Last week, UFC President Dana White surprised a few people by saying that he'd like to put together a matchup between middleweight champion Anderson Silva and current Affliction middleweight Vitor Belfort.
The statement was surprising because White's been burned in the past announcing matchups that never happened and deals that fell through. Most recently, he did a verbal contract with Mirko Cro Cop prior to UFC 99, but the Croatian star bolted after one fight. Most famously, he had then-PRIDE fighter Wanderlei Silva enter the octagon at UFC 61 to announce a matchup with UFC superstar Chuck Liddell. But talks soon fizzled and White wasn't able to put the two together until after he bought PRIDE and acquired Silva's contract.
So what do those situations tell us about Belfort?
Even with Belfort having one fight left on his Affliction deal (which will end after his Aug. 1 matchup with Jorge Santiago), it is likely that some loose agreement is at least in place to bring him back to the octagon.
FanHouse has confirmed through a source that White recently met with Belfort in Los Angeles. The source could not confirm that Belfort has signed any sort of deal with UFC, but we can also examine Belfort's recent behavior for telltale clues.
In late May, when FanHouse broke the news that Fedor Emelianenko and Josh Barnett had agreed to their match, we also noted that Belfort was likely to scrap with rising star Gegard Mousasi. That bit of news was given to us by the same reliable source that gave us the Emelianenko-Barnett scoop.
Within days, however, that fight was out the window. Why? Belfort said he would agree to the fight only if Mousasi would fight as a middleweight. Belfort likely made the statement knowing that Mousasi, who weighed in at almost 218 pounds during his DREAM 9 fight with Mark Hunt on May 28, could not and would not even try to make middleweight, saying at this point it was impossible for him to cut over 30 pounds.
Mousasi asked for a 195-pound catch weight, and Belfort declined, saying he was a middleweight and would only do the fight at 185. Again, Mousasi said he could not make the weight, and so Affliction was sent to search for a new opponent.
In place of Mousasi, Belfort agreed to fight Santiago, who has won nine in a row (Mousasi's won 12 straight), but is a smaller opponent to deal with.
It's certainly Belfort's prerogative to accept and reject potential opponents, and Santiago is not an easy matchup by any means, but given what's been said in recent days and weeks, it seems likely that there were more factors in play in making his decision than simple weight classes. Keep in mind that just three months ago, Belfort was willing to fight heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko, but is now unwilling to fight a highly ranked light-heavyweight. Why? Just a theory, but perhaps he wants the least amount of risk to jeopardize a potential return to the UFC.
Going back to December 2007, Belfort has said that he'd like to one day fight again in UFC, telling Sherdog.com in one interview, "I really want to fight in the UFC. I want the title."
Just as telling is Dana White's recent statement. He has said repeatedly that he doesn't like announcing anything before he has contracts signed, and UFC rarely tips their hand at potential signings. The Belfort comment, which aired on The Ultimate Fighter season finale, wasn't an offhand remark; it was taped specifically for insertion into a show that was going to be watched by millions. White had the chance to pull it back before it reached the air if it didn't feel right or if he had second thoughts. Apparently he didn't.
Having been in many White press conferences and conference calls, I can tell you that he is not a "fantasy booker." He doesn't throw out random names of unavailable fighters for matchups with his current champs. Yes, if you ask him about Fedor, he'll talk about him, but he'll never flat-out say that he's targeting Fedor-Lesnar or Fedor-Mir.
So to sum up, we have:
--Belfort stating an interest in re-joining the UFC dating back to Dec. 2007
--White and Belfort meeting in L.A.
--Belfort turning down an oversized opponent for a lower-risk, lower-reward match
--White fantasy booking a fighter whom he does not have under contract
Dana White is no fool, and he'd be unlikely to make the same mistake he made with Cro Cop so soon afterward.
Perhaps there is no official contract in place, but all of the evidence, circumstantial though it is, just makes me believe that he knows he'll get his man.