Vitor Belfort burst onto the MMA scene back in 1996, winning a four man tournament in Alabama during MMA’s wild, bare-knuckle, days.
That night, the 19 year old was dubbed “The Phenom” after punching his way to two TKO victories to be crowned UFC 12 Heavyweight Tournament champion.
Later, he held the UFC light heavyweight title and also picked up a belt for British promotion Cage Rage, before moving down to middleweight in 2008.
The Brazilian will contend for the UFC middleweight title for the second time on Saturday at UFC 187.
How does it measure up to his earlier successes?
In a media scrum yesterday, the 34 fight MMA veteran called these days leading up to UFC 187, “the best moment of my life.”
But he called attention to the past, too.
“How many fighters get to do what I did?” Belfort asked. “Nineteen years ago, I was a champion. I know people don’t talk much about when I was a champion, because they don’t consider me the youngest champion. But I had to fight two times in one night then. Guys with no gloves — the sport was totally different. At 19 years old I came and I conquered. I was the youngest champion. Of course, it was another organization that used to own (the UFC), not ZUFFA. But you cannot deny facts.”
Jon Jones is generally recognized as the youngest champion in UFC history. But Belfort implies the title lineage should be viewed differently.
“Then I won one title at light heavyweight,” he continued. “Now I’m coming for the middleweight title. So, 19 years ago! I was thinking, 19 years ago, how old was Chris Weidman? So many guys I meet in the gym say, when I was ten years old I used to see you fight, and now they fight in the UFC. I’m very grateful to be here.”
Asked if he thought he should be recognized as the first three division UFC champion, Belfort said simply:
“It’s not what I think, it’s fact. You can’t argue with facts. I’m not the owner, but you can’t deny facts.”
Full video (from MMA H.E.A.T.) is available here: