By Andrew Matheson
The Santa Cruz Sentinel
Luke Rockhold doesn’t plan to hold anything back when the opening bell sounds on his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut next Saturday against Vitor Belfort.
And the Santa Cruz native certainly hasn’t held anything back with how he feels about his opponent in the run-up to the fight, either.
Rockhold, the final Strikeforce middleweight champion before the promotion folded earlier this year, hasn’t minced words when discussing his opponent’s use of testosterone-replacement therapy, or TRT — a controversial treatment that remains legal in the UFC promotion for fighters who qualify. It was revealed following Belfort’s second-round knockout of Michael Bisping on Jan. 19 that the UFC granted the 36-year-old Brazilian a therapeutic-use exemption for the treatment.
Watch UFC on Sportsnet: Belfort vs. Rockhold Saturday starting with the preliminary card at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the main card at 9 p.m. ET, all on Sportsnet ONE. In addition, catch three bonus online prelims at 4:30 p.m. ET on sportsnet.ca.
Rockhold isn’t a fan, though, especially considering Belfort was suspended by Nevada for nine months in 2006 after testing positive for a banned substance, 4-hydroxytestosterone, following his unanimous-decision loss to Dan Henderson at Pride 32.
“I question how he’s allowed to use TRT. He’s been caught for steroids in the past, and that’s been known to lower your testosterone, which is why these guys are getting exemptions for TRT,” Rockhold said in a phone interview Thursday.
“I think it’s crap. I think it hurts you more than it helps you. … In the long run, I think you fade faster and your mind is weaker and you’re making up for something that you don’t have. You’re cheating yourself.”
Rockhold’s comments, which earlier this week landed him on the front page of Yahoo! Sports, have certainly added a level of intrigue and hype to the May 18 bout — the headliner for UFC on FX 8 in Jaragua do Sul, Brazil.
The fight will be broadcast live on FX beginning at 6 p.m.
Belfort isn’t the only fighter to have been tied to TRT. Henderson and Chael Sonnen have reportedly undergone the treatment as well. But Belfort’s prior positive test in 2006 is raising red flags, and not just for Rockhold (10-1).
Still, Belfort (22-10), who claims his TRT usage is for medical reasons and is reportedly tested weekly, isn’t taking Rockhold’s comments lying down. On “The MMA Hour” earlier this week, Belfort felt Rockhold was being disrespectful.
“My conversation with him will be inside the cage,” Belfort said on the weekly show. “I don’t have to talk. We’re going to fight, and that’s what it’s about. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. I did a lot of things for the sport, and I’m still doing. Facing these young guys, and I bring the heat, man. He’ll come to a jungle. He’ll face a lion.”
Rockhold admits to previously being passive about Belfort’s TRT usage. But now, with an increasing amount of interviews leading up to the scheduled bout, he said he’s “letting it all out.”
Rockhold is hoping the pre-fight comments aren’t overshadowing the fight itself, however.
“It is what it is and it’s going to come up,” he said. “But, in the end, this is a fight. And Vitor is a dangerous fighter, whether he’s on TRT or not.
“I hope it’s not taking away from the fight, because it’s a great fight,” he added. “I’m coming in to fight a legend of the sport.”
Rockhold isn’t exactly the only one to chime in on the matter, however. Keith Kizer, the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, said in March that it’d be unlikely that Belfort would receive a TRT exemption in that state following his positive test from 2006.
That isn’t the case in Brazil, however, where Belfort has fought twice in his last three fights. UFC events in Brazil are overseen by Comissao Atletica Brasileira de MMA, which approved Belfort’s TRT use prior to his fighting Bisping in January.
In February, UFC President Dana White vowed to randomly test any fighter who has been granted a therapeutic-use exemption for the treatment. He said he would start with training camp and test right up to the fight.
Without speaking about any fighter in particular, White said he believes TRT is being abused by some fighters.
“People who put in for a TRT exemption, we’re going to make sure that throughout your training period, you’re not jacked up to these levels here, and then bringing them back to these levels here for the fight, when (they) get tested by the athletic commission,” White said.
Rockhold, meanwhile, would like to see one governing body regulate the sport — not different rules from state to state, country to country.
“Boxing is state by state, but it’s promoted by different people and different organizations,” Rockhold said. “The UFC is one organization. I believe they should have their own regulations, their own rules.”
Whether that ever happens or not, Rockhold is using Belfort’s TRT usage in the meantime as added motivation in training camp. Not only will the winner of the bout be in line to potentially fight middleweight champion Anderson Silva, but Rockhold said he would take additional satisfaction in beating Belfort, knowing he may be gaining an unfair advantage.
“I’m going to Brazil to punish him,” Rockhold said. “If they won’t punish him, I will.” ___
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