Ben Carson, the ultra-soft spoken candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, met up Tuesday with someone who’s the exact opposite: mixed martial arts fighter Vitor Belfort.
Their rendezvous was at OTB Fight gym in Coconut Creek, where Belfort endorsed Carson’s presidential candidacy. They also prayed together.
Carson, the retired pediatric neurosurgeon who lives in West Palm Beach, said he visited the facility because he wanted to “talk to a champion of the mind and how that translates into success in an arena like this and get an idea of what kind of mindset goes behind that.”
Belfort said Carson is “what America needs. Not a messiah. Forget about a messiah. We need a savior. It has to be personal.” Still, he said, some things are more important than the man who is the next president. “My hope is not in the next president. My hope is in God.”
Doug Watts, a spokesman for Carson’s campaign, said the visit with Belfort and his wife Joana was to “exchange views on life and overcoming life’s challenges. They shared prayers and tips on a positive outlook on life.”
Afterward, the fighter and the candidate stood next to each other answering questions from reporters, with Belfort wearing a Carson for President cap and holding a copy of a book titled “Belfort.” They also donned boxing gloves and got in the ring together for pictures.
On Twitter, Carson described it as “a little pre-debate prep,” with Belfort, whom he described as a “great sparring partner.” The Republican candidates face off in a debate Wednesday in Boulder, Colo.
Tuesday was a big day for Carson for another reason. The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows Carson in the lead nationally among Republican candidates. Carson was the choice of 26 percent of Republican primary voters. Donald Trump, who has been the leader for months, was in second place, with 22 percent. The difference is within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus six percentage points.
“I’d rather be on top than below,” Carson said. “But I do realize that it’s a marathon. We’re still more than a year away from the election, and there’ll be ups and downs.”
Belfort, 37, is a former light heavyweight UFC champion, who was a Cage Rage World Light Heavyweight Champion. He is set to fight Dan Henderson in the third fight of their trilogy on Nov. 7 in Brazil.
He’s training for the upcoming fight at the Coconut Creek gym. A big fan of Carson, he invited the presidential candidate to the workout.
Last week, Deadspin.com reported that before one of his fights, Belfort had higher than allowable levels of testosterone in his system. The website MMAJunkie.com reported Tuesday that Belfort “made some news earlier this week when he canceled an appearance on ‘The MMA Hour.’ According to host Ariel Helwani, Belfort’s reps wanted to avoid certain topics of conversation, namely a recent damning report from Deadspin about the fighter’s past use of testosterone-replacement therapy.”
Belfort, who was born in Rio de Janeiro, described himself to reporters Tuesday as “Brazilian. I live in this country. I pay my taxes. I’m glad [that] the next year I’ll be able to vote.” As of Tuesday, he wasn’t a registered voter in Florida, according to the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office.
Belfort said he was impressed with Carson and he thinks his candidate is wise not to let criticisms from Trump get under his skin.
“Some things really don’t matter. It’s like dust. Throw it away. You have to be focused in your mission. I see him [Carson] as very calm. And like in combat when you’re in chaos, a Navy SEAL in chaos, you cannot be afraid of dying for a cause. And the reason I think he is calm, not just him, I include his wife, his kids his team. When you’re going presidential, everybody, that’s like the most important people in the world,” Belfort said.
Correspondent Steve Evans and assistant sports editor Teri Berg contributed to this report.