He's the No. 1 Contender
All TRT discussions aside, Vitor Belfort has been on a colossal tear as of late—leaving his last three opponents with foggy memories of blitzing hand strikes and concussive head kicks.
He first took out the UFC's No. 8-ranked middleweight Michael Bisping in the second round of their fight. He then went after the division's fifth-ranked fighter in Luke Rockhold before placing him on the bad end of a highlight-reel knockout. Next came a light heavyweight matchup with Dan Henderson—the sequel to their first bout in 2006. A solid shin to the head left Henderson on the wrong end of a knockout for the first time in his storied career.
Turns out 2013 was a good year for Belfort.
This year was supposed to be a good year for him, too—he was set to take on UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman. A positive test for elevated testosterone levels took away Belfort's title shot, but it didn't take away his status as the division's No. 1 contender.
It Would Further Validate Weidman as the Man to Beat
Weidman's first victory over the reigning middleweight king left enough questions to warrant an immediate rematch. His second victory against Anderson Silva left them wanting even more. As far as we knew it, we would never know what have happened had Silva not clowned in his first outing or broken his leg in the second.
Either way, Weidman had bested the greatest fighter of all time twice and we needed to move on.
In comes Lyoto Machida as the new champion's second challenger. Akin to Silva, Machida was another elusive Brazilian counter-striker that was supposed to give Weidman fits in the stand-up department. But, akin to Silva, he didn't.
Weidman stalked Machida around the Octagon, effectively cutting off the cage and preventing The Dragon from ever really setting up his strikes enough to warrant a five-round nod. He was unafraid of striking with another striker and wrestled when he needed to.
Though he couldn't find a way to finish the former UFC light heavyweight champion, he proved he was the better fighter.
Unlike his bouts with Silva, there were no questions here.
Sure, Machida could have gotten started a little earlier to give himself enough time to win a five-round decision, but that's not how The Dragon rolls.
Belfort, on the other hand, is literally the opposite. Consider him the antithetical Machida here—he wants to strike first and win fast. A win over Belfort would prove Weidman capable of handling the best strikers that any division has to offer.
Weidman Could Close the TRT Saga
Belfort wasn't the only UFC fighter to use testosterone-replacement therapy to help prepare for a bout, but he was certainly the most scrutinized one.
Unlike Chael Sonnen and Henderson—two other popular fighters who were synonymous with the controversial treatment—Belfort was succeeding. Sonnen lost three of his last four bouts by TKO before retiring from the sport, while Henderson has seen similar statistics—leaving many wishing he'd walk away from the sport as well.
TRT couldn't save Sonnen or Henderson.
It'd be tough to argue the same for Belfort, though.
Without a doubt, this is the best version of Belfort that we have ever seen. He's running through top-tier opponents in dramatic fashion. But he's doing it as a muscular 37-year-old man, and that has to raise some questions.
He has the wisdom of a seasoned fighter and the physical capabilities of a younger version of himself. It shouldn't matter now, though, because Belfort won't be on the controversial substance anymore.
Meanwhile, Weidman is moving full steam ahead to prove that Belfort is not the same fighter and the Nevada State Athletic Commission and the UFC made the right call by banning TRT.
From a purely competitive standpoint, this is a fight that most of us are dying to see. Taking all of the context into consideration should make most of us think twice, though.
He Could Fool Us Again
Most MMA fans want to remember Belfort as the man who was able to run Wanderlei Silva across the cage with a blurry barrage of punches before leaving him with nobody but John McCarthy to keep him company.
Few want to remember him as the man who tested positive for anabolic steroids after his loss to Henderson at Pride 32: The Real Deal. (Yes, the irony kills me as well.)
Whether you chose to forgive or forget Belfort's mistake is up to you. Chances are you probably don't care as much about his first positive test anymore because you were too busy watching him demolish pretty much everybody not named Anderson Silva or Jon Jones in his latest stint with the UFC.
Belfort is a mere eight years removed and all but recovered from his first positive test. He's only two months removed from his second and still has a ways to go.
We wanted to believe that old Vitor was merely using TRT to supplement the hormonal gaps that young Vitor's mistakes created. We wanted to believe that whatever possible advantages TRT could create for any fighter were irrelevant because Belfort wasn't abusing the treatment to reach such peaks. We wanted to believe that he'd learned his lesson.
We were wrong.
Yet, here we are—just five months away from watching Belfort challenge for his third UFC title in four years.
With TRT now banned in the UFC and the eyes of the NSAC constantly upon him, it's unlikely Belfort gets a third opportunity to further damage his already fragile reputation.
Be that as it may, it's probably best to proceed with caution.
Kristian Ibarra is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He also serves as the sports editor at San Diego State University's student-run newspaper, The Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter at @Kristian_Ibarra for all things MMA.
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