LAS VEGAS – The sheer folly of what is going on in the UFC right now cannot be overstated.
Vitor Belfort, who failed a 2006 doping test and who was yanked from a planned May title fight because UFC executives weren't convinced he'd be licensed by the Nevada Athletic Commission, is being brought in to replace Wanderlei Silva for a fight against Chael Sonnen at UFC 175 in July.
Why, you ask? You may be surprised to learn it's because UFC executives aren't convinced Silva will be licensed by the Nevada Athletic Commission.
Silva hasn't failed a drug test, but the fact he's being replaced by Belfort, who, like it or not, over the past two years has become the poster boy for the UFC's drug testing woes, speaks volumes.
There has never been a clear or adequate explanation provided for Silva's removal from the card. The UFC released a cryptic statement on May 28 with precious few details.
"Due to issues related to Wanderlei Silva's licensing in the state of Nevada, the UFC was forced to seek a replacement opponent to face Chael Sonnen at UFC 175 on Saturday, July 5 in Las Vegas," the statement read. "Former UFC champion Vitor Belfort has accepted the fight with Sonnen, subject to Belfort receiving a license to compete from the Nevada Athletic Commission."
Silva subsequently posted a video on YouTube, saying in Portuguese that a man showed up at his Las Vegas gym and asked him to sign papers. He didn't identify the man, and the UFC never acknowledged the incident at the gym, so it is unclear what its executives know about what happened.
It seems the man was there to collect a sample for a drug test from Silva, fulfilling a demand by media and fans that fighters more frequently be given random, unannounced drug tests.
Silva says he didn't sign the papers or give a sample, assuming that's what the man was there to do. English is Silva's second language and he said in his video he didn't feel comfortable reading and then signing the papers without his lawyer's help.
That's not only reasonable, it shows he's able to think clearly.
But his subsequent actions only served to cast enormous doubt upon his credibility. Instead of immediately contacting his lawyer or someone from the UFC to help him, Silva instead left the gym, headed to the airport and flew to Brazil.
And that odd move may wind up costing him his career.
Silva has been one of the most popular fighters in the sport's young history. He's an incredible slugger who competes as if he thinks the audience will be offended if he moves his head and feet and actually avoids a punch.
He's been charismatic and accessible with both media and fans, and he's been worshipped as few others in the sport ever have.
He made his reputation in Japan while competing in the PRIDE Fighting Championship from 2000 through early 2007, when the promotion was purchased by the UFC and disbanded.
Many PRIDE fighters were suspected of using performance enhancing drugs, but there was little or no testing in Japan, so it was all conjecture.
At that time, not many people were paying a lot of attention to MMA and those who were simply didn't care that guys were walking into the ring juiced. They put on great shows and, in the minds of some, nothing else mattered.
It's a new day, however, and while the testing procedures in MMA are far from adequate, it's vastly better than it was. The fact that the Nevada commission attempted to randomly test both Belfort and Silva is a huge leap forward, though neither situation played out the right way.
Belfort came to Las Vegas for an awards show at the Venetian Resort in February. Francisco Aguilar, the chairman of the Nevada commission, knowing that Belfort was set to fight Chris Weidman for the middleweight title on May 24 at UFC 173 in Las Vegas, sent a collector to the Venetian to randomly test Belfort.
That was the good news. The rest of it was pretty much disastrous.
Belfort was on testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) at the time he was tested, though he hadn't gotten around to applying for a license in Nevada by that stage. He consented to the test, but he didn't consent to public release.
By applying for a license to fight in Nevada, every fighter consents to the public release of the results of such tests, as part of the application. But since Belfort was unlicensed, Nevada could not punish him if the test result was adverse.
At the end of February, Nevada voted unanimously to outlaw TRT and Belfort opted not to apply for a license at that point. He was then yanked by UFC president Dana White from his fight against Weidman.
Weidman was paired with Lyoto Machida, but that fight was moved to July 5 when Weidman suffered a minor knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery.
And then in a stunning move, the UFC offered Belfort a fight against Sonnen on that same July 5 card when Silva so mysteriously became unavailable to fight.
Silva has been acting bizarrely for a long time. Several times since they were tabbed to coach opposite each other on "The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil," Sonnen has said he believed Silva had no intention to fight him.
It's always hard to take what Sonnen says at face value because he plays a pro wrestling heel character in interviews and public appearances. Only he knows if he were serious all along or whether Silva's withdrawal from the card was just an eerie coincidence.
Silva took Sonnen's taunts – clearly made in character in an attempt to promote a fight with Anderson Silva and later potential bouts against either Belfort or Wanderlei Silva – personally and went berserk.
He acted like a schoolyard bully on the set of the reality show and began a fight with Sonnen that was shown as part of one episode. It's extraordinarily unprofessional for fighters to fight outside the cage or the ring, and Wanderlei Silva is experienced enough to know that.
White tried to cover for Silva at a May 23 news conference and blamed the TV crew in Brazil for the fight, but this was 100 percent Silva's fault.
Fans in Brazil have shockingly turned on Silva and booed him loudly in Sao Paolo the other day when his name was announced at a fight card there. His decision to leave the Las Vegas gym on May 24 when the unnamed man with papers showed up looks very bad for him.
A large percentage of the fan base hasn't chosen to wait for the process to play out and took his decision to leave as a concession of guilt. That's a very logical position to take, and it's one I'm having great difficulty not taking myself.
Whatever Silva's problems are, the fans deserve answers. The situation needs to be clarified and questions need to be answered by all parties as soon as possible.
Everyone needs to come clean in this. Even if Belfort is licensed and winds up fighting Sonnen, he needs to explain himself. White and UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta need to clarify the incidents from their standpoint. And, of course, Silva has a lot to answer for.
Progress, albeit very slowly, is being made in the fight against performance enhancing drugs in MMA. The handling of the Silva-Belfort situation, though, is a major step backward.