Split Decision: Should Vitor Belfort be given a title shot despite failed drug test?

Vitor Belfort (right) meets Chris Weidman at UFC 181 on Dec. 6 for the middleweight title. Should the UFC have let it happen?

Donald Miralle/Josh Hedges/Zuffa

The Nevada State Athletic Commission has landed in the headlines quite a bit lately, especially with the meeting held just over a week ago where they passed judgment on two prominent mixed martial artists as both Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort stood tall before the court after recent drug test failures.

Belfort was a particularly interesting case because for the past two years he’s sat as the face for the controversial treatment known as testosterone replacement therapy. Belfort insisted that his use of synthetic testosterone was always above board and he never spiked above normal levels when using the drugs.

Unfortunately, a pre-fight drug test administered in February proved otherwise and Belfort’s results came back with a higher-than-normal average. He explained to the commission that he had just taken a dose of testosterone when the test was given, and that’s why he returned a high result.

Regardless of the reasoning behind it, the commission ultimately decided that Belfort wouldn’t pay for his mistake and signed off on him to return to the Octagon in December as he will headline UFC 181 against Chris Weidman with the middleweight title on the line. 

But did the commission do enough to Belfort following his positive test or did he slip through the system while fighters like Chael Sonnen get the hammer dropped on them to the tune of a two-year ban from the sport?

Do you believe Vitor Belfort’s drug-test failure claims?

Our lead writers — Marc Raimondi and Damon Martin — have very different opinions on what went down with Belfort and the commission. Who is right and who is wrong? You decide in the latest edition of the Split Decision in the comments below.


Marc Raimondi: Does Belfort deserve a title shot? The very premise of that question is flawed. If the UFC signs Gina Carano, Carano will come right in and challenge Ronda Rousey for the women’s bantamweight belt despite not having fought in MMA for five years. The two circumstances are very different, but the point is that the words "deserve" and "fair" have nothing to do with why fighters are granted title opportunities. The UFC, like it always does, is doing what’s best for business — and what it thinks fans want — regardless of Belfort’s checkered PED past. Most fans won’t refrain from buying UFC 181, because of Belfort.

Damon Martin: There’s no such thing as "deserve" when it comes to title shots — that much we know for sure.  Alexander Gustafsson would probably stand on a soapbox and scream about that fact for days.  But the difference with "deserve" versus being rewarded despite returning a positive drug test and for the second time in his career, Vitor Belfort hasn’t paid anything for his transgressions.  The last time he tested positive in Nevada, he flaunted the commission’s decision and went to fight in England where there is no athletic commission.  Now he’s tested positive again for elevated levels of testosterone and there’s zero punishment. As a matter of fact he’s been rewarded with a title shot.  There’s something inherently wrong about that.


Martin: The Nevada Athletic Commission failed miserably when it came to doling out any kind of punishment for Vitor Belfort in his second offense in the state. Nick Diaz did a year for smoking weed — Vitor has now failed two tests with serious performance-enhancing drugs and he’s served zero time. None. Zilch. Nada. How is that fair to the rest of the fighters who perform clean? What kind of message does that send to a potential cheater who is debating whether or not to take that extra dose of testosterone? According to the NAC, the only people they are willing to punish have names that end in Diaz and Sonnen. 

Belfort has now thumbed his nose at the drug testing system on two occasions and gotten away with it.

-Damon Martin

Belfort has now thumbed his nose at the drug testing system on two occasions and gotten away with it. The UFC is also held responsible because for all the talk about stringent and tougher drug testing, in this one opportunity to take a stand, they did nothing. Would it hurt the bottom line to lose a potential megashow with Weidman vs. Belfort at the top of the card? Certainly. But at the same time if the UFC is willing to bury Wanderlei Silva and say goodbye to Chael Sonnen for the rest of his career, why is Belfort given such preferential treatment? Lest we forget this is after he fought in Brazil for virtually every fight he had after admitting he was on TRT in the first place.

Belfort’s wins are marred. Sure he was being tested while he was on TRT, but we now have proof positive that he cheated while on the drugs. We have no idea how much he did while fighting Bisping, Henderson or Rockhold, but we know going into his first proposed match with Weidman he doubled up on his dose of testosterone. The idea that we’ll find out if Belfort was good or not because of the drugs is inconsequential.  Belfort is the UFC’s own Alex Rodriguez — a multi-time drug abuser who flaunted the system time after time and eventually the hammer has to fall.  Would the Yankees and Major League Baseball be better off with a lifetime .300 hitter and at the time a potential Hall of Famer? Of course. But somebody had to be made an example of when it came to drug testing and in this case Belfort should be the poster boy for swift and harsh punishment. Instead, he’s just going to be on the poster for the main event of UFC 181.

Raimondi: Let’s first start with the things we know. Vitor Belfort tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone back in February. He and his lawyer gave an excuse to the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) last month, basically saying that Belfort was on testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), which was legal at the time in his native Brazil. Before Belfort flew to Las Vegas, where he was randomly tested, he took double the dosage, because he would not have his treatment with him on the road.

Whatever. I’m not making excuses for Belfort. He tested positive. But remember when that happened. It was February. What is a typical NAC suspension for someone who fails a drug test? Nine months. Belfort won’t fight again until December. It was almost an unwritten punishment. Plus, Belfort agreed to foot the bill for any further drug testing done by the commission. One member of the board said Belfort would be tested regularly until the day he retires. So, he is being disciplined — maybe not as hard as some like, but he is. That is thousands of dollars in testing fees coming out of Belfort’s pocket.

One member of the board said Belfort would be tested regularly until the day he retires. So, he is being disciplined — maybe not as hard as some like, but he is.

-Marc Raimondi

From a pure MMA standpoint, should Belfort get a title shot? Absolutely. He demolished Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson. Regardless of how much you think TRT helped him knock those men out, Belfort has the best résumé of any middleweight in the world not named Chris Weidman. And if TRT really was what made him so good, we’ll find out Dec. 6, because Weidman is a stud. Belfort has been punished, albeit meekly, but why also punish the fans who want to see that fight? From the casual perspective, it’s the most interesting 185-pound title fight the UFC can do. Belfort is the perfect heel to Weidman’s all-American boy babyface. It’s a marquee fight.


Raimondi: The UFC defers to the athletic commissions when it comes to penalties for fighters. The Nevada Athletic Commission ruled that Vitor Belfort could not fight until December and had to pay out of his pocket for stringent random drug testing in the future. The UFC is holding that up. Should the organization also prevent one of its bigger draws at middleweight from earning a title shot? The UFC is a business at the end of the day. Its responsibility is to make money and please the fans within the rules doled out by commissions. Belfort challenging Chris Weidman is a huge fight. It’ll make a good amount of money and why? Because fans will pay to see it — regardless of Belfort’s sketchy drug past.

Martin: The athletic commissions are responsible for policing drug abuse in sports like mixed martial arts, but just like when the UFC oversees their fighters when they travel to England, Germany and other areas where no commission exists, they have the power to enact additional punishment based on their performance code of conduct. Mike King from TUF 19 is out of a job and $50,000 for his lone infraction for using steroids. The UFC didn’t have to cut him, but they did. I’m not saying Belfort should be cut, but this is a two-time loser who has not paid for any of his wrongdoing. I’m starting to think the message is "don’t get caught, but if you do make sure you’re a top-five ranked superstar and then we’ll talk about what kind of punishment you’ll receive," because that sure seems to be the way things have been regarding Vitor Belfort.