When Chris Weidman defeated Lyoto Machida at UFC 175, it was clear that his original foe, Vitor Belfort, was next in line for a shot at the middleweight championship.
For Weidman’s third defense, things aren’t as simple for the UFC as faxing out a pair of bout agreements and picking an arena, as the Brazilian’s drug testing issues aren’t completely behind him.
Belfort tested positive for elevated testosterone levels in a random drug screening in Nevada back in February, and if the Nevada State Athletic Commission won’t license him, Luke Rockhold is the man who most deserves a title fight against Chris Weidman.
The question about whether or not Vitor Belfort will get a license is a valid one. The UFC would prefer to have Belfort’s next fight in Brazil, but UFC President Dana White has stated recently that he needs to be granted a license to fight by the NSAC before the UFC would book him again, in Nevada or otherwise.
As ESPN.com’s Brett Okamoto wrote (via UFC-Buzz), Belfort’s case is unique in nature:
The Nevada State Athletic Commission has no precedence regarding certain details of Belfort’s application -- nor is it likely to face these details again as they pertain to testosterone replacement therapy, which is now effectively banned in combat sports.
Belfort’s positive test-result indicated the presence of synthetic testosterone, a fact that wasn’t new. He was planning on filing for a therapeutic-use exemption with the NSAC for his fight with Weidman, which was planned for May.
TRT has since been banned, and Belfort has a recent positive drug test on his record.
After all the testing, and discussions of relevancy of ratios, and nanograms per-deciliters, and whether or not the NSAC handled the banning of testosterone-replacement therapy as well as they could have, the question remains: Will Vitor Belfort get licensed to fight in Nevada?
We don’t know.
If he does then he is free to face Weidman for the title wherever the UFC pleases, which will most likely be in Brazil. If he doesn’t get a fighter’s license, the next-best option is Luke Rockhold, whose only loss in the past six years has come against Belfort, who was on a straight tear through the middleweight division.
The former Strikeforce middleweight champion rebounded from that unsuccessful UFC debut by decimating Costas Philippou with a kick to the body in their January encounter, finishing him two minutes and 31 seconds into the first round.
He looked as impressive as ever with another first-round finish in his last outing, this time against Tim Boetsch, who tapped to a vicious reverse-triangle choke.
During his Strikeforce tenure, he notched wins against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Tim Kennedy, both of whom have gone 3-0 inside the Octagon since the Strikeforce merger and are nearing title contention themselves.
Rockhold hasn’t just beaten everyone aside from Belfort, but he’s shown growth in both his striking and grappling each time we’ve seen him in the cage.
A Weidman vs. Rockhold matchup would be interesting stylistically as well, as Weidman likes to close the distance and cut off the cage, while Rockhold likes to find his range and confuse you with his striking.
We’ve seen Weidman take Machida down, but Rockhold wouldn’t be as quick as Lyoto to try to get the fight back to the feet. Rockhold is not only comfortable in any position, but he’s also creative almost everywhere the fight goes.
Weidman is on a quest to establish himself as one of the most dominant UFC champions of all time. In order to do that he is going to need to defeat the current crop of middleweight contenders, which is as talent-rich as the division has ever seen.
Should Vitor Belfort not be able to sort out his commission troubles, Luke Rockhold is by far the clearest choice to challenge Chris Weidman next for the middleweight title. He’s outclassed highly ranked fighters and could even be Weidman’s most formidable foe.