Middleweight title contender Vitor Belfort won’t be appearing at UFC 175 as the promotion has been unable to secure a late replacement opponent to face him on the July 5 card in Las Vegas. Belfort was left without a dance partner after Chael Sonnen was pulled from the event after failing a random drug test.
While it’s disappointing to lose Belfort for one of the higher-profile events of the year, there are other attractive options for the UFC to consider moving forward. “The Phenom” is on the cusp of a title shot thanks to three consecutive knockout victories over Dan Henderson, Luke Rockhold and Michael Bisping. He will no doubt be a keen observer in the upcoming middleweight title fight between Chris Weidman and Lyoto Machida.
The Brazilian had actually been slated to face Weidman at UFC 173 but was replaced by Machida after the Nevada State Athletic Commission voted to ban TRT. Belfort is in the transition period off of testosterone replacement therapy and still needs approval for licensing in that state. He recently admitted to failing a random drug test in February and had been scheduled to appear before the commission on June 17. That hearing was cancelled when he was pulled from the UFC 175 event. The Weidman-Machida clash was pushed back from May 24 to July 5 because of a knee injury to the champion.
Belfort had a previous shot at the middleweight crown back at UFC 126 but was stopped in the first round by Anderson Silva. There are no shortage of strong candidates in the running to face Belfort next, if the promotion wants to see him post one more victory to get another 185-pound title opportunity.
Both Rockhold and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza have already expressed an interest in facing Belfort later this summer now that he’s been removed from the July show. Another dark horse potential candidate to face the explosive Belfort could be Gegard Mousasi.
Rockhold has been aggressively lobbying for a rematch after he was blasted out in the first round by Belfort in his UFC debut in Brazil. The former Strikeforce champion has surged into the no. 5 ranking thanks to back-to-back first-round finishes of Costas Philippou and Tim Boetsch.
Souza has gone 3-0 in his UFC tenure including a decision win in his last appearance over Francis Carmont at Fight Night 36 in Brazil. He’s been on the shelf since that February clash after undergoing elbow surgery but has quickly emerged as a legitimate title threat. Souza’s most impressive Octagon effort was a one-round demolition of Yushin Okami.
The no. 7 ranked Mousasi is another former Strikeforce champion looking to claim future UFC gold. He is a very technical striker and possesses the chin and submission skills to represent a strong challenge for Belfort. Mousasi saw his stock soar with a first-round finish of Mark Munoz at Fight Night 41 in Germany. It was a strong rebound for “The Dreamcatcher” after a loss to Machida at Fight Night 36.
It’ll be an interesting call for matchmakers in making the next booking for Belfort. I’d be in favour of seeing the UFC book a Belfort-Souza bout. In the end, whatever direction the organization elects to take, Belfort’s next fight will be one with major title implications.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports