It was Friday evening, a little over 24 hours before a featherweight championship bout in Las Vegas that the UFC was hyping as a superfight. But the chatter in the various online meeting places of mixed martial arts fans was about a different fight, one that took place nearly two weeks earlier and 6,000 miles away.
The circulating rumor that Vitor Belfort had failed a drug test following a Jan. 19 victory eventually reached Michael Bisping, who had a vested interest in the matter because he was Belfort’s opponent in that middleweight bout in Sao Paolo, Brazil. In fact, had Bisping won that night, he’d have earned a shot at the division’s champion, Anderson Silva. But the Brit had his hopes doused and his senses scrambled by a second-round head kick that led to a Belfort TKO.
Now Bisping was wondering if he’d been in a fair fight. “About a certain someone who I fought recently failing his drug test,” he wrote on Twitter. “I hope it’s not true.”
Well, it’s not.
UFC president Dana White insisted over the weekend that while there had been an “irregular” test result, it did not involve Belfort. And on Wednesday the fight promotion issued a press release announcing that the failed drug test belonged to lightweight Thiago Tavares, whose results showed the presence of the anabolic steroid Drostanolone. The substance did not exactly enhance the 28-year-old Brazilian’s performance, as he was knocked out in less than two minutes by Khabib Nurmagomedov. Tavares was handed a nine-month suspension by the UFC, which assisted the new Comissao Atletica Brasileira de MMA, or Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission, in overseeing regulatory aspects of the event.
However, that’s not the end of the story. In the same press release, the UFC revealed that Belfort competed while undergoing an approved regimen of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). Vitor has been evasive whenever questions about TRT have been raised. And when he met with reporters prior to Saturday night’s fights in Las Vegas, and Bisping’s accusatory tweet was mentioned, the 37-year-old implied that what you see is all natural. “I think people get jealous,” he said with a smile, “when a guy at my age is destroying these people getting title shots.”
Jealous, perhaps, or maybe just uncomfortable. Belfort has broken no rules. Neither has Chael Sonnen, Dan Henderson, Quinton Jackson, Frank Mir or anyone on the growing list of MMA fighters who’ve received athletic commission exemptions to use TRT to maintain their testosterone levels. But make no mistake: Legal or not, that’s a performance enhancing substance, allowing an aging veteran to punch and kick like a younger man. And when you see a KO like the one Belfort put on Bisping, you’ve got to wonder when this sport will take a stand. What’s at risk in MMA, after all, is much greater than in other sports. The worst thing a baseball player on a PED can do is wreck some pitcher’s ERA. An enhanced fighter poses a far scarier threat.