of a mixture of nostalgia, loyalty, and hope. Much like Penn, the Brazilian’s latest opponent is a fresh-faced stud who promises to attack with more vigor and youthful hardiness than a drunken frat boy. For Belfort though, that test is far from unique.
Belfort’s last three losses have all come to fighters significantly younger than him. Whether or not he can turn away Gastelum and reverse that trend seems to be largely improbable. SO, while a win for Belfort can increase his stock, the UFC is ultimately okay with dusting him off every now and then for a featured bout, regardless of his recent performances. Moreover, should that fight take place in South America in a certain former Portuguese colony, Belfort’s stock rises ever higher.
The former UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion is a star in the MMA world. But within the confines of Brazil he is even more. Using geographically relevant fighters has, as of late, been an underutilized strategy for the UFC. But with “The Phenom” matchmakers have struck gold again and again. Besides perhaps Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo there is no Brazilian mixed martial artist who can garner more attention in Brazil. That is good news for the UFC who have had troubling events in that nation, largely stemming from an economic trough. As long as Belfort remains willing and able to compete the UFC will continue to give him main and co-main event spots the likes of which he has enjoyed for the past eight years.
Despite the TRT controversies, the questions of continued PED use, the recent blowout losses and a steep decline in performance, fans (Brazilians in particular) will continue to shell out their hard earned dollars to see him fight. Whether or not Belfort wins on Saturday night is largely irrelevant to the UFC. He brings a standard, eight years running, of a man who shows up and performs for five-round fights. Until he himself chooses to hang up the gloves, which gave him everything, UFC matchmakers will continue to place him at the top of cards, especially those in Brazil.