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Fortunes changed for five at UFC Fight Night 77

Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports
If you took photos of the Vitor Belfort who defeated Dan Henderson on November 9, 2013, and the Belfort who beat Henderson again Saturday night in Sao Paulo, Brazil, you could market them as "before" and "after" photos.

That is, if you reversed the dates of the "before" and "after."

But whatever the physical changes, the results of the two fights were virtually identical: head kicks leading to knockout finishes early in the first round.

To some, the result of the fight when Belfort's body looked so different would be affirmation that it was his added skills, and not his TRT, that led to his career resurgence where, at 36, he was a strong candidate for 2013 Fighter of the Year. Others would argue that if he was able to fight at this level clean, why was he ever granted an exemption for testosterone use in the first place? And still others, no matter how his physique changed, even though he now has to deal with unannounced testing at any time, and with TRT banned, that he's still doing something that is gaming the system.

Such is the controversy that is guaranteed to follow him and lead to questions about his career long after it's over.

If Belfort is clean now and was able to hurt middleweight champion Chris Weidman early, although he did lost that fight to ground and pound quickly, and able to finish Henderson, then he's not just able to function and live a normal life without it, but also compete at high levels at an advanced age. The entire idea of needing a therapeutic exemption for a drug is not to help you compete at an older age in sports, but because you physically need it for health.

Belfort's win gives him the 2-1 lifetime career edge over Henderson is a battle of two of the most enduring stars in the sports history. Yet, throughout the broadcast, Henderson was being championed as possibly the greatest American MMA fighter of all-time. Belfort got his due on the broadcast, and perhaps too much credit for his fluke UFC light heavyweight title win in 2004 when Randy Couture's eyelid was sliced by the seam of Belfort's glove and the fight had to be stopped, since Couture completely dominated the rematch. But Henderson, who it's no secret was using TRT from 2007 until it was banned in early 2014, has certainly not faced the questioning and scrutiny that Belfort has on the same subject. Belfort claims it's because most of the fighters using TRT were American and he became the face of TRT being Brazilian. Of course, that's ridiculous.

Whatever one thinks of the TRT era, Henderson never ran afoul of authorities during that seven-year-period. And while Henderson has some physical differences with two years ago, they aren't nearly as noticeable, nor were they inconsistent with the aging process.

The reality is that with Belfort, besides the most notable physical differences, is that it's because he was granted an exemption even after testing positive for testosterone in 2006, ironically on the night of his decision loss to Henderson. While on TRT, there was a suspicious test result in 2012 before a light heavyweight title fight with Jon Jones that just came out in a story in Deadspin. And in early 2014, his levels of testosterone while on TRT were above allowable levels in a surprise out-of-competition drug test in Nevada that was the catalyst for Nevada, and then the UFC, banning TRT.

And then there were the questions regarding his startling high level of testosterone in his tests prior to the Weidman fight. Those levels weren't close to illegal, but they were somewhat perplexing. The idea that someone, at 38, who had been using TRT for years based on the idea his natural testosterone levels had been dangerously low when he got the exemption, would somehow have relatively high levels years later after such therapy that usually results in lowering natural levels even more.

Some may defend him and say he can't win in the court of public opinion. Had he showed up looking like 2013 Belfort, nobody would believe he was clean. But he showed up looking altogether different, had the same result two years later against the same opponent, and it still cast a shadow on his career.

Let's look at how Fortunes Changed for Five stars of Saturday's Fight Night show.

VITOR BELFORT - Belfort (25-11) came into Saturday's fight as the No. 4 contender at middleweight, meaning he was the top guy below the division's big four of Weidman (13-0), Luke Rockhold (14-2), Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (22-3) and Yoel Romero (10-1).

With Weidman vs. Rockhold and Souza vs. Romero scheduled on Dec. 12, Belfort would seem to make sense against one of the losers of those two fights. Rockhold, if he doesn't beat Weidman, would make sense, given that Belfort has specifically asked for Rockhold. Belfort knocked out Rockhold with a spinning head kick during the TRT run in 2013, and Rockhold has complained about it ever since.

Other possible opponents would include Lyoto Machida (22-7), which would be a solid marquee fight, Tim Kennedy (18-5), who has taken time off but then asked for Belfort after Saturday's win, and even Anderson Silva (33-6). Silva knocked out Belfort in a 2011 fight that was instrumental in building the UFC's popularity in Brazil. From a pure marketability standpoint, the Silva fight, with the back story of the first fight, and the level of stars the two are in Brazil, makes the most sense.

