It’s been widely known that for much of his career Vitor Belfort’s Achilles heel has been the mental side of his game.
Despite possessing the physical skills to be at the top of the sport, the Brazilian has often shown a weakness in his focus, heart and determination in the cage. If things are going his way then he’s as dangerous as they come, but if he doesn’t have the upper hand then things can quickly take a turn for the worse.
In the past few years there has been a perception that perhaps Belfort is finally overcoming these issues. Five wins in a row, including a KO win over Rich Franklin on his return to the UFC in 2009 appeared to indicate he was returning to the kind of form that helped him to beat fighters like Randy Couture and Wanderlei Silva in their prime early in his career.
Now he’s preparing to fight for the middleweight title against arguably the best fighter on the planet, Anderson Silva, who’s currently unbeaten in the UFC after a remarkable four and a half year, 12 fight run on the sports biggest stage.
It’s a daunting challenge for anyone, and certainly begs questions over how prepared mentally Belfort is for the fight.
On the surface things appeared to be going well in the interviews we’ve seen with him. He’s been talking confidently about how God is guiding him and how he believes he has his heart set on getting the belt. He even described the upcoming fight as, “a lion versus a lion.”
Meanwhile late last year his striking coach Shawn Tompkins dismissed comments from Wanderlei Silva that Belfort was, “scared” to fight the champion.
With just a few weeks to go now though, the cracks may be beginning to show.
In a new interview with Mauro Ranallo on The Fight Show, Tompkins reveals that Belfort is no longer working with him, and appears frustrated with the fighters attitude.
“Well, you know, Vitor has done this before,” Tompkins says of the split, and rumors that Belfort is now working with Mike Tyson.
“Vitor sometimes, he gets a little clouded in his head. It’s not that he brought in Mike Tyson or anything like that. Vitor just wanders, you know, and he goes where, you know, what’s happening, what’s famous, what’s popular and he’ll go over there and Mike Tyson isn’t teaching him anything. Neither is the other eight gyms that he’s training at. Just because he’s over at Couture’s and not with me doesn’t mean he’s with Couture’s. Vitor isn’t loyal to anybody. We’ve seen it before.”
Given Belfort’s previous issues this certainly sets alarm bells ringing. While he may have a legitimate reason for the switch, leaving your striking coach of several years just weeks before one of the biggest fights of your life sounds far from ideal.
Also, despite Belfort sounding confident in recent interviews there are still questions over whether deep down he truly believes he can become the first man to defeat the champion in the UFC.
In late 2009 Belfort was rumored to be fighting Silva at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi. Somewhat surprisingly in an interview with Ariel Helwani, Belfort admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple more bouts under his belt before fighting him.
His wish then appeared to be granted when he became injured and had to withdraw from the fight.
Apparently he had a change of heart in the following months however, because after watching Chael Sonnen come close to dethroning the champ last summer, Belfort immediately begged UFC President Dana White to be given the chance to fight him next.
It was a curious turn of events. If just a few months earlier he felt he needed more fights under his belt before taking on Silva, why did he suddenly decide that taking him on directly after a long injury layoff was a good idea? Bear in mind that by the time Belfort steps into the octagon on February 5th it’ll have been approximately 17 months since he last fought.
We’ll not know for sure where Belfort’s head is at until the cage door shuts in the main event at UFC 126, but in the mean time his actions certainly leave plenty of food for thought.