Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Anthony Johnson has given Vitor Belfort every chance to engage in a verbal battle ahead of their UFC 142 co-main event Saturday in Rio de Janeiro.
“Smash him”, “destroy him” and “rip him apart” are just a few of the ways Johnson (10-3 MMA, 7-3 UFC) has described his plans for the Las Vegas-based middleweight. But Belfort (20-9-1 MMA, 9-5 UFC) remains unbothered and mostly unwilling to respond.
“I don’t care about talking,” Belfort said. “He must be really nervous. He’s got to find a way to promote himself and, I don’t know, try not to be nervous.”
Nothing can crack the 34-year old former UFC champion’s positivity of late. Belfort described his current opportunities as dreams that he’s worked his whole life for.
This weekend will mark only the second time Belfort fights in front of his home country during a 15-year professional mixed martial arts career. Belfort, one of Brazil’s most popular athletes, will also return to the country shortly after UFC 142 to coach opposite Wanderlei Silva on the first international season of “The Ultimate Fighter”.
“It’s all awesome,” Belfort said. “All of these opportunities are amazing. It’s like one-in-a-million.”
Belfort hoped the UFC would include him in its initial return to Brazil last summer. When it didn’t happen, Belfort took the second-best option and worked as the color commentator on the UFC’s Portuguese broadcast.
He enjoyed the experience, but can’t wait to get back to fighting.
Belfort is arguably in the middle of the best stretch of his career. Aside from a first round knockout loss to Anderson Silva at UFC 126, Belfort hasn’t lost since 2006.
He’s notched six victories. Five of them have come via first round knockout.
“What motivates me is not knocking out people,” Belfort said. “What motivates me is to accomplish things for my country and my principles.”
No one has ever knocked out Johnson. The 27-year old has one TKO loss on his record, but it came controversially after he suffered an eye poke against Kevin Burns and was unable to continue.
Most assume Johnson has never encountered trouble with strikes because the stand-up is the strongest aspect of his game. Belfort has another idea as to why no fighters have caught Belfort on the feet.
“He has a small record, not a lot of fights,” Belfort said. “He’s a young guy coming up. That’s about all I know about him.”
Johnson, for the most part, agrees. He knows he’s never faced anyone with the striking pedigree or power of Belfort.
“It’s not intimidating at all,” Johnson said. “It’s actually motivating for me. It makes me even more hungry because that shows me the UFC believes in me.”
The winner of the fight could find himself as few as one or two victories away from a title shot in the 185-pound division. Although he desires a rematch against Silva, Belfort hasn’t vocalized his feelings about it as much as usual before UFC 142.
“I’m trying to live a day at a time and enjoy,” Belfort said. “I’m enjoying every moment. That’s the secret of life — just being happy.”