So we finally have official confirmation that Vitor Belfort has parted ways with ONE Championship. ESPN’s Ariel Helwani reported last weekend that the former UFC light heavyweight champ had agreed a Triller Fight Club boxing match with social media personality “The Real Tarzann”. There had been no word on Belfort’s status from the Asian martial arts promotion, nor any explanation from the 44-year-old Brazilian, who signed with ONE in February 2019 but had yet to even step foot in their cage. “So they could not close a fight. My agent was trying to close many fights there but for some reason their agenda and my agenda we could not consolidate it,” Belfort told Dylan Bowker of MyMMANews during a media conference call on Tuesday. Today I asked Vitor Belfort about his transition from #ONEChampionship to @trillerfight and returning to the world of pro boxing• • • Via Cageside Press youtube #VitorBelfort #ONEFC #ONECircle #Boxing #TrillerFightClub pic.twitter.com/bHbnmuLcHf — Micro Cro Cop (@DylanBowker) June 8, 2021 SCMP MMA understands ONE chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong agreed to release “The Phenom” Belfort (26-14, one no contest) from his contract and gave him his blessing to box Mike Holston – an exotic animal specialist and zookeeper who has over six million Instagram followers – on the undercard of a June 19 Triller pay-per-view in Miami. “Our contract came to an end and Chatri is a very nice guy, a good friend of mine,” Belfort said. “He said, ‘Vitor, we cannot find you a fight, this pandemic hit, it was pretty crazy’. I think it just didn’t align, what they’re doing with what I want to do. I spoke to him the same day this opportunity appeared. It was an amazing opportunity.” And so brings a close to one of the strangest chapters in MMA history. Belfort was one of four former UFC stars snapped up in a six-month period by ONE at the back end of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, along with ex-champions Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez, as well as “Super” Sage Northcutt. The quartet were clearly brought in to generate a lot of buzz, as much for their skill in the cage, but while the other three have all fought, Belfort’s continued absence was conspicuous. According to Kavanaugh, the duo got into an altercation in a Florida gym today. pic.twitter.com/owSyoCwklp — Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) June 4, 2021 Belfort has not competed since a sensational front-kick KO by compatriot Lyoto Machida in a middleweight bout at UFC 224 in May 2018, winning two of his last seven fights in the American promotion. That decline began soon after the Nevada State Athletic Commission banned the use of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) – which had previously been legal with a therapeutic use exemption – in 2014. The UFC’s partnership with the United States Anti-Doping Agency would go into effect in July, 2015. Belfort withdrew from a scheduled fight against middleweight champ Chris Weidman set for May 2014 in Las Vegas, and dropped his TRT programme. After the bout was cancelled twice more, he finally fought Weidman a year later at UFC 187, but was finished in the first round. He managed to win a rematch with Dan Henderson, who also had to stop using TRT, but would suffer TKOs by Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Gegard Mousasi and Kelvin Gastelum – the last of which was overturned to a no-contest after the American tested positive for THC (a metabolite found in marijuana) in a sample collected on the day of the event, and was suspended for 90 days. Many sceptics argued Belfort was not the same fighter, with his body visibly smaller during his final run. Those same fans joked that “TRT Vitor” would be back in ONE, where there is no official drug testing policy. He quickly looked to be bulking back up to the same frame he once filled out in the Octagon, announcing he would be competing at heavyweight, though 2019 went by without a fight for Belfort. Belfort was eventually tapped for a “special rules” bout against Hong Kong’s 45-year-old Alain Ngalani (4-6) last May before the coronavirus pandemic forced ONE to put a halt to all events. Ngalani went on to fight Oumar “Reug Reug” Kane in January, suffering a first-round TKO, but told SCMP MMA before the fight he was confident the “dream” bout with Belfort would still be arranged . Belfort told SCMP MMA in February, however, he was no longer interested in the Ngalani fight, nor a heavyweight title run in ONE, but only “legendary fights” that would “shake the market”, including a cross promotional professional wrestling match with AEW star Chris Jericho. And so we shouldn’t be surprised to see Belfort and ONE go their separate ways. “I’m pretty excited what Triller is doing,” Belfort added on Tuesday. “They’re shifting how combat sport is migrating and I believe soon we’re gonna have a hybrid between boxers and MMA guys, and see who has the best hands.” Belfort is a class act in and out of the cage, but if he is only interested in these kind of fights, then it is best for both parties that he moves on from ONE. Ultimately, it shows progression for the promotion, which has recently bolstered its once-ignored heavyweight division with some great talent. Former UFC star Arjan Singh Bhullar (11-1) dethroned long-time champ Brandon Vera last month to usher in a new era, while South Korean newcomer Kang Ji-won (5-0) looks to be the next title challenger after knocking out Iranian debutants Mehdi Barghi (4-3) and Amir Aliakbari (10-2) in 2021. Anatoly Malykhin (9-0) also impressed on debut, finishing Alexandre Machado in the first round, as did Belarusian Kirill Grishenko (4-0), who pushed the brakes on the “Reug Reug” (3-1) hype train in April. Throw in grappling legends Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida and Tom DeBlass, who have yet to debut, and there are plenty of great matchups that should soon warrant divisional rankings, and create a clear pathway to the title. Which all means that while it would have been fun to see Belfort fight in the ONE Circle, it ultimately would have been meaningless. ONE is seemingly moving away from signing older, big-name free agents that generate headlines but at big expense, and more into legitimising its divisions with younger, hungrier talent that is there to compete against the best in the promotion. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, and a welcome one as combat sports continues to devolve into the kind of pointless – but admittedly lucrative – celebrity boxing matches that Belfort has signed up for. And Triller can better utilise Belfort’s established brand and name power for its gimmicky shows, so everybody wins.