Lyoto Machida: Vitor Belfort is ‘next in line’ for a middleweight title shot

Lyoto Machida (left) would be ready to grant Vitor Belfort a title shot if he becomes UFC middleweight champion.

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Vitor Belfort was supposed to challenge Chris Weidman for the UFC middleweight title this summer until he wasn’t. The guy replacing him, though, still believes Belfort is the No. 1 contender.

Lyoto Machida, who meets Weidman in the main event of UFC 175 on July 5 in Las Vegas, said he believes Belfort deserves the next title shot despite Belfort’s issues with getting cleared by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC).

"Logically, he’s next in line," Machida told FOX Sports through an interpreter.

Belfort’s situation with attempting to get sanctioned has been murky. He pulled out of the Weidman fight — or maybe it’s more precise to say the UFC pulled him out — when the decision was made by the NSAC to ban testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). Belfort fought on TRT for years legally, though it was unlikely he would have been given a TRT exemption by Nevada even if the state had not banned it, due to a past failed drug test.

The UFC said Belfort needed more time to get acclimated to training and fighting without TRT. Earlier this month, Belfort admitted that he failed a random drug test given by the NSAC in February due to elevated levels of testosterone. It’s likely that also played into the UFC preferring Belfort did not try to fight initially.

Chris Weidman is the man with the belt who everyone is gunning for.

Belfort still does not have a license to fight in Nevada, but the UFC inserted him into a fight with Chael Sonnen on July 5 when Wanderlei Silva essentially refused to take his own random drug test by evading the tester. Belfort maintained that he had done everything he needed to do in order to be sanctioned by the NSAC.

It never came to fruition though, because to complete the disastrous triumvirate, Sonnen then failed his drug test and the bout was scrapped altogether. Sonnen decided to retire the next day.

Belfort’s drug issues do not bother Machida (21-4), the former UFC light heavyweight champion. But Machida isn’t necessarily thinking about his fellow Brazilian at the moment, anyway. He has to beat Weidman before worrying about a title fight with Belfort.

There’s no doubt he’s the champion. He’s the best there is in the weight class right now. He won those fights. You can’t take away those merits.

-Lyoto Machida on Chris Weidman

Weidman beat Machida’s friend and sometimes teammate Anderson Silva for the title last July and defended the belt against him in December. Both finishes were bizarre. In the first bout, Silva clowned Weidman, dropping his hands and egging him on, and ended up getting knocked out by a left hook. The second time, Silva’s leg broke when Weidman checked one of his kicks.

Machida doesn’t subscribe to the theory that those wins were flukes. He wouldn’t come out and say he believes Weidman is the better fighter than Silva, but he isn’t taking anything away from the New Yorker, either.

"There’s no doubt he’s the champion," Machida said. "He’s the best there is in the weight class right now. He won those fights. You can’t take away those merits."

Machida, 36, has been stellar since moving down to middleweight, knocking out Mark Munoz and defeating Gegard Mousasi by unanimous decision. "The Dragon" doesn’t wish he changed weight classes sooner since he was still at an elite level at light heavyweight. But he does believe this is a more natural division for him.

"I feel like I’m fighting more guys who are actually my weight," Machida said. "I definitely feel faster in this weight class. I’m going up against guys the same size as me now. Before I was fighting guys much heavier."

Belfort is another guy who has fought at 205 pounds and gone on a roll at 185, winning three in a row by knockout. Machida thinks he’s the No. 1 contender, for sure.

"I believe so," Machida said. "He’s next in line."