On the same day the Nevada State Athletic Commission announced a major change in its policy on testosterone-replacement therapy, there has been a major change at the top of the next major card the state will host.
Vitor Belfort (24-10 MMA, 13-6 UFC) is out of his middleweight title shot against champion Chris Weidman (11-0 MMA, 7-0 UFC) at UFC 173 in May, and in his place will step fellow Brazilian and former champion Lyoto Machida (21-4 MMA, 13-4 UFC). “FOX Sports Live” broke the news late Thursday that Belfort voluntarily took himself out of the fight in the wake of the NSAC’s change in stance on TRT use.
“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 in a statement. “As other jurisdictions may follow suit, I am going to drop my TRT program and compete in MMA without it.
“Given the time constraints involved between now and my proposed next bout in May, I have determined not to apply for a license to fight in Nevada at this time.”
UFC 173 takes place May 24 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The main card will air on pay-per-view following prelims on FOX Sports 1 and UFC Fight Pass.
Belfort earned his shot at Weidman on the strength of three straight “Knockout of the Night” bonus wins, all stemming from head kicks. In January 2013, he stopped Michael Bisping. This past May, he dropped Luke Rockhold in the first round. And in November, he shut down Dan Henderson just 67 seconds into the first.
All three of those fights came in Brazil, which led to speculation that the UFC was ensuring Belfort could fight because of his status as arguably the promotion’s most criticized user of testosterone-replacement therapy. Fighting in Brazil, critics said, was an easier proposition from a testing standpoint than fighting in the United States. But with the UFC booking him to fight Weidman in Las Vegas, that speculation would have been laid to rest.
First, Belfort would have had to apply for a license to fight in Nevada – where he hasn’t fought in more than three years, and not since his sanctioned use of TRT began. In 2006, Belfort failed a drug test in Nevada for elevated testosterone, which was thought to have made his application for a TUE for TRT for this May’s fight with Weidman a contentious issue. Belfort would have gone before the NSAC to apply for a license, and presumably a TUE for TRT, later this spring.
But on Thursday, it became moot when the NSAC decided to fully ban TRT use from here on out. The NSAC had granted TUEs to several fighters before this – but none of them had failed drug tests for elevated testosterone in the past.
Machida, a former light heavyweight champ, now gets a title shot in what will be just his third fight at 185 pounds. In his debut in the division this past October, he knocked out Mark Munoz. And earlier this month, he took a decision from Gegard Mousasi in Brazil, giving him four wins in his past five fights.
Prior to his fight with Mousasi, UFC President Dana White said a win could make Machida the next top contender at middleweight, presumably then waiting to fight the winner of Weidman-Belfort. After his win, the UFC boss wouldn’t give an outright guarantee that Machida would be next in line, especially given the potential that he had broken his foot in the fight. But things certainly looked good for him, and on Thursday, it came to a head.
“I’m really excited for this opportunity to fight UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman,” Machida said in a statement. “I’m going to train hard and be well prepared for this fight.”
Machida won the 205-pound title in 2009 when he knocked out Rashad Evans. He defended the belt just once against Mauricio Rua before losing it at UFC 113 in a rematch with “Shogun.” It was up and down for him at that point, as he dropped three of four starting with the Rua loss – including a title shot against Jon Jones at UFC 140. But since then, he has won four of five with just a controversial loss to Phil Davis separating him from a 5-0 run.
Weidman has been highly critical of Belfort and his TRT use, but now that won’t matter. The unbeaten New Yorker this past July knocked out longtime middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva to win the title. Then in December, he defended it when Silva broke his leg when Weidman checked a kick – one of the most gruesome injuries in MMA history.
“Machida is a dangerous fighter and he knows what it takes to become champion,” Weidman said in a statement. “He’s been on my radar since he dropped to 185, so I’m looking forward to defending my title against him in May.”