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Celebrity Travel: The kick that changed everything

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Celebrity Travel: The kick that changed everything

Celebrity Travel:

An all-time UFC highlight reel feels incomplete without Anderson Silva kicking Vitor Belfort in the face on Feb. 5, 2011.

That clash was much more than just a magnificent finish, however. “The Spider” and “The Phenom” are two of the greatest MMA fighters ever, and their meeting inside the octagon at UFC 126 forever changed the landscape of the sport.

ORIGINS

Fighting a fellow Brazilian wasn’t a new experience for Silva as the UFC champion. But truth be told, it always produced a little controversy and weirdness. Two years prior, Silva shared the eight-sided cage with Nova Uniao product and massive underdog Thales Leites. Most people expected the middleweight king to make short work of the jiu-jitsu specialist in Montreal. Instead, he toyed with Leites for 25 minutes.

The UFC was so mad at Silva’s lackluster showing versus Leites, the promotion booked him against former light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin. And sure enough, that produced one of the most legendary performances in MMA history. On cloud nine after that win, Silva got his next middleweight title defense, a battle with Brazilian MMA icon Vitor Belfort eight months later in Abu Dhabi. The bout would eventually get canceled when “The Phenom” suffered a shoulder injury, but the damage to their relationship had already been done.

The issue? Silva and Belfort previously had shared the same Rio de Janeiro gym, Black House, and the middleweight king wasn’t happy with the betrayal.

“Rodrigo ‘Minotauro’ [Nogueira] is our general, and he has a huge heart,” says longtime Silva training partner Rafael Cavalcante, who was working with the team when Belfort arrived. “Vitor didn’t have doors open for him in some gyms and asked to train with us, and ‘Minotauro’ welcomed him, saying everybody deserved a chance to work.

“With one condition: We already have our 185-pound champion, Anderson.”

Cavalcante, who at the time was the Strikeforce light heavyweight champion and says he witnessed the entire conversation, said Belfort told Nogueira, “I will never fight [Silva].” Problem was, “The Phenom” re-signed with the UFC shortly thereafter, when his popularity once again rose with knockouts over Terry Martin and Matt Lindland under the Affliction banner.

“He told me he was back in the UFC, and I congratulated him,” Cavalcante recalls. “And he said, ‘I’ll be champion there.’ I asked him in which weight class, and he said 84 kilos [185 pounds]. I was like, ‘Come again?’ I called Rodrigo and told him, and his reaction was, ‘No, you’re kidding.’ I don’t know what the conversation between them was like, but [Belfort] left the team.”

Belfort left Brazil and joined Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas to prepare for his octagon return versus ex-titleholder Rich Franklin. With UFC Hall of Famer and former opponent Randy Couture in his corner, he dismantled Franklin in three minutes to earn a shot at gold. Seventeen months after it was originally proposed, Belfort was booked to fight Silva in a headliner at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.

Time had healed the original wound to Silva’s team. But the middleweight champ never forgot the betrayal.

“[Silva] was upset because he didn’t want that fight,” says Silva’s boxing coach Luis Carlos Dorea, who started coaching Silva in 2003, three years before he trained Belfort for the first time. “When Vitor insisted on the fight and the UFC booked it, [Silva] went hard.”

In Belfort’s corner for UFC 126 was head coach Ray Sefo, a former K-1 kickboxer (and later a promoter in WSOF and PFL) who wasn’t really up to speed on the previous relationship between the two. Belfort, he says, wouldn’t let any outside factors affect his mindset going into the biggest fight of his career.

“His conditioning, his mindset, everything was on par and right,” Sefo says. “I didn’t really know how well they knew each other before that. I know they knew each other and trained together, but I didn’t think it was to the extent of where they were, you know, friends, if you will. Every time I talked to Vitor, he was hungry, he was motivated, he was ready to become champion again. He did everything within his power that he could do to get ready for that fight. And to me, that was the best version of Vitor in terms of training.”

No matter his personal feelings, Silva’s other coaches didn’t detect any resentment in training.

