Once the dust settled from Chris Weidman‘s first defense of the UFC middleweight title – and the shock wore off a little over what happened to Anderson Silva’s leg – the questions started about where his next defense would take place.
The opponent had been known – UFC President Dana White had already said the white-hot Vitor Belfort would be next in line for the Weidman-Silva winner after UFC 168, which took place this past Saturday in Las Vegas.
A Silva win, and a Silva vs. Belfort rematch would make all the sense in the world for their home country of Brazil. But a Weidman win, and maybe there would be some eyebrows being raised over where the fight would take be.
But now it appears that question has been answered, and advantage: champion.
UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta on Thursday told ESPN.com that the company’s plan is for Weidman to put his belt on the line against Belfort in the U.S., once again in Las Vegas, either in May or July.
That time frame, Fertitta said, would depend on Weidman. The UFC traditionally does a pay-per-view card on Memorial Day weekend in its Las Vegas homebase, as well as on Independence Day weekend. The Fourth of July-based card also typically has a coinciding UFC Fan Expo as part of “Fight Week.”
Belfort (24-10 MMA, 13-6 UFC) has won three straight fights, all in his home country of Brazil – and all “Knockout of the Night” victories. The three wins came over highly touted opponents, as well, in Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson. And all three were started with kicks to the head. The Bisping and Rockhold wins were at middleweight, while Belfort fought Henderson in a light heayvweight contest – and became the first to knock “Hendo” out in his legendary career.
Central to the controversy surrounding Belfort is his therapeutic-use exemption for testosterone-replacement therapy (TRT). Critics of Belfort’s TRT use have said the UFC only puts him in fights in Brazil because it’s easier for him to pass drug screenings there. (It should be noted that in his most recent fight against Henderson in November, Henderson also was issued a TUE for TRT use prior to the fight.)
Belfort maintains that he is a clean fighter and takes the doctor-prescribed dosages of TRT, and is tested in-camp. He also has said that he would pass tests and would be able to fight under any commission in the United States.
If the fight indeed takes place in Las Vegas, Belfort will have to apply for a TUE from the Nevada State Athletic Commission. The NSAC has approved TUEs for other fighters in the past, including Chael Sonnen for his second title fight against Anderson Silva.
In 2006, for his first fight against Henderson, Belfort dropped a unanimous decision at PRIDE 32, then failed his post-fight drug screening for the bout in Las Vegas when he tested for elevated testosterone levels. That past failed test may be enough for the NSAC to give pause before approving a TUE for Belfort now. The Brazilian will turn 37 in April.
Weidman (11-0 MMA, 7-0 UFC) this past Saturday defended his middleweight title against Silva, the man he took it from in July with a stunning second-round knockout. On Saturday in Las Vegas, Weidman dominated the first round, but in the second, he checked a Silva kick – which led to a gruesome broken leg for the challenger and longtime pound-for-pound king.
Silva now faces a lengthy recovery if he’s to fight again, while Weidman now moves on to his next challenge in Belfort. But now he at least knows he won’t need his passport to put his belt on the line.
For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.