At 36 years old, Vitor Belfort still has a future in this game. How and especially where that future plays out, though, is very much in question.
Belfort scored a stupendous knockout in the main event of a UFC event Saturday night in Jaraguá do Sul, Brazil, felling Luke Rockhold with a spinning heel kick to the temple and pouncing on the former Strikeforce middleweight champion to finish with a violent flurry of pitiless fists. Coupled with January's smashing of Michael Bisping, the Brazilian now has two straight head-kick KOs in the time since he temporarily stepped up to light heavyweight last September for an unsuccessful challenge of Jon Jones. The victories over high-level mixed martial artists -- and especially the brutal way in which he secured them -- would appear to put Belfort at the head of the line for a middleweight title shot.
In Brazil, maybe? If Anderson Silva can fend off Chris Weidman come July, perhaps the two natives of that country will renew acquaintances back home. Or they could do it in Japan, where both had their moments back in the days of the Pride Fighting Championship. Europe? Down Under? Mars?
Anywhere but Las Vegas.
Belfort (23-10) is on testosterone replacement therapy, you see, and that, combined with his positive test for the anabolic steroid 4-Hydroxytestosterine following a 2006 bout with Dan Henderson in Vegas, puts him in a sticky spot with the Nevada Athletic Commission. The governing body's executive director, Keith Kizer, is on record on the matter, months ago telling the Bleacher Report, "I don't see Vitor Belfort getting a TRT exemption from us."
Why? Researchers link steroid use with low testosterone production, so the commission perhaps might be viewing Vitor's need for TRT as self-inflicted.
Whatever the reason for Belfort needing the supplementation, and whatever the effect it has had on him, there's no question he's looked like something special in his last two fights. Against Rockhold, he displayed a tantalizing combination of patience and explosiveness. Much of the fight was a circle dance, with Luke doing the stalking and Vitor cocking his fists for counterpunch opportunities. Belfort tried a spinning head kick late in the first minute and just missed. He didn't miss on his second try, however, dropping tall, lanky Luke just before the midpoint of the round.
And with the thud of Rockhold's back hitting the canvas still resounding in Arena Jaraguá, mixing with a roar from fans who'd been waiting for something just like this, Belfort pounced. His first punch, a left hand, jolted his opponent's head to the side, and his next two -- a right, then another left -- were just as nasty. Another left stiffened Rockhold, and a needless right snuck in before referee Leon Roberts could jump in at 2:32.
"I didn't see that one coming," Rockhold (10-2) said afterward of the spinning heel kick that ended his nine-fight winning streak.
He's not alone. Belfort has always been a hot-blooded striker, but historically it was his fast-and-furious fists that did the damage. And I say "historically" for a reason: the guy was UFC light heavyweight champion nine long years ago and first fought in the world's biggest mixed martial arts promotion way back at UFC 12. In case you forgot, the numbered event slated for next weekend is UFC 160. It was in 1997 that Vitor stepped inside an octagon set up in the fight mecca of Dothan, Alabama, and won the UFC's first heavyweight tournament.
On Saturday night, Vitor defeated a 28-year-old fighter who was in the sixth grade when the Brazilian made his UFC debut.
Talk about a fountain of youth.
Before we rain on the Vitor-y parade any further, it should be noted that Belfort has won his last nine fights against opponents not named Jon Jones or Anderson Silva. That golden run extends back far beyond when he secured his exemption for testosterone replacement.
But make no mistake: TRT is and always will be a significant player in the Vitor Belfort story. In the aftermath of Saturday's fight, a couple of MMA media members were conversing on Twitter, the gist of their interaction being a shared belief that TRT, while no doubt providing a pick-me-up during training camp, had played no role in Belfort's spectacular KO. Within moments, UFC middleweight Brian Stann jumped into the conversation. "I disagree," he wrote. "I have trained with guys pre & post testosterone usage & difference is incredible. Speed & power."