“He knew how important Vitor was in the MMA world and his potential, the athlete he was,” said jiu-jitsu specialist Ramon Lemos, who was working as Silva’s head coach for the first time. “[He] knew it would be ugly for him in a blink of an eye if he wasn’t paying attention. I never heard about any rivalry or issues between the two, but the worry was about that guy’s left hand, his huge knockout power, and [he] could knock you out if you make any mistake.”


THE MASK

Despite Silva and Belfort’s efforts to keep animosity at bay during a long and intense training camp, the pressure was palpable on fight week. From the publicity alone, it was the biggest match of their lives. A record number of Brazilian media traveled to Las Vegas to cover a UFC bout. It felt bigger than Silva’s previous title defense, a rematch against bitter rival Chael Sonnen.

“The tension of that week between those fighters and their camps, it felt like they were fighting for something greater than the UFC championship,” says Dave Sholler, former UFC Executive Vice President of Communications.

The two had faced off once before in Abu Dhabi to promote the first booking. Initially, they seemed respectful toward each other, if a little tense.

Afterward, things took a turn.

“[Belfort] said he wanted to talk to Anderson,” says Cavalcante, who accompanied Silva to the UAE. “[He said], ‘Anderson, I just wanted to tell you that Davi [Belfort, Vitor’s son] loves you.’ He said something like that. Anderson was like, ‘Cool, brother, but it’s a fight. Get ready, ‘cause you’re getting beat up.’”

Belfort wasn’t expecting that type of reaction, “Feijao” says. According to Silva’s longtime teammate and friend, it was simply the same argument Belfort used when he first suggested the fight: nothing personal, just business.

One year later, as the middleweight champ neared his eighth title defense, nothing had changed. Every member of Silva’s typically gigantic entourage remembers the same thing about the days leading up to UFC 126: A calm and relaxed fighter, waiting for battle.

“I remember he had chocolate before the weigh-ins, and we even went out to watch the Jabbawockeez,” says Paulo Bananada, one of Silva’s main sparring partners for that title defense. While others preferred to stay in the hotel room or gym for one last training or tape-watching session, Silva chose to relax.

Ramon Lemos tried to convince the champ otherwise. It was his first glimpse of what it was like dealing with a unique martial artist.

“‘Master, what do I do when I’m done training?’” Lemos recalls of Silva’s response to his entreaties. “‘I go to the pool at home, I go to the mall, I go out for a walk. It’s no different. I’ll weigh in and there’s a fight tomorrow, we will fight. But I’m going to the mall, I’ll walk around and buy some sneakers, and nothing will change. I’ll do exactly what I’ve done every day of this camp. Nothing will change, and we’ll fight tomorrow.’”

The night before UFC 126, Silva and his 12-year-old son, Kalyl, took in the hip-hop dance group at the Monte Carlo Casino (now the Park MGM Las Vegas). After the show, the Jabbawockeez invited his crew backstage and gifted Kalyl a white mask. The 12-year-old had an idea.

Kalyl had heard Belfort say his father “wears a mask of something he’s not” at the pre-fight press conference, implying he was some sort of fake. At the weigh-ins, the young Silva handed the mask to his dad. He had no idea it would become an iconic moment in the sport’s history.

“I just thought he was going to wear the mask and that’s it,” Kalyl says. “I had no idea it would be that memorable.”

At first, the mask brought a smile to Belfort’s face. But the smirk was gone as soon as Silva got close enough to touch his face.

“You’re f*cked,” Silva told Belfort after taking off the mask. “You’re f*cked. I’ll beat you up tomorrow.”

Kalyl says he could sense Belfort’s “aura” change at that exact moment. Strength and conditioning coach Rogerio Camoes, who walked to the stage with Silva for nearly every weigh-in, isn’t sure the middleweight king got into Belfort’s head. But either way, it was a frightening experience.

“It was bizarre,” Camoes says. “Vitor, Dana and I, we all were kind of astonished by that scene. You could only see his eyes. That caused an impact, for sure. He really didn’t expect that, and maybe it got in his head. If that really affected Vitor, only he knows, but it was quite scary, man.”

MMA nutrition coach Mike Dolce was one of the men standing by Belfort’s side that afternoon in Las Vegas. It was his first time working with the Brazilian after he was brought in to correct a rough weight cut and “severe dehydration” for Belfort’s 195-pound catchweight fight against Franklin. He says Belfort didn’t crack.

“Vitor is cool, I gotta tell you,” says Dolce. “No matter what obstacle and challenge I’ve seen Vitor face in his life, he has a very good means to deal with it. I don’t see him get riled up or scattered. He thought it was comical, that Anderson was making a fool of himself. And it certainly didn’t intimidate Vitor. It didn’t scare Vitor. I believe he felt like the rest of us that it was gamesmanship more than anything. And, essentially, Anderson had made himself look like a clown as a part of the weigh-ins, instead of being a little more professional, I believe, which is what Vitor was aspiring to be.

“I’ve seen certain antics like that before on stage. I’ve been on stage with Chael Sonnen and Ronda Rousey and many of the other greats in the sport. But this was done with a bit of maliciousness, I believe, on Anderson’s part, and there was a very dark energy. This was very personal between Anderson and Vitor.”


Celebrity Travel:

Anderson Silva bows to Vitor Belfort.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

THE A-SIDE

To understand the reason why that faceoff took a hugely important fight for Brazil and turned it into a cultural phenomenon, you have to take a step back in time. Twenty-one years, to be exact.

In 2000, “The Phenom” was a respected MMA fighter and a UFC tournament winner at a time when the sport wasn’t highly respected in the country. Then he started dating Brazilian model Joana Prado after signing on to Casa dos Artistas, a Big Brother-like celebrity reality TV show. The relationship lasted only a little bit longer than the season, but it exposed Belfort to a new audience of fans.

Inside the Artistas house for nine weeks, Belfort was suddenly a hot commodity. So the UFC took advantage, booking him against Chuck Liddell for the light heavyweight title just two months after the show. Brazilian free-to-air television network SBT, which aired Casa dos Artistas, signed a deal with the UFC to air the fight, which headlined the curiously named UFC 37.5. Belfort lost a decision to “Iceman,” but his popularity in Brazil only rose.

Belfort was “a household name outside of the sports world in Brazil,” says Sholler says. But the UFC only truly realized how big he was in his native country after hiring a PR agency to grow the brand in the country.

“In many ways, that’s what made this fight special,” Sholler said. “You had maybe the biggest Brazilian MMA star in the MMA space in Anderson Silva against this transcendent icon of Brazil, and they were squaring off for the sport’s biggest prize. It was a huge moment not only for the UFC. I think it was a huge moment to showcase the type or power and potential MMA had in Brazil.”

“Anderson wasn’t a popular figure,” says Cauan Ahmed, who worked for the PR agency hired by the UFC in Brazil. “Even the Brazilian sports media still had a lot of prejudice toward the sport at the time [and] ignored the Brazilian champions. Vitor already was very famous because of his achievements in the early UFC days and, of course, for being at Casa dos Artistas and his relationship with Joana Prado.”

One of the men in charge of exploring new markets for the UFC was Marshal Zelaznik, then the company’s managing director of international development. He would take countless trips to Brazil alongside former UFC executive Jaime Pollack, negotiating deals and partnerships that would help UFC grow in the birthplace of vale tudo.

“We started doing a lot of legwork to figure out what was possible, and that fight really launched our ability to enter the Brazil market,” says Zelaznik, crediting Silva’s fights with Sonnen and Belfort as the moments that “added rocket fuel” to the UFC rise. “Anderson was becoming a real hero in the market. His name was getting on covers of magazines, he was doing more news shows, and then, as the Vitor fight was coming, Vitor had his own stature within Brazil, having been on a reality television show. He was, in essence, a celebrity in the market. And you were bringing these two icons into a fight.”

