At 36 years of age, Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort has never looked better. After blasting through Luke Rockhold on Saturday night at UFC on FX, the Brazilain made a statement in the middleweight division in a career re-emergence worthy of what would appear to have earned him another crack at Anderson Silva’s title. With such a showing, Belfort has proven to the MMA world that he still has gas left in the tank and at what has been known to be an advanced age, he’s displaying a spirit that, with some exceptions, is unheard of for men of his age. To be able to still compete and be successful in one of the most challenging sports in the world is no easy assignment and Belfort looks to be doing it with little resistance. Witnessing such a late revival as this, you have to ask yourself: Is it a testament to a newly inspired training regimen or is it the help of a the much talked about testosterone replacement procedure he has been undergoing?

While it must first be expressed that hard work, and only hard work, creates success, it must also be noted that the ability to stay healthy and put in that work is often a very difficult task. It’s not unheard of for at least a handful of fighters to have to withdraw from an event with an injury. There are even that many more that battle through injuries and force themselves to honor their contractual obligation, only to come up short in what can best be described as a lackluster performance. It’s safe to say that none of these fighters, if approached with the legal opportunity to prolong their careers, would be opposed to the idea of doing what it takes to stay healthy.

Testosterone Replacement Therapy, or TRT as it is often referred to, could be the solution to that problem. It doesn’t give a competitor super human characteristics. It doesn’t even make for an improved technical fighter. What it does do, however, is enhance the athlete’s ability to recover and allow him to continue the arduous training process that is necessary to prepare for and compete at the highest level. In Belfort’s case, at 36 years old and after a storied career that has seen him in some unbelievable battles with the world’s best, he can now hit the gym as hard as ever before and expect to wake up the following day with the exuberance of a 20 year-old.

Whether or not there’s a direct correlation with Belfort’s recent success and his use of TRT, it still comes with an air of controversy. Yes, Belfort is prescribed TRT under the supervision of his doctor and, yes, he was granted a therapeutic use exemption by the Brazilian commission for both of his bouts with Rockhold and Michael Bisping, each resulting in knockouts by head-kicks. However, it’s also a fact that he failed a post-fight drug screening after competing in 2006 for Pride Fighting Championships in Las Vegas. Because of this, it will be impossible to convince many that he is now in need of the drug due to his age as it is widely speculated that past steroid abuse will lead to low testosterone later in life.

Outside of the obvious judgment placed on “The Phenom”, it may also be difficult to be cleared by numerous stateside governing bodies in the event he seeks a future fight in the United States. Keith Kizer, Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, spoke to Bleacher Report on the subject and had this to say:

“I don’t see Vitor Belfort getting a TRT exemption from us. I really don’t and I feel kind of bad for him in some ways because if he has learned from his mistakes and now he’s trying to do it the right way and his levels are low with the treatment, good for him, and I hope he is doing that. The rules are the rules and you have to draw the line somewhere.”

If fighters have a history of any failed tests, it has been expressed by many of the athletic commissions that they will refuse exemption for use of TRT in any future fights. This could prove to be a major speed bump in finding a place to compete in the future for Belfort. Either he be placed on events only occurring outside the U.S. or he makes the decision to refrain from the therapy while competing inside of it.

All controversy and speculation aside, Belfort has looked phenomenal as of late. In his last 11 fights, he has won nine, with only losses to, arguably, the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet in Anderson Silva and Jon Jones. While TRT may have played a part in helping the Brazilian prepare, it’s mythical to believe that it made him a better, more technically sound, fighter. Still, with all things considered, Belfort will find it a difficult journey making a case for himself in the eyes of fans and pundits alike and finding acceptance in this late part of his career.

In case you missed it, you can find Vitor’s highlight reel KO of Rockhold here.


Photo by Jason Da Silva – USA TODAY Sports