Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, July 15, 2010 | 7:17 p.m.
Five months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, Vitor Belfort is back in Las Vegas and working out with trainer Shawn Tompkins.
And for the first time in more than 18 months, he's doing so without the use of painkillers.
Belfort, who was forced to pull out of a middleweight title fight against Anderson Silva at UFC 112, says a procedure he had in February finally has left him pain free from an injury he's had for more than a year.
Using cortisone shots during his past two camps, Belfort had continued competing despite the injury until a trusted doctor in Brazil informed him he was putting his future at risk.
"I had been taking shots the last couple camps to keep fighting," Belfort said. "Everyone was saying, 'You need surgery,' but I wasn't at peace with that.
"I went to the best doctor in Brazil, and he showed me the number of fighters who keep fighting and make their careers short. You can't fight numbers."
While Belfort (19-8) rehabbed at his home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the UFC middleweight division became one of the most talked-about in MMA.
Anderson Silva defended his belt for a sixth consecutive time in a bizarre fight against Demian Maia in April and the outspoken Chael Sonnen became the new No. 1 contender with a win over Nate Marquardt.
Those two will meet for the middleweight title Aug. 7 at UFC 117 in Oakland.
Belfort paid attention to everything that went on in his absence but prefers not to comment on any of it. Known as a humble fighter and a devout Christian, Belfort believes his opinion is meant only for himself.
On which fighter he would prefer to face for the belt, an opportunity he's expected to receive later this year, Belfort said it didn't matter.
"When you want something, you don't make a prediction," Belfort said. "I'm the kind of guy who doesn't worry about what's going to come my way. As long as I stay on my path, I'm not worried about who's in it."
Because he won't know his next challenge until August, Belfort says he's using his time in Las Vegas right now to simply enjoy being back in the gym and work on new skills.
While Tompkins agrees with that approach, he didn't hesitate in offering his prediction that Silva will still hold the title when Belfort gets his shot.
"Nothing against Chael, but I think he talks better than he fights," Tompkins said. "I'll be front row (at UFC 117) studying both of them because that's my job. I think Chael will talk himself into the fight but, ultimately, Anderson will knock him out."
Tompkins went on to admit that, although Belfort won't say it, his entire camp would look forward to an opportunity it's already trained for and anticipated in the past.
The fight between Silva and Belfort has been targeted for three different events, all of which eventually fell apart because of injury. Silva was forced to pull out of UFC 108 and 109 because of elbow surgery before Belfort withdrew from 112.
The two fighters also have a history, as they trained together at Black House gym in the past.
Considering all that, Tompkins said choosing between Silva and Sonnen for an opponent really is a no-brainer.
"It's not personal, but it's a little more personal (with Silva)," Tompkins said. "I think Chael will try to pick a fight, but that's the only way he becomes popular or famous because we all know he's a boring fighter.
"Anderson is the man and we want to beat that man. I think that fight would mean a little more to us. And honestly, go ask the fans who they want to see fight. It's Anderson and Vitor."
Regardless of whom he fights for the middleweight belt, Belfort is eager to rebuild the legacy he remembers from 2004, when he defeated Randy Couture for the UFC light-heavyweight championship.
At 33 years old and finally healthy once again, the Brazilian fighter's eyes light up just talking about it.
"I've accomplished a lot, let's do it again," he said. "I want to get my legacy back. Hopefully, I can do that and share it with my team and my family."