It was promoted as the “Fight of the Century.” Now, all it had to do was deliver.


“A FRONT KICK TO THE FACE”

This is how MMA Fighting described the action on that night.

Belfort walks out with a preternatural calm on his face, like a man walking on the beach. Silva walks out to his usual entrance song, DMX’s “Ain’t No Sunshine.” His son walks in alongside him. Crowd is pro-Belfort. They touch gloves and here we go.

Round 1: Both measure each other early, not a punch thrown in the opening minute. They dance around each other, very patient and cautious. Belfort catches a Silva kick and takes him down. Silva right back up. Belfort landed a left hook that was square. Silva danced backwards. Out of nowhere, the threw a front kick that landed right on Belfort’s chin. Belfort crashed backwards and looked like he was out. The ref Mario Yamasaki let it go, and Silva pounced on him, landing a few punches for the knockout.

The fight lasted 209 seconds. It was a masterpiece that turned Silva into a megastar in his home country.

Celebrity Travel:

“Anderson has always used that kick,” says Camoes. “I’ve seen him knock sparring partners out with that front kick, but no one thought the fight would end like that. Anderson saw an opening for the front kick and was precise. He knocked Vitor out in unbelievable fashion.”

Paulo “Bananada” Goncalves, who was working with Silva for the first time, had to go though the painful experiences of getting kicked by the middleweight king for months leading up to UFC 126.

“I remember getting early to the gym to practice that kick, and training a bit more when everyone else was done training,” he says. “I got that same kick to the shin once and couldn’t touch it for 15 days [laughs]. He landed that same kick to the shin, thigh, body. The front kick landed so perfectly. … I knew it worked, but the way it was, I was surprised.”

Celebrity Travel:

Anderson Silva meets Steven Seagal after the win.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

As Silva walked out of the octagon with the UFC belt around his waist, he stopped for a brief moment to shake hands with actor Steven Seagal. He would later credit Seagal, a 7th-dan black belt in aikido, for making the kick more effective. They had footage to back the claim.

But was Seagal really the mastermind? A decade later, the story changes depending on whom you ask.

Dorea will say Seagal and Silva trained together a few times in Los Angeles. Silva “is very humble and curious” and indeed learned a thing or two from Seagal, the coach says. Lemos, however, says Silva respected the actor for his history in martial arts and saw it as a marketing ploy.

“Anderson had great coaches around him for years, and you can’t credit someone for just a few days in the gym,” Lemos says.

Silva had, in fact, used that kick before in UFC fights, landing a similar one before his submission victory over Dan Henderson. But it didn’t quite land as perfectly as at UFC 126. And part of that credit, “Feijao” Cavalcante says, should go to Seagal.

“Steven Seagal adjusted it, showed a position,” Cavalcante says. “Everything is a lesson, and [Silva] learned something. Seagal did [teach] a few things, and I know because I was there. But Anderson has always thrown that kick. It was adjusted because he was going to fight a southpaw.”

Even if Seagal was the muse, Silva trademarked the kick. Years later, it became logo of his brand, “Spider Kick.”

But on that night, it took Team Belfort awhile to process what happened.

“The strategy was to make sure to put Anderson on the back foot,” Sefo says. “We knew going into that fight that Vitor was the the better athlete – explosiveness, powerful, everything. The game plan was not to wait on Anderson, but to initiate the fight and, you know, change angles, that kind of stuff, because Vitor is very dangerous coming in.”

Sefo remembers being next to Couture in the corner, yelling, “Don’t wait, you’ve got to go.” Seconds later, it was over.

“Vitor just waited too long,” Sefo says. “When you wait that long against a legendary fighter, he’s gonna work you out and he’s going to find holes. As soon as that kick landed, because the way it landed, because it was so hard and the way he dropped, I knew the fight was over. It wasn’t our night that night, but, you know, you can’t take anything away from Anderson Silva or Vitor, because when you’re competing at that high level, anything can happen. It takes one mistake and the fight’s over. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t win that night.”

