It's been nearly two months since Vitor Belfort landed the head kick on Michael Bisping that brought their fight at UFC on FX 7 to a close, but the animosity between the two continues to boil.
The build-up to the fight saw the two middleweights in heated exchanges. But what has unraveled in the aftermath of their tilt has brought an interesting wrinkle in the situation to light.
Following the card in Brazil, it was revealed "The Phenom" had been granted a therapeutic-use exemption for testosterone replacement therapy leading up to his bout against Bisping. While "The Count" initially released a statement on his website making no excuses for the fight, the issue of Belfort's testosterone usage in their bout is a "hot button" issue with the former TUF winner.
Fighters being granted exemptions for testosterone usage is becoming increasingly common in the world of mixed martial arts.
But what makes the 35-year-old Brazilian's circumstance unique is that he had previously tested positive for steroid use in 2006, following his bout with Dan Henderson under the Pride Banner.
Most commissions operating inside the United States hold strict guidelines for fighters who have previously tested positive for banned substances being granted exemptions for testosterone usage. In Nevada, where Belfort failed his test in 2006, the commission operates under these rules and Keith Kizer, head of NSAC, recently spoke to Bleacher Report's Damon Martin about the issue. Kizer stated:
I don't see Vitor Belfort getting a TRT exemption from us. I really don't and I feel kind of bad for him in some ways because if he has learned from his mistakes and now he's trying to do it the right way and his levels are low with the treatment good for him and I hope he is doing that.
The rules are the rules and you have to draw the line somewhere.
But what exactly does this mean? If Kizer is saying Belfort can't be approved in Nevada, a state where the UFC is based and frequently puts on high-profile cards, but the MMA legend is approved for usage in Brazil, does this mean Belfort is competing outside of the United States where his testosterone usage will still play?
While this hasn't necessarily been proven to be the case, the dialogue surrounding the situation has continued. After Belfort posted a tweet aimed at Bisping today on Twitter, the outspoken Brit responded in kind (the tweet has since been deleted), suggesting he would like a rematch in Las Vegas, where Belfort would most likely not receive an exemption to use testosterone.
It would appear on some levels that Belfort competing in Brazil, where he will continued to be granted exemptions, is his way of staying outside the lines of the issue.
There is reason to believe otherwise of course, but with his next bout against Luke Rockhold at UFC on FX 8 once again taking place in Brazil, the conversation will remain on the table.
Following the bout becoming official, Rockhold spoke to Bleacher Report regarding the potential of Belfort using testosterone for their upcoming fight in May.
I think the TRT thing should be out in the open before fights and not after they end. I was also under the belief that if you've been caught with performance enhancing drugs in the past, there was no option for TRT...but ultimately it doesn't matter to me.
I saw Ben Henderson's statement about TRT and PEDs being a weakness and I feel the exact same way. I don't really care. I'm going out there and I'm going to do what I do. I'm going to beat people whether they are on it or they are clean. I'm a clean fighter and I'm going to go out there and I am going to do my job. It doesn't matter to me. Honestly I get more satisfaction beating people who are on the stuff.
The statement from Henderson that Rockhold is referring to came when the UFC lightweight champion shared his thoughts on the matter with Five Knuckles:
My thing with the whole steroid thing and whatnot -- like, I understand part of a competitors nature is to take whatever edge, whatever advantage you can get to be the best. To that I just say if I'm facing a person - it happened in college wrestling, sadly it shouldn't, but it happened in college wrestling, people on steroids and whatnot. But if I know someone is mentally weak enough to take steroids, ‘Oh, I need the extra edge, I need to do this', and they know it's illegal, they know it's wrong and they do it.
If you're so mentally weak that you have to take steroids, me, five-rounds in the cage with you? I will destroy you. Cause you are mentally weak. So I'm all for it, if you want to take drugs go ahead and take drugs. I don't really care, but I'm going to whoop your butt because you are mentally weak and that's where you win fights is in the mental stage. If you're weak enough to break down, I'm going to kill you.
Henderson expanded his stance during a recent interview with MMA Fighting where he advocated the implementation of blood and random testing throughout the sport. "Bendo's" statement came on the heels of UFC President Dana White's recent public stance on the matter.
In the post-fight press conference for UFC on Fuel TV 7, White told the media in London that the UFC was going to "test the sh**" out of fighters being granted exemptions, in order to make sure their levels were within legal boundaries in and out of fight camps.
It was an "about face" for White as he finally appeared to be taking the issue of testosterone usage to task—an issue which has continued to make headlines over the past year. Shortly after White made statements on the matter, noted TUE recipient Chael Sonnen spoke about the matter during his broadcasting role on Fuel TV's UFC Tonight. The mercurial fighter told the show's audience:
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The testing has already started. I can tell you first-hand, I have already been tested since this announcement.
While White and Henderson are the two most recent figures to speak out on the matter, they certainly aren't the first to bring the issue front and center
During his time as coach on Season 16 of The Ultimate Fighter, hammer-handed heavyweight Roy Nelson continuously spoke out on the PED in mixed martial arts. "Big Country" has invited all of his opponents and other fighters in the UFC fold to take place in VADA (Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency) testing to ensure everyone he faces inside the Octagon is competing on a level playing field.
It's Nelson's belief that everyone who steps inside the cage should be competing with their natural talents. And with his comments during a recent visit to Ariel Helwani's MMA Hour, it doesn't look like the Las Vegas native will be backing down any time soon.
Personal Thoughts on the Matter
As fighters continue to speak out on the issue and the UFC begins to implement stricter testing, there is a chance the issue plaguing MMA will finally get wrangled under control. That being said, difficulties in the matter remain, and with fighters knowing they have a certain date to "get clean" or bring their levels into normal ranges, there are certainly windows to keep using PEDs.
It is my belief that not only should random testing implemented, but to a more severe degree. If a fighter is currently under contract with the UFC, fight scheduled or not, they should be subjected to testing at the whim of the organization. The promotion should be able to drop in at any time to make a fighter test, and if this were the case, I believe change would come.
If a fighter knew that at any time, someone from the UFC could swing by their gym and test them, it would be hard to imagine this culture not shifting. For those working in the industry, a fighter's training schedule isn't a difficult thing to obtain. If the UFC sent a team in to drug test randomly selected fighters, it would send a strong message to athletes competing in the sport.
By doing so, it would create the one key factor that is missing in this entire process...surprise.
Of course, some fighters know when they are going to be tested and still end up failing. But if a fighter had no idea when the test could occur, it would create an environment of suspense.
The debate on whether TRT is a PED will continue on, but the one thing White and Co. can agree on is the issue needs to be brought under control. It is going to take some aggressive moves for the UFC to police its large roster of fighters, but with all the hard work the UFC machine has put into becoming the most successful organization in mixed martial arts, I can't imagine them pulling up short on this one.
It will only be a matter of time before some method is found to test the fighters effectively. I simply hope it comes sooner than later.