Vitor Belfort and 4 other UFC fighters who declined after USADA's introduction

Vitor 'The Phenom' Belfort [Image Courtesy: UFC/Zuffa LLC and Andre Penner/Associated Press]

The UFC is the epitome of MMA. The promotion is home to the greatest fighters in the world, competing in one of the most physically demanding sports. As important as elite skills and high-level technique both are, the importance of athleticism can't be understated.

Some fighters were well-known for being outrageously athletic specimens during their peak years. However, in 2015, USADA was brought into the fold to help the promotion regulate an out-of-control performance-enhancing drug problem in the sport. With USADA's intervention, came changes.

Fighters, even those who never tested positive for any PED, underwent physical transformations. Some lost muscle mass, while others started to rack up sudden losses. Whether it was due to PEDs, restrictions on IV usage or something else, these are five UFC fighters who declined after USADA's introduction in 2015.

#5 Anthony Pettis, former UFC lightweight

If there's any fighter that fans of yesteryear can point to as a precursor to former interim featherweight champion Yair Rodriguez, it's Anthony Pettis. At the peak of his powers, 'Showtime' was a flashy, creative kicker with a deep pool of athleticism, complete with speed, power, toughness and underrated strength.

At one point, he was the UFC lightweight champion, with a 13-2 record. He ended his 2014 run with a title defense to cap off a thrilling five-fight win streak of four finishes. But then 2015 came along, and in that year, so too did USADA. What exactly happened to 'Showtime' is unclear, but his fall was immediate and steep.

He suffered three consecutive defeats before going on a win-loss run, until a 2-2 stretch was the last fans saw of him in the UFC. He went from a five-fight win streak to a rough patch of six wins and 8 losses. During this time, his speed and toughness seemed to wane. That it all started in 2015 makes the timing odd.

#4 Lyoto Machida, former UFC light heavyweight/middleweight

By 2015, Lyoto Machida was no longer a champion. His short reign as the light heavyweight titleholder was overshadowed by his fans' hope to see him find championship success at middleweight. During his peak years, 'The Dragon' was lightning-quick, stunning his foes with counterpunches they couldn't see coming.

Despite losing to Chris Weidman in his attempt at capturing UFC gold at 185 pounds, he rebounded with a first-round TKO win over C.B. Dolloway. At that point, he was 3-1 in his first four middleweight fights. That, however, was before 2015. When he did fight that year, he lost all two by way of submission.

Worse still, in 2016, he was handed an 18-month suspension after he tested positive for a banned substance. Not only did he immediately start losing upon USADA's arrival, he also failed a drug test. He lost his return bout, winning his next two fights before leaving the promotion after a 2-3 run since 2015.

He had lost a tremendous amount of speed, but found more consistent success away from USADA at Bellator.

#3 Johnny Hendricks, former UFC welterweight/middleweight

Johny Hendricks is best-known for handing the great Georges St-Pierre his toughest-ever fight. It was a bout that many believed 'Big Rig' had done enough to win, with countless fans and media members declaring the official verdict a robbery in St-Pierre's favor.

That bout was in 2013, and Johny Hendricks immediately followed it up with two closely-contested fights with Robbie Lawler for the welterweight title. He won the first fight and lost the second. Then, when 2015 came along, he first faced Matt Brown, beating him in what was the penultimate win of his career.

He then faced Stephen 'Wonderboy' Thompson, an all-time great striker. 'Big Rig' was lost, looking slower and apparently lacking the dynamite power in a left hand that barely anyone could previously take. He then went 1-4 in his next five bouts, losing more muscle definition and power until he was just a shell of his former self.

His last win came against Héctor Lombard. His run since 2015? Two wins, five losses.

#2 Héctor Lombard, former UFC welterweight/middleweight

Judo was all the rage in the UFC up until the end of 2015, all thanks to Ronda Rousey's meteoric rise to success. So when Héctor Lombard, a fellow judoka, fought, some fans took notice. He was never the best fighter in the world, but he was a muscled monster of a man with a lot of power and great Judo skills.

Before 2015, he had a 34-4-1 (1) record, and had gone on an unremarkable run of three wins and two losses. But come 2015, he was downright unrecognizable. He started off the year with a unanimous decision win that was overturned into a no-contest by the NSAC after a failed steroid test for desoxymethyltestosterone.

He returned in 2016, with USADA now in full swing and he hasn't won an MMA fight since. Lombard went on a six-fight losing streak before he and the UFC parted ways, and he went on to lose one more time at Eagle FC.

#1 Vitor Belfort, former UFC light heavyweight/middleweight

There is no change in a fighter from the pre-USADA era to the USADA era more drastic than Vitor Belfort's. Before 2015, he was on TRT. Not only did he regain much of the muscle he had during his athletic prime, he became even more explosive, and began throwing spinning kicks with absurd speed.

He went on a three-fight tear, permanently blinding Michael Bisping in one eye with a spinning heel kick, and becoming the first man to ever knock Dan Henderson out, who was previously thought to have had an unbreakable chin. He was a monstrous foe, but once USADA took charge, everything changed.

He spent nearly two years away from the sport due to various reasons, returning in 2015 against Chris Weidman. 'The Phenom' looked radically different. He had lost considerable muscle mass, looking much flatter than before and not nearly as freakish in terms of his explosiveness and speed.

He lost the bout, and the remainder of his MMA run heavily contrasted his prior stretch of wins. From 2015 onwards, he went 2-4 (1) before retiring from the sport.

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