Though the Blackzilians have been on a tear of late, it doesn’t mean they aren’t dealing in adversity. In fact, over the last couple of weeks dark clouds have once again rolled over Boca Raton, the hub of one of the country’s most dynamic teams.
Starting with Vitor Belfort, who was scheduled to face Chris Weidman at UFC 173 on May 24 for the middleweight belt. Depending on whose version you believe, Belfort either removed himself from the fight (or was plucked from the fight by the UFC) when the state of Nevada brought down the iron fist on TRT exemptions last week. The 36-year-old Belfort, who became synthetic testosterone’s whipping boy in 2013 with knockouts over Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson (all which occurred in Brazil), was thought to be one of the catalysts for the sudden NAC ban. An article came out in ESPN about TRT in MMA just days ahead of the ban, and Belfort was the chief subject.
Then there’s Alistair Overeem, who drew the ire of the Blackzilians own Anthony Johnson for being an absentee team member. He has since exiled himself to Thailand for training, Jamaica for vacation, and his native Holland for R&R as he recovers from a rib injury, suffered in his last outing against Frank Mir. Though Overeem won the fight, he lost the confidence of UFC president Dana White, who openly fumed about the heavyweight’s performance after UFC 169.
Then there’s Rashad Evans. Evans had to pull out of his big UFC 170 fight with Daniel Cormier with a torn ACL just a little over a week before the bout was to happen. As the unspoken captain of the Blackzilians, Evans appeared on Monday’s MMA Hour to discuss not only what’s been going on with him, but with his teammates.
Particularly Belfort, who right now is in a TRT-less no man’s land after finally climbing up the rungs for a 185-pound title shot.
"I don’t know, hopefully he gets the title shot," Evans told host Ariel Helwani. "The thing with [Vitor] having to pull out -- or the fact that he had to be pulled out -- was that he wouldn’t have been able to pass the inspection with the new rules. Because it takes at least 12 weeks for [TRT] to be out of your system. He didn’t have that. So he wouldn’t have been able to within the rules and regulations of it."
As the intensity over TRT has grown, so has the scathing attitudes towards Belfort, who tested positive for steroids back in 2006 while fighting in Pride in the state of Nevada. As his story has unfolded over the last year, from the remarkable transformation of his career to the perceived transmutation of his body, so have the asterisks flooded in over each knockout victory.
Evans, for one, doesn’t think that the bombastic outrage over TRT use should fall to Belfort alone. In fact, he said on the show that too much is made of TRT’s role in Belfort’s revival to begin with.
"I don’t think he needs to compete with TRT," he said. "[Vitor]’s a great fighter, great athlete -- he doesn’t need any. I see so many people, they say such negative and nasty things about him and there’s been people that can make him the face of TRT, like there wasn’t so many other fighters who’ve done it, and [who still do] it.
"I don’t really think it’s fair for people to put that on him and make it seem like he’s a cheater when he was only doing what was in the rules to do. I hope he does get a chance to fight for the belt, and I hope he does get a chance to show people that him winning those fights had nothing to do with the TRT, it was just his ability and hard work."
Even with the touchy subject of a teammate finding himself in the center of an ongoing controversy, Evans said he can understand why the NAC decided to ban TRT -- and all its negative connotations -- for good.
"You know, the commission does what it has to do," he said. "They were having a hard time with the whole situation. It was causing quit a bit of stir, to be honest, it was causing a big distraction. With a sport like mixed martial arts, I really don’t think it does the sport any good to have a label like that attached to it. We’re still a sport, we’re still growing.
"But once the whole TRT thing got out and it’s been made to be such a big thing, I think it just only at that point just starts to do nothing but bad. Because people really didn’t understand it. People didn’t understand the whole TRT thing, and many people were just kind of like, ‘these guys are juicing, they’re on ’roids.’ They didn’t really understand the whole process of the TRT thing. So once it became the point of misunderstanding, then they did what they needed to do to get rid of it because at that point all our athletes would be looked at as not competing in the right way."
Another hot subject -- one with his own associations to the whole steroids/TRT discussion -- is Overeem, who’s no longer a member of the Blackzilians…and perhaps never was. The UFC’s newly signed Anthony Johnson told Fox Sports that Overeem wasn’t really a Blackzilian, so much as "Team Alistair," which echoes other grumblings about the heavyweight’s time in Boca Raton.
"Those two never really got along with each other," Evans said of the Johnson/Overeem relationship on the show. "You know, I never really had a problem with Overeem. He was always cool to me, but to Anthony’s point, he never really did give the team a chance. Whenever he did his camp, he would always seclude himself into his own little private thing. A lot of people didn’t take too kindly to it.
"For me, I didn’t worry about it too much because I knew what I had to do for myself, and I knew that, if he don’t want to use the team, if he don’t believe in the team or whatever, that’s on him. That’s on him. I can’t tell him how to train, he’s a grown man. He’s been doing this for a while, I can’t tell him what he needs to do. He made the choice that he made and he got the results that he got, and that was on him."
Though Evans said he didn’t feel the same divide that "Rumble" did with Overeem, he did concede that the climate at the gym in Florida was better these days without the added negative energy.
"I don’t dislike [Alistair] as a person. I’m not going to say I’m happy he’s not on the team, because that’s not true," he said. "I just, overall I guess I’m happy that our team is in a position where we’re not in conflict with each other.
"He’s not training with us anymore. A lot of the guys didn’t like him not being a part of the team. They didn’t like him separating himself from the team. They felt like it was very arrogant, and it wasn’t what we’re about."