More still needs to be done in struggle against PED use

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Vitor Belfort wants a title shot in Brazil next, despite a recent failed drug test. (Getty Images)

Vitor Belfort

Vitor Belfort wants a title shot in Brazil next, despite a recent failed drug test. (Getty Images)

The uncertainty over whether Vitor Belfort could gain a license from the Nevada Athletic Commission led the UFC to ask the controversial middleweight to step aside from his planned May 24 title bout in Las Vegas against Chris Weidman.

Belfort has used Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) for several years and had a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) from the Brazilian commission to use it for his three fights in 2013.

He scored spectacular knockouts in those fights over Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson and made himself the middleweight division's No. 1 contender.

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But only hours after the Nevada Athletic Commission voted unanimously on Thursday to end exemptions for use of testosterone replacement, Belfort issued a statement to Fox Sports 1 in which he said he would not fight Weidman at UFC 173.

The UFC then announced that Lyoto Machida would step in to replace Belfort.

About eight hours after those announcements, Belfort released a statement in which he said he was asked to pull out of the card and that he plans to continue his fight career.

"The UFC decided to put another opponent in my place because I didn't have time to fit the new rules of the NSAC," Belfort said in a statement that was written in Portuguese and translated into English. "According to the UFC, I will face the winner of Weidman vs. Lyoto within the new regulations of all the athletic commissions.

"I'm sorry that this happened, and I appreciate the strength and understanding of all fans, sponsors, UFC and athletic commissions."

As a prospective licensee in Nevada, Belfort was randomly tested by the athletic commission when he attended an awards banquet Feb. 7 at the Venetian in Las Vegas. Belfort consented to undergo the test, but because he has yet to apply for a license to fight in Nevada, the results of that test are unable to be made public.

However, if and when he applies, the results of the test would become public information and the commission would have the ability to use it against him if it had an adverse result.

But chairman Francisco Aguilar also said that the commission is concerned about how long it takes for a fighter to safely wean himself off testosterone replacement.

"There is a legitimate concern about how much time it takes," Aguilar said. "[Thursday] during the meeting, the issue was discussed by the doctors. I think Dr. [Timothy] Trainor said once you remove a fighter from TRT, there could be potential issues in the ring. Without TRT, they could feel sluggish. They could become exhausted. Without TRT, there could be issues of their inability to fight at the level they were at before.

"Those are questions that have to be thoroughly explored to really understand what the impact would be on a fighter who is coming off of TRT. What we don't know now for sure is how much time a fighter needs to become 100 percent without TRT. Is that two weeks? Two months? Three months? At this point, we don't know. We need to research that more."

And that is one of the myriad issues that made the UFC realize that it didn't have as much time as it thought to get Belfort licensed.

When Mike Tyson applied for a license to fight in Nevada after biting Evander Holyfield in 1997, it was a lengthy process that covered several commission meetings. UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta was a member of the Nevada Athletic Commission at that time.

Fertitta told Yahoo Sports on Friday that the company couldn't risk waiting to see if he were licensed by the Nevada Athletic Commission. Deadlines for commercials and artwork are next week.

The commission has a scheduled March 11 meeting, but Belfort is not on the agenda. The next meeting is in April, though it hasn't been scheduled.

If the license application were taken up in early April, any kind of delay or request for additional information that would have pushed the vote into late April or May would have left the UFC precariously close to its May 24 fight date without the certainty Belfort would be licensed to appear.

"At the end of the day, we have a fight to promote on May 24," Fertitta said. "Chris is going to defend his title, and you know how this business works: You've got to get commercials in two to three months early. We've got to get key art done. We've got a fight to promote and Vitor, because they came down with this ruling [Thursday], Vitor is going to have to comply with that, which he is going to.

"But we don't know how long that process will take for him to get a license, whether it is two weeks or two months. We can't be in limbo as a company. We need to promote a fight, so the most logical thing was for Vitor to get going with his process to file an application in Nevada, and once that gets done, we could revisit this thing. But we have a fight to promote on the 24th and we can't sit around in limbo and wonder whether he's going to be eligible to fight."

After Nevada announced its ban on TRT usage, Brazil followed suit on Friday. It is likely that the majority of states that have given TRT exemptions will do the same.

That, though, is only part of the issue. Random, unannounced testing of fighters is the only certain way to significantly reduce the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Testing, though, particularly the Carbon Isotope Ratio tests and the Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry tests that the Nevada commission is doing on boxers Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley before their April 12 bout in Las Vegas, is prohibitively expensive.

Commissions have small budgets and can't afford to do that regularly.

Promoters need to be asked to support a fund that could be used to conduct random testing.

Even then, it won't catch all of the cheaters, but it would reduce the incidence of it significantly.

That is a battle that Aguilar has willingly joined.

Since he became chairman last year, he's done yeoman's duty in the fight against PEDs by leading the effort to end TUEs and expand random testing.

The Belfort case is going to be significantly challenging, and the commission needs the full support of the UFC as it moves forward.

The cost of not continuing to fight against PED usage in combat sports could threaten the very existence of those sports. The significance of this issue is too great for any interested party to ignore.

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