Vitor Belfort is clear when it comes to placing blame on the person responsible for his struggles in his last few years with the UFC.
That person? Himself.
Some decline is to be expected for 23-year MMA veteran entering his 40s. But a 1-3 end to his UFC career – that doesn’t include a first-round TKO loss changed to a no-contest due to a positive drug test – was a disappointment for Belfort, not just because of how he performed, but because he was mentally defeated before he even stepped into the cage.
According to Belfort, he simply hasn’t been happy going into his most recent fights, and it’s his responsibility to change that.
“Any competition — like I always watched Michael Jordan, that was a big lesson for me because I knew that before — when you lose the passion, the drive, to do something ... look, I’ve been in this sport for so long, and it’s like this: Two things happen to everybody when you work too long in the sport,” Belfort told MMA Fighting. “You think you’re underpaid like Scottie Pippen, or you are paid too much. When you’re paid and they treat you well and you lose the passion you can walk away. And when you don’t lose the passion, it can still become like a company job. And I believe that the majority of the fighters today, they have to work for the company. They’ve got to follow what the company needs. That being said, I don’t care now if I need it or not.
“When you lose the passion, you’ve kind of got to go away from the sport. I see a lot of people getting hurt, a lot of fighters just kind of going through the motions, and I’m not just talking about the organization, but also with yourself. Sometimes you need a break. You need time to reevaluate, or you need new challenges, and sometimes what the company needs is different than what the fighter needs. I know to make your name you’ve got to work for the company. I feel like I did, but the company needs someone, and I was in another ‘season,’ so I think I was just going through my contract. It’s not the fault of the company; it was my fault, has nothing to do with the company.”
Following his loss to Lyoto Machida in May 2018, Belfort announced a retirement that only lasted until the end of the year. Regardless, he believes he did the UFC a favor by stepping away, as he doesn’t think the company should have had to worry about his status as his own passion wavered.
“I think I kind of violated the commitment with myself,” Belfort said. “My fire was not there, and I was living through other people’s fire, trying to say, ‘I’ll get the fire back if I hire this coach,’ or ‘I’m gonna get this guy if I do that.’ And I was always doing something to try and bring the fire back.”
In March 2019, Belfort announced he had signed with ONE Championship, and the plans are currently for him to face veteran kickboxer Alain Ngalani at an undetermined date. It was important for the Brazilian ex-champ to get his priorities straight before signing a new contract, as opposed to relying on the opportunity itself to rejuvenate him.
“Before I signed, I had to feel that way,” Belfort said. “So I didn’t sign and then feel that way. You cannot get married to start loving your wife. You cannot have your kid to say, ‘Oh, now I’m gonna be a dad.’ Listen carefully to what I’m saying. You cannot be a dad waiting for your kid to be born to say, ‘Okay, now I have responsibility.’ That decision you’ve got to make before you make your child.
“So I recommend to everyone, whether you’re in financial or marketing or any type of endeavor you’re looking forward to becoming an entrepreneur, I believe success comes out of sacrifice.”
Belfort made his UFC debut in 1997, winning a heavyweight tournament at UFC 12 with a pair of first-round knockouts. He speaks from experience when he talks about building a career from the bottom up, and he preaches patience for young professionals looking for instant success or fame, regardless of the field they’re in.
When Belfort fights again, he’ll join Alistair Overeem, Aleksei Oleinik, and Shannon Ritch as the only fighters to compete in four different decades. It’s a milestone that Belfort is excited to celebrate, and he’s even more excited about the contributions he can make to MMA when his competition days are over.
“It’s amazing, I’m a grandpa,” Belfort said. “I’m the grandpa for the sport. I can’t wait. To tell you the truth, it’s a rebirth. It’s my last dance. This is gonna be my last dance as an athlete. I’m always gonna be involved, I always want to help as much as I can, especially in all the markets of Asia, the markets in South America. I believe in the Indian market. I want to really be able to educate kids and help coaches, help athletes, be able to create a mentorship. I’m really thinking of creating a seminar where I can really help fighters. I want to create a sense of a financial part for the athletes, creating the emotional part for the athletes.
“The emotional part is how to deal with fear, decisions, how to say, ‘no,’ and when you sign that big contract to be able to say, ‘No, I’m not gonna do that, because it’s against what is right.’ And the third part is dealing with all the management and coaches and all these people. What’s the best decision? How can I maneuver in these areas? I think fighters are still being exposed, and they don’t understand they’re just a product. But they have a passion to fight for this organization or to become world champion, so basically they start doing whatever they can, and they are violating things that can cost them in the future.”
Newly motivated, Belfort isn’t promising a storybook ending to his career. He’s been around too long to make those kinds of proclamations, especially given the peaks and valleys of his journey so far.
Multiple UFC championship opportunities, including a light heavyweight title win over Randy Couture at UFC 46 that was more of a happy accident for Belfort (a seam in Belfort’s glove sliced Couture’s eyelid, leading to a doctor stoppage less than a minute into the fight). Drug test controversies. A resume that includes clashes with almost every big name fighter to compete in middleweight or light heavyweight in the past two decades. Recent struggles that have led fans to question how much longer “The Phenom” should go on.
Belfort is aware of it all and again, he puts the blame — and the chance for redemption — solely on his own shoulders.
“I learned one thing, you can only speak for yourself,” Belfort said when asked what he thought is the biggest misconception about him or his career. “You can never speak for somebody’s behalf. I know I’ve made bad decisions in the past. I did things that I’m not supposed to do in the past. I think a lot of times I was not acting the way I was supposed to act before. I realize all that. I realize that I was not maybe nice with someone I’m supposed to be before. But I can only speak about myself.
“If you knew me a year before, or you knew me since I was a kid, the people that know me today, they have an advantage over the people that have known me for a long time. The Bible says that one day is like a thousand, a thousand is like one day. So you can grow so much in one day or you decide to not grow in a thousand days. It’s your decision.”