(This story first appeared in today’s USA TODAY.)
GOIANIA, Brazil – It may seem odd that the UFC’s next middleweight title challenger could be determined in a light-heavyweight contest, but for Brazilian slugger Vitor Belfort, it’s very much a reality.
It’s just a reality he doesn’t want to discuss until after Saturday night.
“I’m so happy just to be able to go into this fight so focused,” Belfort told USA TODAY Sports. “I’m looking forward to fighting one of the greatest fighters of all time, Dan Henderson, so that’s my focus right now.”
Belfort (23-10 MMA, 12-6 UFC) and Henderson (29-10 MMA, 6-4 UFC) meet in the headlining contest of Saturday’s “UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Henderson” (FOX Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET), which takes place at Brazil’s Goiania Arena.
UFC President Dana White recently revealed that a Belfort win would earn him the title shot for which he has long lobbied. On the other hand, despite the fight taking place at 205 pounds, a loss to Henderson – a man who possesses knockout power capable of ending most fighters’ nights in a single blow – would take Belfort out of immediate title contention.
Belfort said the risk is worth the reward.
“You’re remembered for your last fight, so some people are afraid of taking a risk,” Belfort said. “Everything is a risk in life. We have to go out and risk in order to win.”
Middleweight champion Chris Weidman (10-0 MMA, 6-0) faces the man he beat for the belt, Anderson Silva (33-5 MMA, 16-1 UFC), in main event of UFC 168 next month. Should Belfort win on Saturday, especially in impressive fashion, he’s expected to get a shot at the winner and a chance to avenge a failed 2011 bid for the 185-pound title.
There is, however, one caveat. “The Phenom” is one of a handful of fighters who have been approved by the sport’s governing athletic commissions for a therapeutic-use exemption for testosterone-replacement therapy – an increasingly common procedure in the U.S., but one that can be easily abused if athletes are not thoroughly monitored. (Henderson is also utilizing the treatment.)
While Belfort has had little trouble getting approval for the process in his native Brazil, Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer has previously stated he’s not so sure the 36-year-old would enjoy the same privilege in Las Vegas, frequent home to many of the UFC’s biggest fights.
Belfort, who at one time avoided discussion of the topic, has begun to talk about his treatment in detail of late, and he remains confident his doctor-ordered plan is carefully monitored and should not be viewed as cheating.
“I’m so open right now,” Belfort said. “I have nothing to hide. I’m just being truthful, so it’s good.”
Belfort’s credentials are well established. At 9-2 in his past 11 contests, his only losses in the past six years are to top pound-for-pound fighters Silva and Jon Jones. In 2013 alone, he’s registered highlight-reel knockouts of Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold, who he beat with a spinning back kick he said he envisioned in a dream before the fight.
Now, the reality of what lies ahead is clear. Win, and another crack at UFC gold is in the cards. Lose, and he’ll go to the back of an increasingly long line that features top contenders like Lyoto Machida and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Belfort said he again envisions his path to success.
“But some dreams you cannot share,” Belfort said. “Let’s make it happen first.”
For more on UFC Fight Night 32, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.