Vitor Belfort Facing Limited Options in the Middleweight Division

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Vitor Belfort Facing Limited Options in the Middleweight Division
Jason da Silva-USA TODAY Sports

Vitor Belfort wants another shot at the middleweight title, but despite "The Phenom's" adamant requests to get another crack at UFC gold, it doesn't appear a championship opportunity will be coming his way anytime soon.

While the 36-year-old former light heavyweight champion has been putting on some of the best performances of his storied career, including stunning back-to-back knockouts over top-ranked middleweights Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold, the heavy-handed Brazilian has worked himself into a curious position where a title shot is concerned.

With Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva slotted for a rematch at the end of the year, Belfort will have to get in line in the middleweight title race. That notion was recently set in stone by UFC president Dana White in a series of interviews following Weidman's title upset at UFC 162.

The UFC head honcho's words are a strong indication that despite Belfort's success in the middleweight division, other factors are keeping him from reaching the top of the weight class.

The biggest of which has to be his exemption to use Testosterone Replacement Therapy while competing in his native Brazil. With the 36-year-old former champion's past infractions with PED usage, receiving a TRT exemption from an athletic commission within the United States would be unlikely, which leaves Brazil as the only place he has the option.

This has boosted the theory that the UFC is "hiding" Belfort on Brazilian cards and not attempting to book him in the U.S.—a notion White has shot down in recent interviews.

Nevertheless, it doesn't change the fact that facing Belfort in Brazil has emerged as a point of contention with the upper tier of the middleweight division. Surging contender Costa Philippou recently became vocal about the matter when he tweeted his willingness to face Belfort as long as the fight did not take place in Brazil.

Then, on Tuesday, the UFC announced Philippou would face Francis Carmont in September at UFC 165, therefore taking another potential opponent off the table for Belfort.

While finding an opponent to face Belfort in Brazil is a a difficult problem for the UFC, it found a solution in Tim Kennedy. The former Strikeforce challenger stepped up to the plate when the UFC offered a showdown with the former No. 1 contender, but Belfort quickly shot down the matchup, citing Kennedy's placement in the divisional picture.

With Belfort nixing a bout with Kennedy, the dilemma of finding a suitable opponent for his next bout has become a challenge—one that does not appear to have any easy solutions waiting at the ready.

 

Every Top Middleweight Is Booked up in Coming Months

Belfort may be waiting for an opponent who will put him closer to a title opportunity, but from the looks of it, he will be waiting for a long time.

The current situation in the middleweight division has the majority of the top fighters at 185 pounds locked into scheduled matchups in the coming months.

Newly crowned champion Chris Weidman will attempt to keep former middleweight king Anderson Silva from regaining the title in what is being billed as the "biggest fight in MMA history" at UFC 168. The highly anticipated rematch will take place on December 28 on the UFC's annual end-of-the-year card, and it would be unlikely the winner would see action before March 2014.

All things being considered, if Silva were to find victory in the rematch, a third bout with Weidman would make a lot of sense for the promotion, thus locking up the middleweight title well into the coming year.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor
In addition to the action in the championship tier of the division, resurgent contenders Michael Bisping and Mark Munoz are set to square off in October. Both fighters are coming off solid showings, and the winner of their clash will take one step closer to earning a future title opportunity.

Another important bout in the 185-pound title picture will come when former No. 1 contender Yushin Okami mixes it up with former Strikeforce champion Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza at UFC Fight Night: Teixeira vs. Bader in September. "Thunder" has collected three consecutive victories since dropping back-to-back bouts and is picking up solid momentum to make another run at the title.

Souza is also in a similar position. The Brazilian submission ace has been a wrecking machine as of late, picking up four consecutive victories, with each showing more impressive than the last. If Souza can defeat a perennial contender with a highly touted resume in Okami, an opportunity to compete for UFC gold could be his for the taking.

When Philippou's winning streak is included in this picture, it becomes clear how easily Belfort could be reshuffled in the deck. While his victories over Bisping and Rockhold have him firmly on the title radar, timing is everything on the current landscape of mixed martial arts. If Belfort refuses to take fights and remain active, he could become unseated in the divisional hierarchy.

 

Belfort Doesn't Want Certain Fights, but He May Not Have an Option

While Belfort has shot down the idea of several proposed matchups, when push comes to shove, he may run out of options.

Former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion-turned-UFC-middleweight Gegard Mousasi has been jockeying for a matchup with Belfort for some time. The former Dream champion has been vocal about facing Belfort inside the Octagon and believes the former 205-pound title challenger has been ducking him for years.

The Dutch-Armenian fighter has cited a proposed matchup under the now-defunct Affliction banner that never came to fruition and now wants the chance to face Belfort on the sport's biggest stage.

Despite Mousasi's efforts, Belfort has shrugged off the idea of a collision in the UFC middleweight ranks, saying "The Dreamcatcher" has yet to earn the right to face someone of his caliber. In response to his comments, Mousasi's management told Ariel Helwani on Fuel TV's UFC Tonight that Belfort is a "hypocrite."

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor
While Mousasi has made zero issues about facing Belfort in Brazil, he is not the only fighter willing to face the MMA legend on his home turf.

Shortly after Dana White told MMA Fighting the UFC was working on a bout between Belfort and Kennedy for later this year, Bleacher Report spoke to the 33-year-old Green Beret about the fight.

"I am excited," Kennedy said about the chance to fight Belfort. "He is a legend in the UFC. He has a highlight reel of knockouts. Him and Anderson Silva probably have the most spectacular collections of knockout finishes in UFC history. I'm excited to be able to fight a guy like that, and I see a lot of things in the way he fights that are areas I can take advantage of. I'm excited about the matchup.

"It's really my fight to lose. He's the one who is fighting for that No. 1 contender status. He's going to be fighting in his hometown. He's the one that has to deal with all the steroid allegations. I just have to show up and beat him."

"TRT is a performance-enhancing drug," Kennedy added about facing Belfort in Brazil. "He can't use it here in the states and Brazil is the only place he can. His body will be strong, but his mind will be weak. If they are going to keep giving him fights, the only place he is going to fight is there. If I want to fight him, then I'm going to have to fight him down there and I'm excited I will get to fight him."

Shortly after the interview with Kennedy took place, Belfort's wife and manager Joana Prado told Globo he would not be taking the bout with Kennedy and would only accept a title fight at middleweight. 

While there is no doubting his position as one of the best 185-pound fighters on the planet, the variables hovering over his place in the division could make for a tough road ahead for Belfort, which could keep the former champion in limbo for some time.

 

Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.

 

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