White repeated that sentiment on Tuesday, stating on a conference call that Belfort "definitely" still held claim to middleweight's top spot, despite his upcoming light heavyweight bout against Dan Henderson.
Where the two sides differ, though, is whether Belfort's UFC Fight Night 32 date with Henderson has the chance to affect his 185-pound ranking.
"If [Belfort] loses to Dan Henderson, could he still fight for the title? No, I don't think so," White said.
"Vitor's got to win the fight. This isn't one of those fights where he's moving up to light heavyweight to fight Jon Jones. He's fighting another 185-pounder. They just decided not to cut weight, to fight at 205."
In the wake of spectacular knockout wins over Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold earlier this year, Belfort (23-10) campaigned aggressively for a middleweight title shot against the winner of Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva I. However the bizarre nature of Weidman's victory, couple with Silva's astonishing era of dominance, led to the booking of an immediate rematch, set for December 28, 2013.
With the middleweight division effectively on hold until then, Belfort refused to fight again at 185 pounds unless it was for a title shot, believing himself to be the division's rightful No. 1 contender. Belfort instead offered to fight at a catchweight, light heavyweight, or even heavyweight, with the belief that a bout held in a different division would have no bearing on his middleweight standing.
"I think me and Vitor always have different ideas of what we think things mean," White said flatly to the notion.
Regardless of any disagreements, Belfort, like Henderson, is a grizzled veteran of the sport with a career stretching back to the mid-1990's. So while White acknowledges that Henderson should "possibly start thinking about retirement" if he loses his third fight in a row, it's clear that White respects what Belfort has been able to accomplish during his late-career resurgence.
"The Vitor Belfort of today is nothing like the Vitor Belfort of the past," White said. "There [used to be] lots of speculation about Vitor's mental (game), where he was mentally when he goes into a fight. And you haven't seen that at all lately. Mentally he is a beast, physically he is a beast. He looks more well-rounded than ever."