Vitor Belfort could soon apply for a therapeutic-use exemption to continue his use of testosterone-replacement therapy in advance of facing champ Chris Weidman this summer in Las Vegas.
In doing so, he will put the Nevada State Athletic Commission on unfamiliar ground. The 36-year-old Belfort would be the first fighter in the state to ask the athletic commission for permission to use TRT after previously testing positive for a steroid.
There is no rule in the NSAC’s regulations that specifically addresses Belfort’s status, but the NSAC’s chair said that doesn’t disqualify him from the fight.
“I think TRT is something new, and [an exemption] hasn’t been used very frequently,” NSAC chairperson Francisco Aguilar told MMAjunkie. “To have it regulated in regards to Mr. Belfort, it’s new territory for us. But I don’t think that sways the decision one way or the other.”
Aguilar said that while the regulatory body has “some concerns about his past,” and will want to hear testimony from “the parties involved,” he added, “giving him a license is not going to be a problem.”
“The issue is going to come from a TRT exemption,” he said.
When the commission decides whether or not to grant him an exemption, Belfort’s history guarantees he’ll face additional scrutiny.
Although he previously said he would forgo hormone-replacement for a title shot, Belfort (24-10 MMA, 13-6 UFC), whose use of TRT became public one year ago, ended speculation on his approach to a fight license for Weidman when he told FOX Sports 1's “UFC Tonight” that he would seek an exemption. He said his choice came out of medical necessity.
The move represents a front-door approach for the ex-champ, who doesn’t have to apply for a TUE. He could merely apply for a fight license, and would be called to appear before the commission, either in person or on the telephone, as a fighter over the age of 35. Although questions about his previous steroid failure could still be raised, it’s unclear if the level of scrutiny would be the same as with a formal TUE application.
At least one potential hurdle is no longer a factor: NSAC Executive Director Keith Kizer this week steps down from the position. Two months after Belfort’s TRT use became public, he said he wouldn’t administratively grant the fighter an exemption, though as executive director, he would have only been able to make a recommendation to the commission if he held the position during a hearing.
Nevertheless, Belfort’s path to a TUE isn’t necessarily easy. He will have to provide extensive documentation of his medical history, as well as submit to blood tests in order to prove he needs hormone replacement. He is likely to utilize blood tests in connection with exemptions he’s received from the Brazilian athletic commission overseeing his past three UFC fights, all of which he’s finished by highlight-reel knockout.
Significantly, Belfort will need to sign an affidavit that certifies he has never used performance-enhancing drugs, which, according to an NSAC judgement, he has.
Following a loss to Dan Henderson at Pride 32, the NSAC flagged him for 4-hydroxytestosterone, an anabolic agent patented in 1955. He was temporarily suspended pending a formal hearing.
Belfort denied ever using a PED. Several weeks after bout, which took place Oct. 21, 2006, at Las Vegas’ Thomas and Mack Center, he emailed Kizer about the failed drug test.
“All I have to say is that I bought a supplement called ‘Max Tribostak’ at Max Muscle in La Habra, California, which contains 4-Hydroxytestosterone,” Belfort wrote in the email, which was obtained by a public records request. “I had no idea that a supplement bought over the counter at a vitamin store would contain a substance that is illegal in the state of Nevada.
“This lack of knowledge is costing me a great deal, hurting my image throughout every newspaper in Brazil, which caused me to lose some of my sponsors, and most of all the risk of being suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. I hope you consider my letter before taking any formal disciplinary actions.”
Two months later, in December 2006, Belfort appeared before the commission via telephone to answer for the positive test. He said it was either caused by the supplement or a treatment he received for a knee surgery he underwent six months prior to the Henderson fight. He provided a letter from a Brazilian endocrinologist, Rodrigo M. Greco, who verified injecting the fighter with testosterone “three times a week” in June 2006.
According to minutes from the NSAC meeting, which were obtained via a public records request, Belfort said the physician “had given him two-to-three shots for recovery after the surgery so he could train.”
Then-NSAC chair Tony Alamo was skeptical of Belfort’s claim, and of another that followed it.
“Chairman Alamo stated that if the surgery was in June and Mr. Belfort had the injections right after that they probably would not still be in his urine at a detectable level in October,” according to the minutes.
“Mr. Belfort stated that over a period of two weeks he had a couple of injections of an anti-inflammatory for a back injury. Chairman Alamo stated that an anti-inflammatory would not present as a steroid. Commissioner (John R.) Bailey stated that Mr. Belfort indicated to the commission in his pre-fight medical questionnaire that he did not have any injury to your back. Mr. Belfort stated it was not an injury but just a nagging pain from training too hard.”
In the end, Belfort was suspended by the NSAC for nine months and fined $10,000, as well as ordered to pass a drug test if he applied for another license following the suspension. It would be five years before he did so.
Questions about the suspension are likely to be broached when Belfort appears before the commission to get a TUE for Weidman. It’s also possible he could be asked about his career immediately following the punishment.
While still under suspension, Belfort fought overseas in London in the now-defunct Cage Rage, which was not overseen by an athletic commission. Had the event been held in a jurisdiction with government regulation of combat sports, he likely would not have been licensed. But because of the bout’s location, the promotion was not bound to honor the NSAC’s judgement.
Belfort did return to Nevada in 2011 for a title fight against UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva at UFC 126. He received a license and went on to lose via first-round knockout.
It was around that time that Belfort started testosterone-replacement therapy, though in an interview with MMAFighting.com, he said he wasn’t sure of the exact date. According to his pre-fight medical questionnaire for UFC 126, which he filled out to obtain a license, he didn’t note that he hadn’t taken or received any prescribed medications in the two weeks prior to the event.
Belfort’s loss to Silva is his only setback as a middleweight. Over the past two years, he has stormed through the 185-pound division, knocking out four opponents. He also come very close to winning the light-heavyweight title when he popped champ Jon Jones’ elbow with an armbar at UFC 152.
In 2013, Belfort knocked out three consecutive opponents with head kicks – one of the spinning variety against Luke Rockhold at UFC on FX 8.
The fight with Weidman is the culmination of a remarkable career turnaround for the man who’s called himself “a young dinosaur.” From a speedy-fisted teenage champ in the sport’s no-holds barred era, to a very beatable light heavyweight during MMA’s boom, to a savage middleweight in an age of network-televised cards and international growth, Belfort’s late blossoming is an anomaly among fighters of his longevity.
Aguilar said the NSAC’s handling of Belfort’s case has to ensure a fairness to the commission, other fighters and the UFC. One person concerned about granting the Brazilian a TUE: Chris Weidman, who told MMAjunkie he hopes the commission does its “due diligence” in the process.
Weidman (11-0 MMA, 7-0 UFC), as well as others in favor and opposed to the controversial testosterone treatment, will be watching the situation closely. The commission’s decision on Belfort could set a standard for future cases.
“I don’t want to speculate on [whether Belfort will get an exemption] until I hear the full story,” Aguilar said. “I think we’ve dealt with some pretty unique issues with different fighters, and we’ve got to take each issue individually.”
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(Pictured: Vitor Belfort)