Last year a simple post found it’s way onto instagram. A post that made every fighter not signed to the UFC wince, and maybe pee a little.
Now a Free Agent, Vitor was back on TRT, and he had a sense of humour about it.
Vitor Belfort has one of the longest and most interesting careers in MMA history, short of Vernon Tiger White. Belfort fought from 1996 to 2018 and for his entire career was almost at the top level.
Almost, meaning that while Belfort fought all comers, he consistently lost to the top level of the sport, in every era he competed in. If he wasn’t losing to Kazushi Sakuraba, Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz, he was losing to Anderson Silva, Chris Weidman and Jon Jones.
He was a fighter concerned primarily with his hands and mouth frothing aggression. That’s not to say Vitor was a boxer although hardcore fans would probably try to argue so.
Vitor would charge straight at you, firing a never ending combination of 1-2s and hope. Vitor does not jab, Vitor does not feint, he doesn’t pivot, he doesn’t really box. Vitor is the master of the never ending 1-2. He would KO his opponent with that blistering hand speed, and then amusingly enough yell ‘Jiu Jitsu’ at the top of his lungs after a win.
And in fairness to Belfort, having athleticism and hand speed was actually enough to carry him against the vast majority of opponents he encountered, save for the very top level.
But then one day in 2013 (a scarily long time ago), the unthinkable happened. Vitor started throwing kicks.
This was the brief and terrifying TRT era for Vitor Belfort. The TRT era of the UFC is a controversial one. At this point in time, athletic commissions were allowing the use of testosterone replacement therapy for fighters. The logic was that males lose testosterone as they age, and the use of TRT will allow for older fighters to continue competing at a high level.
For most people, TRT will only be used to elevate their levels back to that of the average male. TRT can be used in higher amounts however to help muscles grow faster and stronger with less recovery time. So of course this is promptly what fighters started doing.
It was an open secret by this point that MMA fighters were using performance enhancing drugs, as do pretty much all athletes at the top levels of their relative sports. The standard approach was ‘if they pass their tests, we can’t prove they’re on gear’. With this TRT rule in place though, fighters wouldn’t have to cycle off PEDs, they could just walk right into the cage with their testosterone levels pumped.
Nobody seemed to take this quite as far Vitor Belfort, a man who at the very least had always looked as though he were on performance enhancing drugs, being built like a bodybuilder at age nineteen. Nineteen.
Now while it cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt that Vitor was using PEDs, a lot of PEDs also have the side effect of dropping your testosterone levels after coming off them. Making TRT a logical treatment. Vitor came in looking like if you felt his bicep, it would hurt you.
Not only did he look terrifying his performances were visibly different, because as mentioned earlier he was now kicking people in the head. This was the era of MMA where although style vs style archetypes were dying out, it was still unusual to see a fighter known for their boxing throwing out kicks of any sort, nevermind to the head. Petr Yan wouldn’t debut in the UFC for another five years.
So to see Vitor Belfort of all people knock out three consecutive opponents with them, sparked debate. Defenders of Belfort would say that TRT didn’t magically give you the ability to set up and throw high kicks. A true enough point, although it should be said that the fitness required to throw them is certainly going to be aided by TRT, and Vitor never did it again after TRT was banned.
It also should be said that all three of these fights took place in Brazil, and Brazil is very liberal when it comes to performance enhancing drugs, and the testing of those drugs to begin with.
Whatever the story was, the results were the same, Vitor had the experience of a veteran, with the physique of a young upstart. History was made. Although looking back on it today, you have to wonder whether or not those three head kicks, which in all likeliness were coincidence, gave Vitor an unfair reputation vs his peers. Vitor wasn’t the first, nor the last fighter to dope, and isn’t really the most severe example either.
In the year since making that dreaded instagram post, Vitor hasn’t actually had his comeback fight yet. He signed with ONE FC, only to never fight there. Next month however, we will see him put on boxing gloves against retired Oscar De La Hoya in what will unfortunately be a sanctioned professional boxing match.
We’ll return to the circus in two weeks.