Vernon Bryant / Dallas Morning News
Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009 | 1:30 a.m.
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It took four and a half years for Vitor Belfort to get back in the Octagon, but it took him just three minutes and two seconds Saturday night to prove that “The Phenom" had truly returned.
The former light heavyweight champ recorded his first UFC win since January 2004 when he scored a first-round technical knockout of former middleweight champ Rich Franklin in front of 17,428 fans at the American Airlines Center.
“In life we go through battles and phases. The Bible says that glory from the second house is bigger than the first,” said the religious Belfort, who thanked Jesus, his wife, the fans in attendance at UFC 103 and his supporters in Brazil immediately after the fight.
“I'm ready to get it. If God gives it to me, I'm ready to receive it."
The quick victory reminded longtime UFC faithful of the 19-year-old Belfort, who burst on the scene in 1997 with victories over much larger opponents like Tank Abbott.
But Belfort hasn’t raised his hand in the world’s premiere mixed martial arts organization since his title-clinching victory over Randy Couture at UFC 46.
The 32-year-old Belfort, a smarter and more experienced version himself compared to when he was a young headline-maker, put everything on the line to prove he could once again become a champ.
Belfort left his wife and two young children back home in Brazil for three months to train with his old foe in Las Vegas.
“I was training so hard for this fight, away from my family for almost three months. I’m just sacrificing and getting the reward,” said Belfort, who improved his overall MMA record to 19-8 and 18-4 in the UFC.
That reward could come in the form of arguably the best fighter in the world in fellow Brazilian Anderson Silva.
"I think Vitor might be ready right now," said UFC President Dana White of a matchup with “The Spider.”
Before the fight though, the UFC boss wasn’t so sure.
“The question that I had coming into this fight was what Vitor were we gonna see. The explosive Vitor that wants to get somebody hurt and goes right after them or the Vitor that lays back and couldn’t pull the trigger," White said. "He pulled the trigger tonight and as soon as he hurt him, he went right in for the kill.”
While both fighters were cautious for the first two and a half minutes, Franklin, motivated by some boos from the crowd, felt like he had to make a move.
“I remembered the fans booing and thinking I needed to push the pace of the fight. I assume I got caught,” said Franklin, who admitted to still being a bit hazy in the post-fight press conference.
Belfort grazed Franklin with a big left, got in another blow before “Ace” fell to the ground and recorded three more power shots before referee Yves Lavigne jumped in and stopped it.
“He's Brazilian and he's southpaw. I tend to struggle with those guys for some reason," Franklin said jokingly, as laughing media members knew he was referring to Silva, also a lefty from Brazil.
But Belfort actually credited a page out of another Brazilian’s playbook, saying much like 205-pound champ Lyoto Machida, karate was key to his victory.
“My new weapon is karate,” Belfort said. “I want to use it. As soon as I saw something and attacked, I wanted to take his zip code, area code and Social Security number.”
For now, Belfort will have to take solace in the fact that his UFC return was as good as advertised.
“I took my time (tonight). Sometimes I’m aggressive. But as soon as I start, I make sure I fight. That’s what people want to see,” Belfort said.
Andy Samuelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-948-7837.