Fightweets: Vitor Belfort becomes the face of The TRT Era

Chris Trotman

There were basically three stories that mattered in MMA this week: Whether Ronda Rousey vs. Cyborg Justino will ever happen; Gilbert Melendez's new deal; and the big one, the Nevada Athletic Commission banning theraputic use exemptions for testosterone replacement therapy in combat sports, followed by Vitor Belfort pulling out of his UFC 173 middleweight title shot against Chris Weidman and being replaced by Lyoto Machida.

So without further ado, onto this week's Fightweets, which is all about the Big Three and issues left in their aftermath.

TRT, Vitor, etc.

@1MeanLobo: When do you think Vitor is gonna announce an "injury" so he doesn't have to fight in Nevada?

For the record, this tweet came in, oh, about 15 seconds after the TRT ban was announced Thursday. Let's face it: By pulling out of the fight (and this comes with the qualifier that there are legitimate medical concerns about withdrawing from TRT mid-course), Belfort just sealed his legacy as the face of the TRT Era. Before this week, Belfort's fans could point around at other users and claim with some validity that Belfort was being picked on. But Belfort pulled out of his title shot (attempts at semantic posturing Friday notwithstanding) , amid rumors regarding an out-of-competition drug test (the results of which won't go public unless Belfort chooses to do so). This comes Belfort knocked people's heads off left and right on TRT, and of course, he has his 2006 steroid suspension on his record. This all has a feel similar to watching all those juiced-up baseball players in front of Congress trying to blame everyone but themselves.

@reverendruckus: Dan Henderson should send Vitor a thank you card. Hendo is just as filthy & no one talks about it.

Nope. That line of reasoning is out the window. Henderson actually went ahead and fought Rashad Evans at UFC 161 without TRT when he couldn't get an exemption. And Hendo's never been busted in a career that spans back as far as Belfort's does.

@RuckerYeah: Whoa! Nevada bans TRT. Did anyone see this coming?

It was pretty well known that the door was open to changes in the first major NAC (And it is NAC, not NSAC) meeting since Keith Kizer stepped down as executive director. But most informed speculation held that we wouldn't see any major change until after a new director came in.

Boy, was that wrong. In one fell swoop, the country's most influential athletic commission eliminated the most egregious thing wrong with the sport: That some fighters were given a green light to cheat. Think of Nevada in this case the way you normally do California. If the state of California makes a law that affects an industry, it affects the entire country, because a business can't lose a market with 35 million people, so they have to adjust their products to conform to California's regulations. Likewise, a fighter is going to have to fight in Las Vegas eventually if they're going to make it. You saw the instantaneous chain reaction, from the UFC following suit (and if nothing else, credit Dana White's consistency when he says his company follows commissions' leads), to other commissions making statements, to Belfort pulling out.

This, of course, does nothing to address illegal performance-enhancing drugs. But banning TRT was a huge, important first step.

Incidentally, while the TRT ban was far and away the biggest thing that came out of Thursday's meeting, don't overlook some subtle but important moves the commission made on the officiating end of things. For one, NAC approved Jason Herzog, an underrated referee who has most notably worked in California. For years, all we heard from Kizer was that there was no room for new referees, usually when asked why "Big" John McCarthy wasn't in town. Herzog is an improvement over more than one of the referees in regular Nevada rotation. Nevada also approved several new judges, including Derek Cleary, who was the only judge who had the common sense to call Edson Barboza vs. Danny Castillo at UFC on FOX 9 a 28-28 draw. These moves indicate the commission was aware they've had problems with officiating, and they're proactively moving to fix it.

Ronda and Cyborg

@RubbyRozay: Is Dana White Overprotecting Ronda Rousey from Cyborg ?

@BooneCowan: Fair to say the UFC is ducking Cyborg? Seems she agrees to everything they want and they still won't make it.

This has been a fairly common sentiment this week, and it's not hard to see why it comes off that way. Ronda Rousey, after all, can garner the UFC crossover, mainstream media attention in a way no other fighter on the roster can. And she did the UFC a solid and basically saved UFC 170 by agreeing to fight twice in eight weeks. Remember, the original main event for this card was Daniel Cormier vs. Rashad Evans ... which would have meant without Rousey defending her bantamweight title against Sara McMann, the main event would have been DC vs. Patrick Cummins. Think about that for a minute.

It also doesn't help that White clings to former Cyborg manager Tito Ortiz's claim that Rousey would "die" if she tried to cut down to 135 pounds. That marks the first and only time in recorded history that White has taken Ortiz's words at face value on anything. And while Cyborg has tested positive for steroids, it's not like she'd be the first UFC fighter to be licensed after a PED bust.

