Failed test leads to title shot for Belfort

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
7:30
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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videoLAS VEGAS -- Vitor Belfort will fight for a UFC title in 2014.

That sentence alone is enough to infuriate parts of the mixed martial arts world. Belfort, 37, is a polarizing figure. He was brilliant in 2013, with three highlight-reel knockout victories -- but all came under a cloud of suspicion due to his use of testosterone-replacement-therapy (TRT) in Brazil.

Earlier this year, when the UFC booked Belfort to a fight in Las Vegas, which would place him under the Nevada State Athletic Commission's jurisdiction for the first time since 2011, he didn't make it. An NSAC ban on TRT and a technically failed drug test on Feb. 7 erased Belfort from a May 24 card.

On Wednesday, however, Belfort stormed back. The NSAC voted in favor of licensing him to fight middleweight champion Chris Weidman at UFC 181 on Dec. 6 in Las Vegas. The event figures to be one of the biggest of the year.

Some were disgusted with the NSAC following the news. How could it allow a fighter to fail a drug test within its state and return to a title fight?

Fair question, but let's not forget the UFC has played a significant role in this.

In essence, the UFC created the "Belfort situation" last year by allowing him to fight in Brazil three times -- with TRT -- even though it was common knowledge he probably would not have received an exemption for it in Nevada.

The reason the NSAC would have likely turned down Belfort's request to use TRT was that he tested positive for anabolic steroids in 2006. Steroid use can shut down an athlete's ability to produce testosterone naturally.

The NSAC effectively announced whether or not it felt Belfort was eligible to use TRT when it banned the treatment from combat sports altogether in February. The fact Belfort was expected to apply for a use exemption the following month was likely a catalyst in the NSAC's decision to do so.

Throughout 2013, UFC president Dana White argued with any media scrutinization of Belfort. He would eventually fight in Las Vegas, White said, and if he isn't allowed to use TRT there, so be it. He'll compete without it.

[+] EnlargeVitor Belfort
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesThe UFC allowed Vitor Belfort to fight three times in 2013 while using TRT in his native Brazil, with all three bouts ending by knockout.
White's promise did not come to pass initially. After the NSAC banned TRT, Belfort was removed from the title fight that was scheduled in May. The main reason he was removed, however, was linked to a random NSAC drug test in February.

Here is where the NSAC comes in.

The NSAC elected to test Belfort randomly on Feb. 7 in Las Vegas -- a great initiative. More random testing is better. Everyone agrees on that. The results that came back technically constituted as a failed test, but probably not enough to suspend Belfort, who was an unlicensed fighter at the time.

His testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio was elevated, which is normal for a TRT patient. His serum testosterone level in the blood was also elevated, which is not normal and potentially equates to an athletic advantage.

A TRT patient should be able to maintain "normal" testosterone levels. Still, NSAC consulting physician Timothy Trainor said the results the NSAC had were not enough to conclude Belfort was "abusing" TRT. It is possible, although convenient if you're Belfort, that a doctor could unintentionally (and temporarily) spike levels.

Basically what this means is: Could the NSAC have suspended Belfort? It probably could have. Its case against him, however, was not especially strong. Its decision to license Belfort is debatable, but not shameful.

The UFC's stance on Belfort has always been clear. Within minutes of the NSAC's ruling, the company had announced his spot on the Dec. 6 title fight.

The UFC could have taken a stand on this. After months of having Belfort's back, officials could have said, "You kind of burned us, Vitor. We defended you on this and then in basically the first test Nevada orders of you, your testosterone is high. You don't come back to a title fight after that."

That was never going to happen, though. The UFC was always going to book the fight and even went so far, albeit very briefly, as to tease it might take place in Brazil.

How wrong it is of the UFC to still promote this fight is up to the individual. It's certainly not the first time a professional sports league, organization or franchise will have chosen business over perhaps a higher moral standard.

The majority of fans won't boycott the UFC 181 pay-per-view; in fact it should sell very well. And the champ himself, Weidman, has said all along he wanted to fight Belfort next.

Maybe all is well that ends well, but if you're unhappy about Belfort cashing in at the end of 2014, given everything that has happened, direct your anger toward the UFC -- because it definitely played a part in creating this.

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