Belfort, dubbed "The Phenom" from the early days of his pro career, says life has never been better, inside or outside the octagon. A sweaty, tightly muscled figure, he chugged from a Muscle Milk bottle and playfully fussed over his two young daughters -- Victoria, 6; and Kyara, 4 -- after a recent grueling gym workout with his Blackzilian fight team in Boca Raton, Fla.
"Eighteen years doing this, my friend," Belfort told a reporter. "Eighteen years -- combat sport. I think you will not find this in history, I believe."
When prodded, Belfort (24-10, winner of eight of his past 10 fights -- seven via KO or TKO) insists the synthetic testosterone regimen hasn't fueled his longevity or late-career revival, which he describes at one point as "devastating people" and "taking guys' heads off." He called the injections a legal, necessary treatment, not an enhancement -- much like insulin for a diabetic. The injections raise his hormone levels back to healthy, normal levels. Without them, he couldn't make a living.
Belfort, who tested positive for the anabolic steroid 4-Hydroxytestosterone in 2006, cast himself as the most transparent, drug-tested athlete in the sport. "I am telling you, many fighters [are] out there doing drugs, enhancement drugs," he said. "And they don't get tested for it. They don't get tested in camp. I do. ... Other people do TRT and they never go public. I am not ashamed. I am very loyal to my principles. And that is what I do."
"We have, like, tons of fighters with TRT," Belfort said. "It looks like just me. ... I feel condemned right now. And I am doing everything legal."
Yet Belfort, who is training for a late May title fight with middleweight champion Chris Weidman at UFC 173 in Las Vegas, looms ominously over a sport maneuvering through the TRT conundrum. Belfort is expected to appeal to the Nevada State Athletic Commission for an exemption to stay on testosterone therapy for the Weidman fight, which is complicated by the fact that the same commission suspended him in 2006 after a positive steroid test.
Belfort has been a lightning rod, even with his past five fights staged outside the country -- including four in his native Brazil, where he's been allowed to fight under TRT by a Brazilian commission loosely aligned with his UFC promoter. The medical director, Dr. Marcio Tannure, also has been retained independently at times by the UFC. According to Belfort, the Brazilian doctor also has a role in an unrelated DNA study the fighter is participating in.
Dr. Tannure and UFC officials refused multiple interview requests for this story, even after asking for and receiving written questions. When the fighters were receiving testosterone exemptions, 11 of 15 were promoted by Zuffa LLC, which encompasses UFC and Strikeforce. UFC President Dana White has been inconsistent in interviews about the exemptions, saying most recently that they should be banned. But that comment came only a few months after saying the opposite.
White's latest change of heart followed the Association of Ringside Physicians' call last month for the elimination of testosterone exemptions in combat sports -- a motion pushed by Las Vegas-based board member Dr. Margaret Goodman, founder of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association.