Chris Weidman’s first middleweight title defense and second consecutive defeat of long reigning champion Anderson Silva is only a weekend old, but nonetheless, the UFC is already making plans to book the young champion’s next title defense for the coming spring or early summer. Further, they want to do it in Las Vegas.
As UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta confirmed today via a text message to ESPN.com, his venue of preference would be “Sin City.”
As Fertitta texted:
"Depending on Chris Weidman, I'd like to do Vegas May or July."
Of course, under normal circumstances this wouldn’t be a problem. However, there might be an issue with scheduling the fight for Las Vegas, and all as a result of who Chris will be fighting.
As fans know and was formally announced this past weekend at the UFC 168 post-fight press conference in Las Vegas, Weidman’s next opponent is the Brazilian terror Vitor Belfort. And as fans also know, there’s been much debate about whether or not "The Phenom" can be licensed in Las Vegas, and due to a previous suspension for steroid use, as well as his current (known & sanctioned) testosterone replacement therapy avail; “TRT”.
Belfort has more than earned his shot, there can be no debate. Since his last loss and title opportunity in the middleweight division, a fight that saw Belfort fall prey to an Anderson Silva KO front-kick, the Phenom has looked all but unstoppable. Going five for five in the class since his UFC 126 loss, Belfort has glided through his contests with four T/KOs’ and one submission, stopping anything and everything in his path; inclusive of KO’ing Dan Henderson at UFN 32, back in November of last year; an achievement that no other fighter had ever accomplished against the veteran. Further, of his five consecutive victories at 185 pounds only one fighter, Michael Bisping, has managed to make it past the first round with Belfort; “The Count” survived to round two.
However and through his last six fights, only one has taken place in the United States; UFC 133, Belfort vs. Akiyama in Philadelphia. As for the remainder of his bouts, Vitor fought Jon Jones in Toronto at UFC 152 in September of 2012, and then subsequently followed up with three consecutive matches in Brazil in 2013.
As such, many fans have begun to speculate that the UFC has been hiding Belfort away in Brazil and purposefully keeping him out of Vegas, because they can’t get him licensed in the state by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC).
However and on this point, Dana White has emphatically denied the claim. As such, the promotion’s president has stated that the reason why the franchise schedules Belfort’s fights in Brazil and not Nevada, has everything to do with his popularity in his homeland, and nothing to do with any licensing problems in Las Vegas.
To this, NSAC commissioner Keith Kizer has been a little bit more reserved in his declarations, stating that it’s doubtful that Belfort would be licensed in the state. And from what can be gathered, Kizer’s stance has nothing to do with Belfort’s previous drug infraction, but rather is predicated on Vitor’s current TRT use; on this point, Belfort’s fans, as well as possibly the UFC itself, balk and for good reason.
Belfort is not the only fighter to have tested positive for steroids, nor is he the only fighter in the UFC or MMA in general, to be have a therapeutic use exemption; a “TUE”. Simply put and to Belfort’s fans, and Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White would be Belfort fans, it seems as if Vitor is being singled out for special treatment, and to the exclusion of all other fighters; namely people such as Chael Sonnen or Frank Mir, just to name two for example. As such, the argument becomes that Belfort is being treated unfairly by the commission.
Either way, it appears that the UFC is going to put the issue to the test and see if the match can be scheduled for Vegas. If not, then the fight will simply be moved to another state or country, and Nevada and its commission can have their capricious standards, but alas not the revenue from the fight; problem solved.
The only other note to be raised would be what Fertitta stated about “depending on” Chris Weidman. As Chris is now the middleweight champion, the “All-American” must defend his belt and he has no choice, regarding either opponent or venue. As such, it’s hard to see what might “depend” on Chris doing or agreeing to.
However and to the point, Weidman’s boxing coach Ray Longo doesn’t appear to be in a TUE coddling mood and remarked as such, this past Saturday, stating:
"I know Chris is beating the guy but why give him an advantage. Why does he deserve that? All he did was abuse his body with steroids so that now he needs the exemption; it's bulls**t."
To that, Belfort’s fans might muse that if Longo is so confident that his 29 year old protégées can beat the 36 year old Belfort, that he shouldn’t be worried about Belfort’s monitored testosterone levels.
Of course, to fans of both fighters they probably don’t care much about any of this or even where the fight takes place, just so long as Belfort gets his title shot and both fighters are injury free for the match. To that part of the UFC fan demographic there will be no winner or loser in the fight, but only smiles to be had when both are announced into the ring.
Truly it will be a great fight and it doesn’t matter if it’s Las Vegas or televised from somebody’s backyard, fans will show up and tune in.