Vitor Belfort’s middleweight title dreams started and ended with Anderson Silva.

Ever since arriving back on the UFC scene in 2009, Belfort had his sights set on Silva and the UFC middleweight strap. He made quick work of Rich Franklin in his return to the Octagon at UFC 103 and was named the No. 1 contender to the belt soon after. Injury setbacks ended up keeping Belfort out of the Octagon for over a year, but the fight with Silva was inevitable, and they finally got their title bout at UFC 126.

Belfort barely had a chance to show what he could do against Silva before getting hit by one of the most replayed knockout blows in UFC history. After a long feeling out process to start the bout, the action picked up towards the end of the first round and a few seconds later Silva landed a beautiful front kick to the face that put Belfort down and out.

The win was a powerful statement from Silva, as many considered Belfort to be his greatest threat in the middleweight division. It added another highlight to the champion’s already overstocked reel and made Belfort just another name on Silva’s growing list of victims. Yet, unlike Chael Sonnen, who had dominated Silva for the majority of their fight, Belfort was just like Demian Maia, Rich Franklin and everyone else—another punching bag for Silva to add to his resume.

After a couple of years working his way back up the UFC’s middleweight ladder, Belfort is once again in title contention, and if he can get past Luke Rockhold at UFC on FX 8 this weekend, he could easily be next in line for a shot at the belt.

This upcoming bout with Rockhold is one of the most crucial fights in Belfort’s nearly 20-year fighting career. “The Phenom” has already received his share of title opportunities since he returned to the UFC and he needs to do something extremely impressive to earn himself another one. Taking out the final Strikeforce middleweight champion may be enough to get Belfort one last shot at UFC gold. Considering how lackluster his fight with Silva was, the fact that Belfort is even in the mix for a title shot is amazing in itself.

Earning a UFC title fight comes down to winning fights and getting lucky, and Belfort has had things fall right into place ever since he lost to Silva. “The Phenom” quickly got back on track with a couple of quick wins over Yoshihiro Akiyama and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, and when UFC 151 went down in flames, Belfort was selected to fight Jon Jones at UFC 152 a few weeks later.

It’s tough to call a UFC title fight a “can’t lose” situation, but Belfort wasn’t really expected to compete with Jones. Once again, Belfort was being viewed as a glorified punching bag for the champion, but the “Old Lion” showed he wasn’t going away quietly and locked in a first-round armbar that sent the Toronto crowd into a frenzy. Jones didn’t leave the cage with his arm completely intact, but he mustered up enough strength to get out of the submission, and from there he completely dominated Belfort until winning by a fourth-round submission.

The loss to Jones obviously wasn’t Belfort’s desired result, but he put up a good enough fight to maintain his position near the top of the middleweight rankings, and his reward was a fight against top-ranked Michael Bisping in Belfort’s native Brazil. Bisping had been all but promised a title shot with a win, but Belfort played the spoiler and stopped “The Count” with a head kick and a few follow-up punches to earn his biggest win in the UFC middleweight division.

Belfort’s victory over Bisping entered him into the mix for a title fight, but a lot of things had to go right for “The Phenom” to be in the advantageous situation he’s in on Saturday night. Outside of current No. 1 contender Chris Weidman (and of course, Rockhold), the middleweight title scene is full of the same familiar faces. Bisping just entered the picture again and middleweight mainstays Yushin Okami and Belfort pretty much make up the rest of the title scene. There’s a chance for new blood to break into the title discussion if Rockhold and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza are both able to impress in their UFC debuts, but for the most part, Anderson Silva is looking at the same old list of options if he beats Weidman this summer.

While this isn’t the most exciting scenario for MMA fans, it leaves the door wide open for Belfort. Okami was defeated convincingly by Silva more recently than Belfort was, and Bisping is still in need of another win or two before he can seriously be considered for a title fight.

Unless Weidman pulls off an epic upset this summer, Belfort has a very real chance at setting up a rematch with Silva this weekend. An uninspiring decision win over a talented, but still relatively unknown Rockhold isn’t going to get the job done. However, Belfort is one of the most dangerous fighters in MMA history for the first round or two of a fight, and if he comes out strong, his chances at taking out Rockhold are very real.

With a passionate Brazilian crowd behind him, Belfort has risen to the occasion and performed well each time in front of his home country, and he will look to extend that streak on Saturday. If he does, the next time Belfort fights in Brazil could be in a UFC title fight. And if “The Phenom” happens to see Anderson Silva standing across from him, Belfort will get not only another shot at UFC gold, but a chance to try to erase the one of the worst losses of his career.

Photo: Vitor Belfort (Sherdog)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.