At UFC on FX 8 last Saturday night, Vitor Belfort continued his career resurgence with a breathtaking knockout of former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold. The spinning heel kick that landed flush to the side of the head of the favored Rockhold was a work of art inside the octagon, and most likely will give the 36 year old former Lightweight champion a second shot at long time Middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
What makes the resurgence of Belfort all the more impressive is that is is happening at the age of 36, on his third run with the UFC. In his last 11 fights, he is 9-2 and his only losses have come against the two best pound for pound fighters the sport has to offer in Jon Jones and Anderson Silva.
The asterisk on this remarkable accomplishment is his use of testosterone replacement therapy, better known to the sporting world as TRT. Belfort has acknowledged using this in the past, and has told MMAfighting.com’s Mike Chiappetta that “he felt everyone on TRT should be publicly outed.”
TRT does not guarantee victory within the octagon, and is not a magic potion that makes anyone a world-class athlete, fellow UFC fighters Dan Henderson, Rampage Jackson, and Chael Sonnen among others have lost fights while using TRT. That being said it does provide a significant boost in one’s abilities with age, making it a clear cut performance enhancer, despite it not being on the UFC’s list of banned substances.
Much like Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire in the early 90s when baseball’s steroid testing was far outdated, Belfort isn’t breaking any rules by using TRT, although many of his colleagues and members of the media have considered his resurgence controversial due to TRT.
According to the Mayo Clinic, male testosterone levels begin to decline at age 30, which coincidentally is an age commonly viewed as a wall for many athletes. Almost every NFL running back sees a significant spike in their production once they hit the age of 30, providing perhaps the most obvious support of this drop off. Testosterone Replacement Therapy is designed to counteract this drop in testosterone levels, which enables men to better build muscle mass, and even sharpens memory and concentration while boosting energy levels and libido.
Muscle mass, concentration, and energy are three key attributes a fighter in the UFC spends countless hours trying to better, and if TRT provides an unfair advantage in accomplishing this, it most likely will be banned in the near future.
For now, Belfort is doing nothing wrong in the eyes of the athletic commissions that sanction the UFC and its events, however the controversy around its use is only going to ramp up as more and more fighters and athletes are exposed for using it.
President Dana White of the UFC has handed out suspensions to many of his fighters for their use of other substances that aren’t necessarily even performance enhancing, such as marijuana, so the eventual crackdown on TRT seems likely.
For now however, it is something that is not against the rules. Belfort is playing within the rules of the game, and looks ready to continue down his recent path of victory, perhaps even becoming the middleweight champion. TRT has played a role in this, but there is no questioning his skill set, especially after displaying his brilliant kicking arsenal against Luke Rockhold on Saturday. There is no replacement for technique in MMA, it is only achieved through years of practice and experience, something Belfort has had since becoming the youngest man to win in the Octagon at age 19. TRT has no doubt helped his resurgence, but people shouldn’t forget that this isn’t the only factor in his remarkable comeback.
After his most recent victory, he certainly will be participating in a highly touted bout his next time around, and with the striking skills he has to work with, and age seemingly not a factor, ‘The Phenom’ should remain a force to be reckoned with moving forward.