LAS VEGAS -- Vitor Belfort was given a license by a 5-0 vote by the Nevada Athletic Commission on Wednesday, freeing him to challenge Chris Weidman for the middleweight title on Dec. 6 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in the main event of UFC 181.
Whether he'd have gotten that affirmative vote had he announced that the fight would be in Brazil instead of Las Vegas will never be known.
But be sure that it didn't hurt his cause at all. Prior to UFC 175, which was also at Mandalay Bay, UFC president Dana White told Yahoo Sports that the card would have a non-gaming economic impact of $175 million on Las Vegas' economy. A Weidman-Belfort title fight, with a potential Ronda Rousey-Gina Carano women's bantamweight title fight underneath it, would do massive business and would likely attract a paid gate in excess of $4 million.
Belfort, appeared in person with attorney Michael Alonso to plead for his license. He got emotional as he spoke and wiped tears from his eyes at one point.
He was required to appear in person because in 2006, he'd tested positive for the anabolic steroid 4-hydroxytestosterone. He was fined and suspended nine months for that. In addition, Belfort was given a surprise test by the Nevada commission on Feb. 7 when he was in Las Vegas to attend an awards show.
His testosterone was out of the legal range, but he was on a therapeutic use exemption issued in Brazil for testosterone replacement therapy at the time. He testified on Wednesday that he normally injected himself with testosterone twice a week. But he said that because he was traveling, on Feb. 6 he injected himself with a double dose and that was why he was so high.
He said he provided subsequent tests that were in the normal range shortly thereafter.
TRT usage was legal at the time of the Feb. 7 in Nevada, but only with a TUE from the commission, which Belfort did not have. TRT use was banned later in the month by the commission.
But the commission gave great weight to the fact that Belfort was unlicensed in Nevada at the time of the test and that he was on a valid TUE from Brazil.
Belfort's performance seemed to skyrocket after he began his TRT regimen in 2011 after a loss to Anderson Silva. Belfort said he'd been feeling tired and lethargic and sought a doctor's help. Since going on TRT, Belfort went 5-1 with five knockouts, four in the first round, and only a loss in a light heavyweight title fight to Jon Jones.
As part of the agreement to license him, Belfort said he would not fight anywhere until December and that when he did return, the bout would be in Las Vegas. Finally, he agreed to random, unannounced drug testing at the commission's discretion.
Commissioner Anthony Marnell said, "You understand we're going to test you until the day you retire," and Belfort said he did.
Alonso said he asked that the testing "be reasonable." He said that because Belfort would be giving blood in addition to urine, he didn't want him to give too much blood too close to the fight so as to put Belfort at a competitive disadvantage.
The commission said it would consult its doctors before ordering the tests.
It would have been interesting, though, to see how the vote would have gone had Belfort never mentioned the Weidman fight or if he'd said it would have been in Brazil. However, UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, a former member of the commission prior to purchasing the UFC, said he didn't believe that the talk of the fight had an impact on the decision.
He said it is ordinary for the commissioners to ask a fighter when he plans to fight if he hasn't already had one announced.
"Vitor, I believe, was trying to be cooperative and show that he wants to do the right thing by saying I want to fight here in Nevada and I want to be tested and have you look at me as closely as you want," Fertitta said. "I don't think they were influenced by that. It's more a case of Vitor trying to make his point that he is doing the right thing and trying to cooperate."
Fertitta, who has had a long relationship with Belfort, said he believed Belfort when Belfort denies using performance enhancing drugs. No fighter has been under suspicion more than Belfort, but Fertitta said he has faith in him.
Fertitta said it would be "cruel" if it turned out Belfort lied to him about not using PEDs.
"Think about it, if he is taking something and is caught, look what the consequences of that are," Fertitta said. "It costs a lot of money to promote a fight of this level. We're going to be committing a lot of money to do the marketing and the ads, and all the TV programming we do. It would be very cruel of him if he's doing something knowing all of that and impacting as many people as he would be.
"I believe him when he tells me he's clean. I do believe that. We have a relationship that goes way back and it would be incredibly cruel if he turned around and did that [use PEDs] after we showed the faith and trust in him that we've shown and gone ahead and invested all of this money."
Fertitta said it costs the UFC "in the millions" to promote a fight of that caliber.
Still, it would have been nice to have seen how the commissioners may have reacted to Belfort's testimony had they not known the big-money fight was coming to Las Vegas.
Something tells me it wouldn't have been quite so easy for Belfort.
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- Vitor Belfort
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