By Jonathan Solomon
This year has been very good to “The Phenom” Vitor Belfort.
The 36-year-old UFC legend returned to 185-pounds in 2013 where he has knocked out both Michael Bisping and former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold in Brazil. The pair of wins means Belfort is the hands-down future number one contender once the next title fight occurs at UFC 162 on July 6 in Las Vegas between champion Anderson Silva and the undefeated Chris Weidman.
Last year, he spent the year at a catchweight when he choked out Anthony Johnson at 197-pounds before he found himself in the right place at the right time and was granted a shot at light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Despite nearly pulling off the upset courtesy of an armbar, he was beaten with an americana submission hold in the fourth round.
Aside from “The Phenom,” other contenders to fill the top 10 at middleweight include Yushin Okami (while active with a three-fight win streak, he joins Belfort in the fact he was also knocked out by Anderson Silva in 2011), Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (he made his successful octagon debut this weekend with a submission win against Chris Camozzi) and Costa Philippou (undefeated at middleweight, he’s on a five fight winning streak, but was recently injured and pulled out of the originally planned fight with Souza).
Most every other top middleweight in the company has suffered a loss in one of their past two bouts. The lone exception to that rule is soon to be 41-year-old Cung Le (his birthday is next week), who fought past injury in the promotion’s November debut in China to knock out Rich Franklin after defeating Patrick Cote in the summer.
Vitor Belfort has received much criticism over his use of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). The practice, under supervision of a physician, seeks to boost the depleted levels of testosterone in the body to improve the health of the patient. The controversy stems from the fact that one theory relating to Belfort’s depleted levels is his prior use of banned substances. Following a decision loss to Dan Henderson in Pride FC in 2006, he failed a drug exam for elevated levels of testosterone. Although he pleaded ignorance to the matter (citing post-surgical shots from a Brazilian doctor), he was suspended and fined. To this day, it appears extremely unlikely Belfort will be able to receive a TRT exemption in Nevada (remember, his past two fights were in Brazil) due to the incident seven years ago.
Still, that will not impact the decision making process of UFC matchmaker Joe Silva or president Dana White one way or the other unless they turn over a new leaf and refuse to put the company in a position where a former PED offender and TRT user may become champion. Of course, short term history tells us that means nothing when the potential for big business is staring the company in the face. After all, Chael Sonnen was literally given an opportunity to challenge champion Jon Jones in a weight class he had not competed in, in many years. Plus, the match-up was the second title fight Sonnen was granted coming off of his twelve-month (although it was later reduced to six) suspension for using TRT without clearance from the California State Athletic Commission in 2010.
Make no mistake about it, practically the only potential developments standing in Belfort’s way of a middleweight title fight remain injury or if Silva were to turn down the match-up If the UFC gets their way and a super fight is agreed to between Silva and Jones in the fall, that would be a thorn for him as well.
Otherwise, logic says you can expect Vitor Belfort competing in his fifth all-time UFC championship fight later this year.
By then, he could push Randy Couture’s record of going over six years between title runs when he defeated Tim Sylvia in 2007 to regain the heavyweight crown for the first time since November 2000. Vitor last held gold in the promotion when (ironically) Couture suffered a cut seconds into their light heavyweight title bout in August 2004.
Now, the attention turns to that upcoming fight in July where Chris Weidman first gets his opportunity to knock off Silva. If he can, his celebration will turn into scouting for another Brazilian opponent before too long.
What are your thoughts?