However, let's not forget there are also valid concerns before we go straight to a Rousey-Cyborg fight. Cyborg is taking the right approach by going down to bantamweight in Invicta. She's big for a featherweight, never mind bantamweight, and needs to prove she can do this before she's just handed a title shot.

I'm also not necessarily opposed to the notion of having Cyborg fight a contender in the UFC before she gets a title shot, either. Look, other than a fading Marloes Coenen, who has Justino beaten of note in the last, oh, four years or so? This could be one of those situations like the latter days of Fedor Emelianenko's reign, in which he got rusty against subpar competition, then came into Strikeforce and found the game had changed. (Random thought, while we're on the subject of Fedor ... remember when Fedor vs. Brett Rogers was presented as a serious, elite, network TV-worthy main event? Funny how the people who most vocally ripped DC-Cummins were the ones who swallowed Fedor-Rogers whole).

Anyway, all that said, when push comes to shove, if the pieces fall into place, Rousey vs. Cyborg has the potential to be the biggest fight the UFC can put on any time soon. This is during a period in which the UFC needs every marquee fight it can get. And for that reason, even with all the hurdles in place, you get the feeling that as long as Ronda doesn't bail for Hollywood, this fight will get made at some point.

Gilbert Melendez saga

@AsaphBitner: How surprised should we be that Dana White chose to capitulate to Melendez instead of letting him go and besmirching him?

Well, first off, it was Lorenzo Fertitta who handled the latter end of Gilbert Melendez's negotiations, after talks between White and Melendez's agent, Rudolphe Beaulieu (who also represents GSP), broke down.

There are so many threads and layers to the Melendez-UFC-Bellator saga, I'm going to tackle them individually rather than jumble them all into one.

*The UFC's stated intention of wanting to have all the best talent in MMA took a bit of a hit last year when guys like Jon Fitch and Yushin Okami were cut last year. But while they were able to get away with those, thanks to their high price tags on the edge of their career downsides, letting Melendez go to the competition would have been another matter entirely.

This isn't a fighter who was on the edge of his downside. This is basically the No. 2 lightweight in the world, who was one bad judging card away from winning the UFC title last year. And while he has a well-rounded skill set, he's not afraid to mix it up and put on a crowd-pleasing brawl when the situation calls for it. El Niño would have turbocharged what's already Bellator's strongest division at lightweight. The UFC ultimately understood that while their machine could have chugged along without Melendez just fine, letting a fighter of his caliber walk would have done real damage to their claim they're serious about having the best fight the best.

*Bellator comes out of this looking good, too. They saw an opportunity to make their lightweight division a real player in the industry, took their best shot, and took the high road when things didn't go their way. Despite not landing Melendez, it was a much-needed dose of good publicity. And if Bjorn Rebney truly does go after big-name free agents more frequently, that's a good thing for everyone in the long run. At this point, only the blindest UFC haters consider Zuffa a monopoly.

*The only minor negative coming out of this is that we'll have to wait a seriously long time for Melendez's title challenge against Anthony Pettis. Assuming they're going on the usual TUF shooting schedule, that would place the bout in December, which means we'll go more than a year without either Pettis or Melendez fighting. Then again, if the long break finally heals Pettis' injury once and for all, then that's good in the long run, too.

*Finally, let's strip aside all the politics, fight game stuff, and all the rest of the B.S.: Anyone who's dealt with Melendez over the years know's he is one of the industry's true stand-up people, a smart, honest guy who is true to his family and friends. Melendez never lost sight of the big picture, handled his business right, and put himself in position to live a solid life once his fighting days are done. It's good to see one of the good ones done right.

@THe_AaronOBrien: Will Pettis vs Melendez headline a PPV or FOX card when the time comes?

I'd say like 99.999 percent chance pay-per-view. Melendez's contract calls for 75 percent of his fights to go on PPV. If he loses to Pettis on FOX, he's not going to be as sellable for the company on PPV going forward. So there's more money to be made for all involved when the value is at its high point, coming off 12 weeks' TV exposure.

@auggie85: what's up with Nate? Will he get the release he wants or is he just looking for attention.

Sure sounds like Nate Diaz heard what his Skrap Pack teammate is making and isn't happy, doesn't it? Part of me almost thinks they should let him go. Unlike with Melendez, Diaz has lost two of his last three fights and if he goes somewhere like Bellator and is successful, they could say a guy on his downside in the UFC is cleaning up the opposition's division. But I don't think UFC would seriously consider letting him go, simply because of the precedent it could set if they give in to someone's demands to be let go over Twitter.

Got a question for a future Fightweets? Go to my Twitter page and leave me a tweet.

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