The news had barely broken when Vitor Belfort sprung to action.
The former UFC light heavyweight champion, who was scheduled to meet Alan Belcher at UFC 153 in Rio de Janeiro, got in touch with UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta and let him know he was willing to step in for Dan Henderson after Henderson had to pull out of his UFC 151 bout against champion Jon Jones.
"When I heard the show was going to get canceled, I offered myself," Belfort told MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I said ‘Lorenzo, you know me, I come from the old school, if you need me to save the show to fight Jones ... if somebody got hurt, if you need me, just let me know.'"
The call was consistent with his past actions -- Belfort once offered to step up and meet heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko when Josh Barnett was ineligible to compete at their planned Affliction event in 2009 -- but it came too late to save UFC 151. Reaching out to Fertitta eventually paid dividends anyway, though, as he'll meet Jones in the main event of UFC 152 on Sept. 22.
"I have a lot of respect for Jon Jones," said Belfort. "I'm very grateful for opportunity. Stepping into this fight, its old lion vs. young lion, so it's pretty cool."
Belfort, who earned his nickname "The Phenom" after blitzing the competition at age 19 in the UFC 12 tournament, knows both that he's fortunate the chips have fallen his way and that he's considered a heavy underdog for the fight. But that won't stop him from believe he can get the job done in Toronto.
"I'm an old lion, I have tricks, you know what I mean?" asked Belfort, who will prepare for the fight with the Blackzilian camp. "I've been around. I've take all kinds of beatings in life, not just inside Octagon, but outside as well. It's just using my experience and using my knowledge and getting ready. ... I like him as well, he's very nice, very polite, so soft spoken, and a great athlete. That's good, the sport's getting bigger. How many guys from my era are around. Not much? How many guys from when I was fighting and winning my first title in '96, I don't know what Jon Jones was doing [then]. I'm privileged to fight a guy like him, It's a privilege to me. I never thought I'd be around that much, 17 years of a career, and having this chance for the light heavyweight title. It's a title that I had before in 2004. Here I am again with this opportunity."
Jones has been on the receiving end of a major backlash in the wake of his decision not to fight Chael Sonnen as a potential Henderson replacement, after which UFC president Dana White pulled the plug on UFC 151. Belfort, for his part, wouldn't offer an opinion on Jones' decision either way. But Belfort did say that in spite of the fact he has fought at middleweight since 2009, he feels he deserved the opportunity based on his past history at 205 pounds.
"I know Jon Jones and his camp has his [reasons], they know what is best from them, I'm not going to take any position on that," Belfort said. "He's a grown-up boy, he has his crew, his manager, they made their choice, that's the choice that's best for them. If he didn't make that choice, I wouldn't have the chance, so I'm very happy he didn't take the [Sonnen] fight. I think [Chael Sonnen] didn't deserve [a shot at Jones because of] the loss [to Anderson Silva], the way he lost. I think someone deserves it, but [Sonnen] doesn't have a history in that weight division in the UFC. I have history in that division, I have history at the heavyweight division, I have history at the middleweight division, I think it's fair, they way it end up. I think the fans are getting something that's fair. I think, basically, what I think is right, what I think is wrong, I can only speak for myself."
"God gave me the opportunity, now I'm going to earn it," he said. "It's all about how much you want it."