Belfort healthy in body, spirit for Silva
Never in his mixed martial arts career has Vitor Belfort competed at 185 pounds inside the Octagon, but landing a middleweight title shot at UFC 126 could not have come at a better time for him.
The former UFC light heavyweight champion faces middleweight titleholder Anderson Silva on Saturday (pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET) in Las Vegas. It will be Belfort's second appearance inside the Octagon since returning to the UFC in 2009.
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When Belfort (19-8-0) steps into the cage, he will still possess the speed and power he has used to punish previous opponents. But there will be a significant difference this time, something that won't be obvious to the naked eye: Belfort will be at peace -- with himself.
"I don't have pressure anymore," Belfort told ESPN.com during a recent conference call. "I used to have a lot of pressure. I was a young guy who came on the scene and had to win every fight. It's funny how people talk -- like if you lose a fight, you're going to retire.
"Everybody is expecting all of us to win, to do things great and to accomplish everything. It's never enough. You can never please everybody.
"So the way I live my life is, 'What can I do best today?' I'm living for today."
This new approach has led Belfort, 33, to take a few career chances. One involved recently severing ties with trainer Shawn Tompkins. The separation wasn't amicable; words were exchanged through various media outlets.
But any hard feelings Belfort might have had toward the Tompkins breakup aren't evident now. The past couple of weeks have been pleasurable for Belfort, and it's reflected in his workouts.
"His level of boxing is extremely good," Las Vegas-based boxing trainer Gil Martinez told ESPN.com. "His speed is excellent, and he's a very talented athlete. His stand-up game is incredible.
"He's really found himself. The camp he's had, that he and [coach] Ray Sefo have put together, and the whole team he has around him, is very positive. That's the reason he feels so comfortable with the position that he is in.
"This is the perfect time for him to come into his own and find himself and to be so focused. This is a very important fight for him."
Belfort's positive frame of mind could play a key role in the Silva bout, but it won't be the only factor. Both he and the champ have fully healed from recent injuries.
The bruised rib Silva suffered in training a week before his title defense against Chael Sonnen in August is now 100 percent. Belfort, who had surgery to repair a torn left labrum, also has declared himself to be in tip-top shape.
With no physical ailments to hinder either's performance, Belfort and Silva -- both of whom have boxed professionally -- are expected to display the stand-up skills that have proved instrumental in each man's MMA career.
"They're both Brazilian, they're both southpaws and both have a win over me," said former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin, who faces Forrest Griffin in Saturday night's co-feature. "They're both effective strikers, and they are very fast and have good footwork."
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Silva (27-4-0) has absolute respect for Belfort and didn't cut any corners preparing for this fight. He is ready to perform at his best -- whether standing or on the ground -- especially after his close call against Sonnen in 2010.
"I've made a few adjustments, but basically, I've stayed on the same track, doing the things I usually do," Silva told ESPN.com. "It's been a very intense training camp. I'm always working to improve.
"It's hard to say how the ground game will play in this fight. I'm training for a little of everything. I'm training on my back, on my side, with my feet up on the wall. Any which way you can train, I'm training."
For Belfort, the physical aspect of his game has never been an issue. He has always been confident in his abilities; it's the mental and emotional pressures he has struggled with at times.
But that's no longer the case. Belfort has found inner peace, and with the pressure off, he is finding life as a mixed martial artist fun again. It also has him excited about returning to middleweight, at which he hasn't fought since knocking out Matt Lindland in an Affliction bout in January 2009.
"I've fought at 185 before and felt great," Belfort said. "It's not going to be a problem. I have to do my job. I have to be on weight. I have to show respect for Anderson, the UFC and all the fans.
"It's going to be a good fight."
Franklin McNeil covers MMA and boxing for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which airs on ESPN2. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Franklin_McNeil.