Both may be framed by the public and promoters as boxing vs. MMA, but Belfort said what happens when he steps in the ring with De La Hoya won’t look anything like what the world saw on Sunday night in Cleveland.
Belfort said he didn’t watch Paul take on Woodley, being too focused on his upcoming meeting with De La Hoya on Sept. 11 in Los Angeles. He wasn’t surprised, though, to hear that Woodley struggled against Paul despite a resume that on paper looked far superior.
Belfort, 44, believes the former UFC welterweight champ brought the same primary skill set as his predecessor, Ben Askren, and was fighting at a deficit from jump street.
“I told you I thought that [Woodley] was going to have trouble beating the kid, because he’s literally becoming a fighter,” Belfort said on The MMA Hour. “But his level is very low compared to a guy like myself and Oscar. We’re in the next level.
“It’s hard. It’s like comparing a wine that you can buy in Target. I’m being honest. I respect both of the guys. They did great, they made a lot of money. But at the end of the day, me and Oscar’s a legendary fight, it’s a legacy fight, it’s a generation fight. It’s the guys that are literally building a sport.”
Belfort may be a pioneer in the world of MMA and bring a long resume filled with knockouts to the squared circle, but he isn’t carrying his first sport on his back. Belfort sees his meeting with De La Hoya as something far more significant than sport vs. sport (or less charitably, the latest celebrity boxing cash grab).
“Everyone has their own journey,” he said. “I call it the why of fighting and the why of competing. Me and Oscar is a legendary fight. The fight yesterday is, I’m sorry, but I cannot respect a YouTuber. He’s a Disney channel type of thing, and the other guy doesn’t have hands. He doesn’t know how to box.”
Before getting booked to fight De La Hoya, Belfort made no secret of his desire to fight Paul. He repeatedly dissed the social media star in interviews and said people close to Paul ruled out a fight between them because Paul was scared.
“He has a skill to fight a guy like a wrestler, not a boxer,” Belfort said. “He cannot survive. He cannot survive against a real striker. He’s getting better. I respect him for what he’s been doing, but it’s like he’s a product made by Disney. It’s almost like he’s been made and protected.
“He didn’t want to fight me. He was scared. I understand, but I respect Oscar. Oscar’s man enough not fighting a YouTuber. Oscar is fighting a real fighter like myself. My respect comes not if you’re a winner or a loser – it’s who you’re competing against.”
Although he hasn’t competed since a 2008 loss to Manny Pacquiao, De La Hoya was a multi-title boxing champion and a major combat sports draw in the 90s and 2000s. During his heyday, MMA was still a growing sport.
After a failed attempt to box for the Brazilian national team, Belfort transitioned to MMA and didn’t look back, becoming the youngest tournament champion in the early UFC, and later, for a very brief moment, an undisputed light heavyweight champion. He tried and failed several times to win back the title and announced his retirement in 2018.
When a comeback in ONE Championship went south, Belfort was pulled toward a boxing match. To hear him tell it, he’s glad that the fighter standing across from him on Sept. 11 is famous for more than just memes.
“I have respect for Oscar, he’s not getting the YouTuber like Floyd got his brother,” Belfort said. “These guys cannot box, man. You put these two brothers [together], I will fight them the same night, [and] I will put them out.”