Vitor Belfort's knockout win over Luke Rockhold last Saturday predictably received quite a bit of attention in the hours that followed. There were those who simply wanted to enjoy it for the "wow" factor, and others who used it as a springboard to delve once again into the debate over testosterone replacement therapy. Both viewpoints have validity. As Belfort's supporters note, he is not breaking any rules. As his detractors point out, his past positive drug test places him under greater scrutiny than some other TRT users.
I chose to write about Belfort's TRT use on Sunday, and many of those who commented on my column noted that Belfort seems to get far more criticism than other TRT users like Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen. This may be true, although it's hard to tell because there are no verifiable metrics to prove it. I will say that winning changes the discussion. I will also say that our knowledge of TRT has grown quite a bit over the last year, when Belfort has been active and winning, and Sonnen and Hendo have been either absent or losing.
The truth about the TRT debate is that there is no easy answers about it. It is not a wonder drug. If it was, Frank Mir would be the heavyweight champion of the world. It is also not the only drug in town. Others are cheating behind closed doors, and there is an argument to be made that at least someone like Belfort is trying to do things on the up and up.
But even if it is legal, the whole of the TRT landscape in MMA seems out of whack. While it is true that a few athletes may have a legitimate, verifiable need for it, the number of cases we've seen in MMA makes it a near statistical certainty that some fighters are either gaming the system or getting bad advice from doctors. Belfort may well have a real need for it, and it would be irresponsible for me to suggest that he doesn't. But in 2013, whether you're a pro fighter, a football player or a golfer, this is the reality you face as a pro athlete. If you go this route, skepticism will follow, and the criticism of the treatment is yours to own along with its benefits.
On to the predictions ...
After notching another knockout, Belfort has the best middleweight contender resume of anyone not named Chris Weidman. The UFC could wait for the middleweight title match between Weidman and Anderson Silva, and have Belfort face the winner, or give him one more fight against a name like "Jacare" or Yushin Okami.
Prediction: I think they'll wait and see what happens. If Silva beats Weidman, we get the Belfort-Silva rematch. If Silva loses to Weidman, he gets an automatic Weidman rematch and Belfort moves on to the next best contender, someone like "Jacare."
After 10 months off, Rockhold faced a tough task, stepping in against a rejuvenated Belfort. For all the talk about TRT, yes, it's also fair to say that Belfort has added some new tricks to his arsenal, and that comes through hard work. I pointed out in my breakdown before the fight that if Rockhold had any trouble, it would be early, due to reacclimatizing himself to the speed of the fight. He never got the chance.
Prediction: A fight with Michael Bisping makes sense now
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza
Here's another former Strikeforce stud who went underappreciated fighting in Zuffa's junior circuit. If there was any question over whether he was for real, he answered it by steamrolling the surging Chris Camozzi. Of course, there's still one more level on the UFC middleweight totem pole, and he's not far from reaching it.
Prediction: As mentioned, Belfort is a possibility, but if it's not him, how about he draws Okami in a dangerous matchup for both.
Rafael dos Anjos
With wins in five of his last six bouts including Saturday's close call over Evan Dunham, dos Anjos steps into the top 10, where something significant must be on the horizon.
Prediction: He fights Pat Healy when Healy returns from his suspension
Natal doesn't blow you away with any one thing he does, but he is certainly a true professional, always coming into his bouts in great shape, and taking over late when his opponent fades. In each of his last two fights, he won mostly because of his conditioning. Still, though while he's won four of his last five, he's yet to make much of a dent in the division.
Prediction: He faces CB Dollaway when Dollaway is ready to return from injury towards the end of the year
Hacran Dias was the proud owner of a nine-fight win streak until running into Lentz, who has seen his career rejuvenated since moving down to featherweight. Lentz's grinding style and stifling top control will be challenged as he moves into the upper echelons of a division that is stocked with good wrestlers, including the likes of Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes and Frankie Edgar. For now though, he still has room to grow.
Prediction: He faces the winner of the UFC 162 matchup between Cub Swanson and Dennis Siver
Do you know that Gleison Tibau has competed 19 times in the octagon? That's tied for 11th most all time. More amazing? Though it seems like he's been around forever, he's still just 29. Is this the time he finally realizes his potential?
Prediction: He's matched up with Ross Pearson
Flyweights with power are a rare breed, which makes Lineker an especially intriguing prospect. Just 23, he has knockouts in four of his last seven wins. He's also capable of keeping the frantic pace that the 125-pounders are known for. If the rest of his game tightens up, the UFC may find themselves with a gem.
Prediction: He fights Tim Elliott