UFC President Dana White has invested significant time and energy into defending Vitor Belfort.
Even as his overall opinion of testosterone replacement therapy began to sour in recent months, White steadfastly supported his No. 1 middleweight contender. The UFC was closely monitoring Belfort’s TRT use, White assured us again and again, as he railed against the notion that the 36-year-old fighter would have trouble getting licensed to fight in Nevada.
“Vitor Belfort has not been abusing TRT,” White said in November, via MMAFighting.com. “In a million f-----g years I would never let that happen."
After the circus of the last five days, however, it’s clear Belfort is beyond any further help. In the wake of the Nevada Athletic Commission banning TRT, Belfort’s removal from UFC 173 and his camp’s obvious rope-a-dope regarding the results of his Feb. 7 drug test, the juice is no longer worth the squeeze.
It’s doubtful even the UFC’s powerful public relations machine could rehabilitate Belfort’s damaged image now. The weight of suspicions linking him to performance-enhancing drugs appears to have reached critical mass. With or without TRT, there’s no way any self-respecting fight fan could ever trust him again.
At this point, the two strangest things about the embattled fighter’s situation are: 1) That he remains employed by the UFC at all and 2) That no one from the company has yet contradicted his claim that he will still fight for the 185-pound title.
The latest word, via MMAFighting.com, is that Belfort will simply require 90 days to transition away from TRT. After that, his camp seems to think it’ll be business as usual. In a statement released through Facebook on Friday, Belfort himself said he fully intends to challenge the winner of Chris Weidman vs. Lyoto Machida.
Not after months of self-righteous tirades by Belfort on the subject of TRT. Not after his recent non-sequiturs about how regulators needed to ramp up screening of other fighters, not him. Not while he refuses to release those test results and as his attorney continues to make the hilarious assertion that the findings are somehow “not relevant,” according to MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani.
Think of it this way: If Belfort had passed a random drug test the very same day the NAC voted unanimously to ban TRT, the results would actually be entirely relevant.
Unfortunately, so long as his camp continues to sit on the true outcome, Belfort has no moves left on the chessboard.
Even if he does manage to successfully quit TRT and carry on with his career, it will only prove that he never needed it in the first place. If he continues to wreak havoc on the middleweight division the way be did during 2013, he's just found another way to get around the rules.
Or, at least, that’s what fellow middleweight contender Michael Bisping thinks.
“Vitor’s a cheat, simple as that,” Bisping told MMAJunkie.com’s Steven Marrocco on Friday. “He’ll go out and try to find another way to cheat. He’ll find another way of manipulating the system, or he’ll try.”
If Bisping’s statement is indicative of overall public opinion, there’s simply no way for Belfort to come back from this. To even have a chance at redemption, he would have to do some serious backpedaling, and probably some serious apologizing.
And he would have to start by releasing the results of that test—whatever they may be.
So far, there’s been no indication that any of that will happen, via Helwani. Without it, we’re left to assume Belfort and his camp are still twisting in the same funnel cloud of denial that has engulfed them ever since he started the controversial treatments in the first place.
That’s sad, really, because it only confirms the scouting report on Belfort throughout most of his career—that he was a guy with all the ability but without the mental toughness to truly harness it.
The UFC must know that there is no good way for Belfort to return to the Octagon. The organization has to understand what a disaster it would be if he somehow became one of its champions in 2014.
As part of his harshest indictment against TRT during an interview with BT Sport, White objected to it not only as a performance enhancer, adding that it “ruins good fighters.”
This case appears to prove him right about that. As of Monday morning, Belfort certainly looks ruined.
For the UFC, the only choice left may be deciding whether it’s worth trying to put him back together again.