DAN HENDERSON - At 45, after a knockout loss from the first flurry in the fight, there are obvious questions on whether to continue. Henderson was facing those questions in June, going into his fight with Tim Boetsch. Then he scored a 28 second knockout.

The power is the last thing to go on most fighters. Boetsch was basically just standing there as a target, and Henderson was able to take him out. But the reality is Henderson is still 2-6 in his last eight fights, and four of those losses were via knockout. Besides the Boetsch win, the other win since 2011, against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, was a fight he was looking bad in, but saved himself when he landed the punch that took Rua out. Prior to 2013 loss to Belfort, he had never been knocked out in a career that dates back to 1997.

That alone tells a story about a guy who had an iron chin and then got old, very similar to what happened to Chuck Liddell at the end of his career. Liddell had to be talked into retirement by an executive decision, and the same decision making process by Dana White would probably be wise move here.

Henderson gave no indication he was considering retirement, just saying, "I screwed up," for the reason the head kick landed that put him away.

If Henderson was to fight again, the match that makes the most sense is the one that he's indicated he doesn't want, which would be a rematch with Michael Bisping (27-7) at UFC 200. The two fought a memorable fight with Henderson winning by one of the most brutal and famous knockouts in history at UFC 100. Between the setting and Bisping's promotional ability, it would be a big fight once again. But Henderson in the past has said he's not intersected, based on the idea there's no way to win any more impressively than he did the first time, so he has nothing to gain from such a fight.

GLOVER TEIXEIRA - Teixeira (24-4) finds himself in the light heavyweight division in a somewhat similar position as Belfort at middleweight. Right now there is the top tier, which is Daniel Cormier, Jon Jones, Ryan Bader and Anthony Johnson, who are all fighting each other next, and he's the next guy on the list.

The choices would be to wait for the Bader vs. Johnson fight to happen at the end of January, figuring the winner of that gets a title shot, and he'd face the loser, or to face someone else. Alexander Gustafsson (16-4), would be the best opponent. Gustafsson would be the best possible win for Teixeira, even though Gustafsson is coming off two straight losses. Gustafsson just fought champion Cormier down to the wire. A win over Teixeira would get Gustafsson back in the thick of things. For Teixeira, if he could beat Gustafsson convincingly, he'd have done something neither Cormier nor Jones would have done.

The big issue for him is the title itself. With one more win, if Cormier retains against Jones, Teixeira could the most viable contender. But if Jones wins, given the nature of Jones' victory over Teixeira, a five-round domination at UFC 172, in a fight that wasn't all the exciting, nor drew very big on pay-per-view, it would be a far tougher sell.

THOMAS ALMEIDA - A 24-year-old fighter with a 21-0 record would be impressive even if he wasn't coming off three straight knockouts in UFC competition. Almeida was the fighter to watch coming out of Saturday's show.

Three names jump out as potential next opponents, John Dodson (17-7), who is moving up from flyweight to bantamweight, Aljamain Sterling (11-0), and John Lineker (26-7). Dodson, as the biggest name, would get Almeida into title contention the quickest. Lineker may be the most intriguing fight to hardcore fans because it's two knockout artists. 

Sterling poses a very different threat in his ability to get it to the ground, and Almeida thus far hasn't been tested by someone with Sterling's skill set.

Almeida still needs to top seven type win to establish himself as being able to beat a real top guy, but if he gets it, he'll be solidly in the top mix. With his age, if he can beat top guys now, he'll probably be in the top rungs of the division for years to come.

RASHID MAGOMEDOV - Magomedov (19-1), picked up his fourth straight UFC win in workmanlike fashion. He had previously unbeaten Gilbert Burns (10-1) in trouble in the second round and seemed to let him off the hook, to the point announcer Brian Stann was critical of him. Stann pointed out if Magomedov wanted to be a star and "put butts in the seats," he'd have to be more aggressive in trying to finish.

In a deep lightweight division, just scoring decision wins isn't going to get you noticed, and this was his sixth decision win in his last seven fights. The only finish, his prior fight with Elias Silverio on Dec. 20, came with three seconds left in the third round.

Despite the record, this win isn't going to get him a top title contender next most likely. Gleison Tibau (41-11), who won earlier in the show, would make a solid next opponent. If he's lucky and the timing works out right, Al Iaquinta (13-3-1), returning from an in injury, would be an opponent that could get him a stronger ranking with a win.

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