Luke Rockhold steps in the Octagon opposite Tim Boetsch this weekend at UFC 172 in Baltimore. But even if he wins, he’s not likely to get the winner of the July 5 bout between current middleweight champion Chris Weidman and challenger Lyoto Machida.
That honor goes to Vitor Belfort… maybe.
UFC president Dana White in an ESPN SportsNation online chat with fans on Wednesday confirmed that Belfort is still the No. 1 contender to Weidman’s title even though he withdrew from a May 24 bout with the champion due to changes in Nevada’s TRT policy.
“Vitor (gets the next title shot),” White responded before adding the caveat, “After he gets his business cleared up with Nevada.”
The details surrounding Belfort’s withdrawal from the fight with Weidman, however, could play into whether or not he actually does get the next shot at the belt ahead of Rockhold or anyone else.
The initial plan was for Weidman to defend against Belfort in the UFC 173 main event on May 24 in Las Vegas. Belfort accepted and was fully intending on fighting for the belt.
That was before the Nevada State Athletic Commission in February voted unanimously to ban therapeutic use exemption applications for testosterone replacement therapy.
Belfort was a known legal user of TRT, and due to the change in rules, he and the UFC agreed that he needed time to figure out how to best handle the change in regulation, so he withdrew from the fight.
Beyond that issue, however, there is a potentially much more complicated issue that could rear its ugly head.
Belfort in early February, prior to Nevada's TRT changes, arrived in Las Vegas for an awards show only to have NSAC officials – knowing he would soon be applying for a license in the state – waiting to administer a random drug test. Belfort voluntarily submitted to the test, but the results of that test have not been publicly revealed.
If Belfort had already been licensed by Nevada, the results of the test would be publicly available by law. But since he was not yet licensed, submitting to the test was voluntary, and revealing the results of the test is only allowed if Belfort consents to the results being released. Thus far, he has not consented.
The leads many to question why, if the test came back clean, would Belfort not want the result revealed. And if they were not clean, how is Belfort going to get licensed to challenge for the belt, especially when White clearly stated that Belfort needs to “get his business cleared up with Nevada.”
So, while Belfort is the clear No. 1 contender, if and when he gets that shot remains in question.
Depending on how long it takes Belfort to clear up his business in Nevada, perhaps Luke Rockhold is a little closer to that next title shot than we think.