Vitor Belfort faces Dan Henderson for a third time on Nov. 7, but the match-up became the least important thing six weeks before the fight after a recent report. Deadspin reported that "The Phenom" had elevated testosterone levels before facing 205-pound champion Jon Jones in 2012, but the UFC didn’t pull him off the card.
Henderson, who takes on the Brazilian at the UFC Fight Night 77 in Sao Paulo, wasn’t surprised with the news.
"I wasn’t surprised he failed the drug test," Henderson told MMAFighting.com, "I was just surprised that it didn’t come out until now. You know, it happened two, three years ago."
Two weeks after the report came out, UFC PR Dave Sholler denied that the promotion covered up Belfort’s sketchy test in 2012.
"I think one of the things to keep in mind with this particular topic is, any suggestion or inference that there was a coverup in regards to that was categorically false," Sholler said at the UFC 192 post-fight press conference.
The UFC recently partnered with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to test fighters in and out of competition. Henderson, who requested this fight to take place in the United States, feels safer knowing that USADA will be in charge of the drug testing in Brazil.
"I’m excited about it. Obviously, I’d rather fight Vitor in the States this time, but I’m okay with it," he said of fighting in Brazil for a third time since returning to the UFC. "I always loved going down to Brazil and have a good time. The fans are very passionate about mixed martial arts, so hopefully some will be cheering for me, and not all for Vitor."
About their rematch in 2013, when both were under testosterone replacement therapy, Henderson isn’t sure his opponent was using something more.
"I don’t know. I mean, who knows what Vitor was taking, I just know that his body looked completely different," he said. "I don’t know, I just think… I’m beating Vitor regardless of him being on drugs or not. I’m still capable of beating him, and I’m happy that the UFC has implemented its drug testing, something that I’ve been asking for a long time."
The former PRIDE and Strikeforce champion says he was drug tested twice by USADA leading up to UFC Fight Night 77, even though the USADA website states he was tested three times.
"It definitely helps doing out-of-competition drug testing, with no advanced notice," Henderson said. "That’s something I had in my life for a long time, being on the national Olympic team for wrestling in the United States. For 15 years, I was subject to it. When I started fighting MMA there was no drug testing. I’m pretty happy now, and I’m confident that be sure Vitor and other fighters won’t use PEDs."
Looking to avenge the first knockout loss of his career against "The Phenom", the 45-year-old veteran expects a dangerous fight in Brazil despite Belfort’s disappointing performance against Chris Weidman in May, when he competed for the first time in years without TRT.
"Vitor always has been and continuous to be a very dangerous fighter," he said. "He’s got heavy hands, he’s got quick hands. He’s not afraid to get out there and try to knock you out. I don’t think that will change. I do want to make him work in this fight. I’m happy to go five rounds with him. Even at my age, I actually prefer to go five rounds and beat Vitor after five rounds."
"I’d like to finish him, even in seconds, but, you know, like I said, I’m prepared to go five rounds" he continued. "I’m good either way. Thirty seconds and I knock him out quick or I beat him up for five rounds. As long as I win, I’m good."
Coming off a 28-second stoppage victory over Tim Boetsch in June, Henderson believes a big win over Belfort would help him move closer to a shot at the UFC belt -- but that’s not his goal at the moment.
"I’m not even thinking about that. Right now I’m just focused on Vitor," he said. "If I beat him up pretty handily, I’m sure that helps. But at this point the only thing I care about is beating Vitor. So, it doesn’t matter to me other than me doing what I’m capable of with Vitor."
The Team Quest veteran fought for the UFC gold twice, losing to Quinton Jackson for the light heavyweight belt in 2007, and tapping to Anderson Silva in a 185-pound championship a year later. Seven years later, Henderson admits he might be slower, but feels better than when he battled "The Spider" at UFC 82.
"I’m definitely a better fighter now," said Henderson, who won nine out of 15 since losing to Silva. "Obviously, I’m a little bit older as well, and I’m sure certain things are a little slower, but for the most part I’m a much better fighter than I was then. I feel that I’m still just as powerful and dangerous as I was then."
[Ed. note: The original publication of this story read that Vitor Belfort failed a drug test. The text has been altered to accurately depict Deadspin's initial report.]