“For me, there was the heartbreak,” says Dolce, who wasn’t in Belfort’s corner during the fight. “I was very bonded with Vitor, and I rode the emotional journey with him. But this is the highest level of MMA. Vitor can just as easily land a clean left hand as Anderson could land that front kick. This is a battle of snipers, and we knew that going into it. So to see Anderson the one who lands that kick, that’s just the way this sport goes.”

Celebrity Travel:

Silva’s son celebrates the victory alongside Rafael Cavalcante.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

No one had a better view of the strike than Mario Yamasaki, the third man in the cage.

The experienced referee had visited both middleweights in the locker room earlier that evening at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, recalling they were “focused, but pumped for the fight.”

“I thought the fight would go longer because Vitor was in great shape and confident, so it was a surprise to me,” Yamasaki says of the finish. “When that kick landed, Vitor went down and rocked, but still awake. Anderson stopped for a second, but I said no, land another one just to be sure he’s out. When he was going to land another one [Belfort] wasn’t there anymore, and I stopped it. No one expected that.”

The knockout aired on loop in Brazil, and in the weeks after the fight, Yamasaki remembers becoming more popular.

“I was recognized in the streets by those that trained martial arts, but then even the bakery old lady and the gas station old man knew who I was,” he says. “I remember being in Manchester and unable to walk in the streets. I felt like Brad Pitt [laughs]. It’s funny because we’re not used to that. It was an unique experience.”

As Kalyl watched thousands of fans go crazy from the front row of the Mandalay Bay Events Center, it dawned on him that his father “really is the greatest of all times.” Unlike his brother, Gabriel Silva, the magical moment didn’t drive him into martial arts. These days, he uses his kicking techniques as a forward for the LA10 in the United Premier Soccer League.

That night not only changed Silva’s life, but it made MMA a mainstream sport in Brazil after decades of being downplayed as human cockfighting.

“That front kick took the fight from a grudge match in MMA to a viral, intense, crazy unforgettable moment in the history of the sport,” Sholler says. “I still talk to people, to this day who remember where they were when Anderson landed that front kick. It’s one of those moments you don’t forget. … It kind of felt like the Super Bowl or the World Cup of media coverage when that fight had come to fruition. I think it was just a perfect storm of events, whether it was Anderson’s win over Chael and the type of buzz that created in the United States and Canada and other big international markets, or whether it was just the allure of Vitor Belfort.

Despite his official role, Zelaznik couldn’t help feeling sorry for Belfort. Admittedly, he was always “secretly hoping for the international star to prevail to help us grow the markets.” Even though Silva and Belfort were both Brazilians, a win for “The Phenom” may have been a bigger benefit to the local market.

“Of course, it wasn’t an outward cheer, but something that I knew would be important for our business,” Zelaznik says. “But the fights ended up the way they ended up. The other thing is that as you get into the business and you start getting to know the fighters, Vitor was one of these guys who was always very generous with me and my colleagues. He was always willing to help figure out people to meet and speak to.

“He was very connected at Globo, and seeing someone that you cared about get knocked out in that fashion. … My recollection post-fight was I had a lot of concern and sympathy for someone who was becoming my friend. And I think that the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory, that emotion out of those fights that are so meaningful for people, for the business, is the feeling that really sticks with me, it’s why I have the picture [of that fight in my office]. That fight was really significant in my own personal career development, that fight helped us have success in Brazil, which brought success for me personally.”

Celebrity Travel:

The heated Anderson Silva-Vitor Belfort rivalry made MMA mainstream in Brazil in 2011.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting


“‘THE SPIDER’ HUMILIATED VITOR BELFORT”

Strong words? Sure, especially considering there were two Brazilians competing for a major title that night. The nature of the work of a play-by-play commentator, however, consists on being real to the audience, and that’s what was going through Joao Guilherme’s mind when Silva landed that iconic kick.

Guilherme was a play-by-play commentator for the Brazilian pay-per-view channel Combate at the time and was assigned to UFC 126. He previously had commentated several Silva fights, including a controversial decision victory over Demian Maia and a spectacular comeback over Chael Sonnen at UFC 117.

