'Phenom' back home

JOSE RODRIGUEZ, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

Vitor "The Phenom" Belfort's life is a rare mix of celebrity glitz and heartbreaking tragedy.

Belfort fell into the public eye as a teenager.

At 19, he won his first UFC fight after having moved to the U.S. from his native Brazil two years earlier with his jiu-jitsu trainer Carlson Gracie.

The heavy-handed Belfort became one of the early UFC's top draws, eventually winning the light-heavyweight title in a fight with Randy "The Natural" Couture.

Now married to Brazilian TV star and Playboy model Joana Prado, he has appeared in a Brazilian reality TV show.

There is no shortage of fame and fortune in the 33-year-old's life.

In 2004, at the height of his UFC fame, his college-aged sister Priscilla was kidnapped in Rio de Janeiro. The case remained unsolved for three years until a street junkie admitted to kidnapping her in an attempt to pay off a drug debt.

Following the disappearance, Belfort lost back-to-back fights for the first time and left the UFC to fight in Pride, Cage Rage, Strikeforce and Affliction.

Following a Pride loss to Dan Henderson, he tested positive for the banned substance 4-hydroxytestosterone, which was allegedly administered to him by a doctor following surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee.

Belfort's star was gradually losing its lustre.

Now back in the UFC in a main-event fight against Rich Franklin at next weekend's UFC 103, Belfort says all the negatives he's had to endure have made him stronger both in and out of the cage.

'FIGHTING A LEGEND'

"I learned from everything in my life. Good and bad," says Belfort, who has an 18-8 record.

"I'm really excited to get a chance to go back where I started, and I'm fighting a legend."

Asked about the increased scrutiny he'll face fighting in the UFC, he says he is prepared.

And being exposed to MMA's biggest fan base doesn't faze him either, even if it means signing more autographs than he is accustomed to.

"Signing autographs for me is like a reward," he says.

"I learned from one of my soccer coaches in Brazil. He was pretty famous, and one time he was signing autographs and he was having a bad day and his wife was kind of yelling at him and he told her, 'You better get out of here because I'm staying until the last one.'

"He taught me a lesson. You have to respect people who pay your salary. They're the ones who support us, so I try to please them as best as I can."

UFC 103 is available in Canada on pay-per-view.

JOSE.RODRIGUEZ@SUNMEDIA.CA


Videos

Photos