There's a phrase you are likely going to hear at some point between now and the end of Saturday night's UFC 142 card from Rio. Probably more than once. And it won't be the last time you hear it either. That phrase?
The Old Vitor.
When Vitor Belfort steps in to face Anthony Johnson, a lot of folks will be clamoring for the return of The Old Vitor. And if he wins? "The Old Vitor is back!" It's happened before. A lot. In pretty much every Belfort fight for the past 10 years there has been this lingering spectre hanging over the fight - the spectre of The Old Vitor.
But all of this raises a rather important question. Just who is this guy? Who is The Old Vitor?
It's a valid question, particularly since many new fans may have never seen this Old Vitor in action, only heard tales of him or seen old grainy footage, like the UFC's version of the Yeti. But The Old vitor is very real. He's also been elevated to somewhat of a mythological status that blurs the real story a bit.
When people refer to The Old Vitor, they're likely referencing one thing - his insanely fast hands. Vitor Belfort burst onto the UFC scene way back at UFC 12, defeating his first 3 UFC opponents in less than 3 minutes (if you've never seen any of these fights, here's Belfort vs. Scott Ferrozzo, currently free at UFC.com). And he did it all with blazing hand speed, swarming his opponents and overwhelming them with punches. The most famous example of this came in 1998 when Vitor blitzed Wanderlei Silva at UFC Brazil, knocking out The Axe Murderer in just 44 seconds.
But around 2000, Vitor slowed down, and those blitz KO's were left behind. As a result, any time Vitor has scored a quick KO since then, you hear cries of "The Old Vitor is back!" You heard it against Marvin Eastman in 2003, against Kazuo Takahashi in Pride in 2006, and against both Matt Lindland and Rich Franklin in 2009.
The thing is, that's not the complete picture of The Old Vitor - it's only half the story. The rest of The Old Vitor is characterized by his early loses to Randy Couture and Kazushi Sakuraba. That Old Vitor is a man who, yes, had scary and sudden KO power. But if he didn't get that fast KO - if you pushed him into deep waters - he was likely to fold. The Old Vitor didn't face a lot of adversity, but whenever he did, he could not overcome it.
Since 2007, Vitor has seen a real resurgence in his career. He's 6-1 in that time, with that only loss coming against Anderson Silva, and has shown more consistency than at any time since his very earliest days in the sport. Part of that return has been shedding the image of The Old Vitor. He's no longer as reliant on that fast KO. Against fighters like James Zikic and Terry Martin, he's showed a trait never in his old arsenal - patience. Yes, he still can end your night very quickly, but he now looks for the opening. And if he doesn't get it? If you push him back? He will wait, not give up as he did in the past. He has kept the best of The Old Vitor, while shedding the worst. And that makes him a scary fighter indeed.
Some may be hoping for a return of The Old Vitor against Anthony Johnson tonight. But with The Old Vitor comes a lot of baggage. Me? I'll be looking forward to another strong performance from The New Vitor.