“That moment of time was very memorable,” says Guilherme, who currently works as a play-by-play commentator for ESPN and Fox Sports in Brazil but hasn’t called fights in years. “I remember that the aftermath of that fight was like a huge soccer match, or even more. That’s what I felt that day. The expectation was so high, the ratings were absurd. It felt like everybody was watching that fight, and it was on pay-per-view in Brazil.

Soccer was and continues to be the No. 1 sport in Brazil, and it’s not even close. Guilherme has worked in some big futebol matches throughout his career, and still would place Silva’s wins over Sonnen and Belfort as two of the five greatest moments of his professional life.

“I was ready to commentate a very long fight,” Guilherme says. “I was ready to call Anderson taunting Vitor, doing his faints and moves, trying to affect his mind, and, all of a sudden, he threw that devastating kick and ended it much sooner. A play-by-play commentator can’t wait too long, he must have an immediate reaction, but I remember being scared and surprised. I really didn’t expect it. Even thought we all knew Anderson could do something out of nowhere, I admit I didn’t expect that ending.”


Celebrity Travel:

Anderson Silva became a celebrity overnight in Brazil with his picture-perfect knockout of Vitor Belfort.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC GOES VIRAL

Thanks to Belfort’s pre-fight fame — and his spectacular finish, of course – Anderson Silva became a celebrity in Brazil. Local MMA promotions received a much-needed push right after as the interest for the sport grew.

Belfort was easier to promote due to his charisma and popularity outside the MMA bubble, while Silva was a phenomenal athlete without that talent in front of the cameras. That night in Las Vegas “represented a change.”

“That was the first time we saw families and friends planning to watch a fight together, and bars trying to find out how they would air the fight to their costumers,” says the PR agent Ahmed says. “That’s when the UFC really became a Saturday night attraction. Anderson wasn’t known in Brazil before Vitor. You could let him walk around the Copacabana boardwalk for hours and no one would recognize him. The fact he fought Vitor and ended the fight with a movie-like kick, that catapulted him from anonymity to success and idolatry in an impressive fashion.”

UFC 126 was such a big deal in Brazil, Carlos Eduardo Rocha recalls reaping the benefit. The fighter was the only Brazilian competing on that card aside from the headliners, facing Jake Ellenberger on the pay-per-view card.

“It really made my name bigger,” says Rocha, who remembers better sponsorship deals making up for the $8,000 purse he got at UFC 126. In the end, he only pocketed half of that money after paying taxes, coaches, manager and nutrition. He also lost a split decision in what he felt was a robbery.

“I beat him up and still made sh*t,” he says. “The UFC makes millions with a pay-per-view and you get $8,000. That’s pennies for the UFC. At the end of the day, when you put everything on the table, a fighter basically pays to fight, man. You get paid nothing. It’s just to build your name and that’s it. If you lose, you’re dead. It shouldn’t be like this.”

The UFC was back on Brazilian soil six months after Silva demolished “The Phenom” in Las Vegas, and Silva was the logical choice as the headliner for UFC 134. The card, dubbed UFC Rio due to a sponsorship deal from the city, featured a mismatch between Silva and Yushin Okami, who on paper was the last to hand him a defeat — a DQ in Hawaii due to an illegal upkick landed by Silva. Stars like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua stacked the pay-per-view.

“The way [Silva] won catapulted him and the sport to new levels,” Zelaznik says. “We couldn’t get Globo to buy the Okami-Anderson fight. They did not want to acquire it. Combate wanted to acquire it, but we felt very strongly that we had to have it on terrestrial free television. You’ll remember we ended up putting that Anderson-Okami fight on RedeTV just to get a bigger audience. And the ratings on that night were great. … It wasn’t until after our Rio event that we got Globo’s attention to be able to do the Globo deal. We had other Brazilian fighters that were getting media attention, we were investing more resources into the market. So, for sure, that fight was critical to what ultimately became one of the — actually, the biggest international market for the UFC.”

