Vitor Belfort, TRT and the UFC's Need for Complete Transparency

Jeremy BotterMMA Senior WriterFebruary 28, 2014

Brazilian fighter Vitor Belfort gestures as he weighs in ahead of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, UFC, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. Belfort will compete in UFC in Sao Paulo on Jan. 19. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Andre Penner/Associated Press

Tough situations arise for all of us. They're part of our daily lives. We make mistakes because we are human and that is what humans do. We are effortlessly prone to error even when we are most guarded against it.

It is how we handle such difficulties, both in our private lives and in front of those who watch us, that define us. We are born of blood but molded by fire, growing stronger by learning from the dumb things we do. We admit our faults to ourselves and to others, and we do our best not to repeat them. When we screw up, we claim responsibility. We strap the weight of our mistakes to our shoulders and we move forward.

That's why it's so disheartening to see how Vitor Belfort and all involved with him have handled Nevada's decision to ban testosterone replacement therapy. And make no mistake about it, nobody looks good here.

First, there is Belfort. On the same day Nevada ruled to outlaw TRT, Belfort predictably withdrew from his May title fight with Chris Weidman. He allegedly issued the following statement to Fox Sports Live and the media:

“The Nevada State Athletic Commission recently altered its policy and no longer will permit testosterone use exemptions, and will not permit a TRT program,” Belfort said. "As other jurisdictions may follow suit, I am going to drop my TRT program and compete in MMA without it."

I use the word "allegedly" when discussing this statement because, on Friday morning, Belfort made a statement of his own on his Facebook page. Here's the translated version, courtesy of FanSided:

I never gave up fighting in UFC 173 and never mentioned it. Therefore, all information posted in any mass media advertising that is not true.

What I announced was that I will be resigning “TRT” and not “giving up the fight” to continue my dream of fighting.

The UFC decided to put another opponent in my place because I didn’t have time to fit the new rules of the NSAC. According to the UFC, I will face the winner of Weidman vs Lyotto within the new regulations of all the Athletic Commissions.

I’m sorry that this happened, and I appreciate the strength and understanding of all fans, sponsors, UFC and athletic commissions.

This is a curious thing. Fox Sports Live runs a statement from Belfort that says he elected to pull out of the fight. The next morning, he says the UFC decided to take him out of the fight. 

Dave Sholler, director of public relations for Zuffa, told Bleacher Report on Friday morning that the statement was given to Fox Sports by Belfort's attorney. A source at Fox Sports told us they got it from the UFC. 

Update: Sholler reached out to Bleacher Report to clarify that Belfort's attorney gave them the statement, and then they passed it along to Fox Sports.

Curious, indeed. And mighty confusing.

Felipe Dana/Associated Press

On February 7, Belfort traveled to Las Vegas for the World Mixed Martial Arts Awards ceremony. He was drug tested almost immediately upon arrival. He is not a licensed fighter in Nevada, but the Nevada Athletic Commission, knowing that Belfort was scheduled to fight in May, opted to test him.

The results of that test may never see the light of day, however. Because Belfort does not currently have a license, the NAC cannot release the results or comment on them in any way. Belfort himself would have to sign documents allowing their release.

It doesn't appear he's willing to do that. Here's what Belfort's lawyer, Neal Tabachnick, told Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports:

The test is not relevant as Vitor is not applying for a license to fight in Nevada at this time. The reason for Zuffa replacing Vitor with Lyoto [Machida] for the May 2014 middleweight championship bout was because of the Commission's change in direction on TRT/TUE [Thursday]. Zuffa felt that with this change at the Commission, there is no time for Vitor to drop his TRT program, secure a license for a May 2014 bout and leave Zuffa with time to properly promote the bout.

Technically, what Tabachnick says is true. Because Belfort has opted not to apply for a license, the results of that random test are not relevant. They do not affect his licensure because he didn't apply for one. 

But while they may not be legally relevant, they are absolutely crucial for another reason: They may have influenced Belfort's decision to pull out of a major championship fight.

This is speculation, of course, and will likely remain so unless Belfort opts to release his test results. I don't see that happening, and neither do any of the experts I consulted on the matter. If Belfort wanted those results in the public eye, they would already be available.

But what if a drug test failure did, in fact, lead directly to Belfort pulling out of the fight?

What if the UFC decided, after seeing the results, that putting Belfort on the sidelines and waiting until a time when his testosterone levels are back to something resembling normal was the safest course of action?

That's the million dollar question. And it creates all sorts of new questions.

David Becker/Associated Press

Namely, why would the UFC, who constantly trumpets that they test more than any other sporting organization in the world, willingly help sweep a negative test result under the rug? Again, this is speculation. But what if?

We know the answers to that question. For starters, it wouldn't look good for Belfort to test positive after Dana White's proclamations that Belfort was constantly tested to monitor his testosterone usage.

And then there's the fact that Belfort, currently on the best run of his career, is a potential big-money player in a title fight with Weidman. If a potential test result can be swept under the rug so that Belfort can get his levels back to normal and then challenge the winner of Weidman vs. Lyoto Machida later this year, well, it seems like a no-brainer for the promotion.

But while it may ultimately end up being a good thing for the UFC, it is a black eye on the sport as a whole. Mixed martial arts has a drug problem, and while Nevada's TRT ban was a great move in terms of banning what was essentially state-sanctioned cheating, many problems still exist. Wealthy fighters will find a way to cheat the system, just as they always have in this sport and others.

Creating confusion and mystery around situations like this one doesn't help. If Belfort tested clean, then put the results out and let the public see. If he tested positive, publish the results and let the chips fall where they may. It would hurt in the interim, and it would greatly damage the UFC's claim that they test more than any other sporting organization in the world.

But in the end, maintaining transparency is a much better option than hiding the truth. The UFC are the unquestioned leaders in mixed martial arts, and they have the ability to greatly influence how the sport is perceived by a public that is still fearful of the idea of two men trying to separate each other from consciousness in a mesh cage.

No, they cannot legally release Belfort's test results without his permission. But they can and should pressure him to open up and be honest about the entire situation.

Until they do, and until Belfort decides to come out of the shadows and tell the whole truth regardless of the backlash that will come his way, this situation will continue to fester like a boil, leaving a mark on mixed martial arts that could take years to erase.