“As [Silva] became a global brand, as he became sponsored by huge international brands, he became an off-the-charts celebrity. Essentially, he became a global corporation,” Sholler says. “That moment, that fight was a great catapulting point for the UFC in Brazil and it as even more special when we were able to go back there for UFC 134. I think Dana [White] and Lorenzo [Fertitta] had always understood that Brazil was going to become a longterm important, crucial piece to the growth of our business. At around that time, Lorenzo was working heavily on the international growth of the UFC and had always talked about the importance of Brazil, not only as a place that bred and groomed the next generation of champions, but as a place that had some of the most passionate and intense fans in the world.”

As time went on, Silva would again defend his belt against Sonnen and move up to light heavyweight for a short-notice bout with Stephan Bonnar in Rio de Janeiro. Then, at UFC 162, Chris Weidman put an end to his reign in a shocking upset. Belfort, meanwhile, worked his way back up with finishes over Yoshihiro Akiyama, Anthony Johnson, Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson — with a loss to 205-pound king Jon Jones in between — to get another crack at the gold. He lost to then-champion Weidman.

When the dust settled, Belfort’s team laments the fact “The Phenom” never got a second chance against Brazil’s greatest mixed martial artist.

“I’d always put money on Vitor [against Silva], because he’s just an amazing athlete,” Sefo says. “He’s an amazing fighter and he trained hard. It doesn’t matter who it is, if he’s mentally, physically ready, Vitor can beat anybody on any day. I guess the sad part is that we didn’t get to see because it was a five-round fight. I would have loved to have seen at least two rounds. You know, these guys just exchanging techniques and knowledge and how to be creative and how to set up things in the fight.”

Celebrity Travel:

Belfort missed a punch on the ground, his best attempt during the fight.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

“I literally have not spoken one word with Vitor about Anderson Silva since February of 2011,” Dolce says. “But I do believe these two men are destined to have another clash inside the octagon, inside the cage, inside a ring. Somewhere on this planet, there is a combat space for Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort to stand in front of each other again and to give the fans a brief glimpse into the greatness that these men both have shared with us for the course of their lives.”

One man’s rise is another man’s downfall, and Belfort had to pay the price that time. In the end, however, Dolce says it hasn’t changed who Belfort is.

“We went back to Vitor’s home after the fight, and it was the birthday party of one of his children,” Dolce recalls. “He was an amazing father, he did not put his experience, his loss, above the joy of his child’s birthday. He was a great host at the party and very friendly, but you could tell that in his quiet times that he was still dealing with the hurt of the loss.

“And when I was leaving the house that night, it was rather late — I remember this perfectly, as if it was yesterday. We’re leaving the house that night and Vitor walked me out. This is the first time we had a few minutes just to ourselves, quietly outside the home, in the dark, on his front porch. And I gave him a big hug and just told him how proud I was of him and that I loved him. And he gave me a hug back and thanked me for being a part of the journey and a part of the experience with him. He said he was very happy with everything, but it wasn’t the outcome he wanted. And I remember replying, now it sounds profound, ‘Vitor, it might not have been the result you would wanted, but it very well may have been the result that you needed.’ And we both stood there and stared at each other for a moment quietly, and he got this big smile on his face, and he gave me another big hug and said, ‘Thank you.’ And I turned and got my truck and drove away.

“But then I look at Vitor’s career after that fight and Vitor went back on a tear, knocking out Akiyama, submitting Anthony Johnson. He took a short notice fight up a weight class versus Jon Jones, who he almost finished and damn near broke Jon’s arm. He knocked out Bisping. He knocked out Rockhold, he knocked out Dan Henderson. So very well that Anderson Silva fight may have been the exact result he needed to dig even deeper into his soul and his potential and bring up the very best. And I believe we saw the very best in Vitor after that Anderson Silva fight.”

A heated rivalry, an iconic face-off, and a devastating front kick finish was the key to making UFC great in Brazil.

Celebrity Travel:

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

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