UFC legend Vitor Belfort has passed on the chance to headline Triller’s inaugural Triad Combat card against boxing world title challenger Kubrat Pulev, according to the Bulgarian’s promoter Ivaylo Gotzev.

In an exclusive interview with sports betting site Betway, Gotzev says Pulev, who went nine rounds with former unified boxing world champion Anthony Joshua last December, posed too much of a threat for Belfort, forcing the Brazilian to reconsider his options and back out of the contest.

Former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir has stepped in instead of Belfort and will headline the event alongside Pulev at the Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas on November 27.

“Belfort realised he was going to fight a real heavyweight, in shape and capable," says Gotzev. "So I'm sure he did some maths, and coming off the victory against Holyfield, I don’t think he wanted to get smashed, because that’s what Kubrat was going to do, he was going to get a little revenge here for the boxing world. I believe Belfort came to the realisation that he was going to have to fight a real heavyweight. 

"Vitor, although he fought in the heavyweight division, he is a smaller guy and I believe he backed out, whatever his reasons were. All I know is he backed out and Frank Mir has stepped in, another southpaw but a big one, a true heavyweight and former UFC champion that should make for a good scrap with the new rules.

“Junior Dos Santos was also mentioned and he backed out, Vitor Belfort was mentioned and he backed out, Fedor Emelianenko has just made a comeback but I believe he has a relationship with Bellator. But we want to try out Triad and fight a big man like Frank, we’ll then see where we go from there. We’ll look for the top MMA fighters and carry on with that.”

Gotzev, who steered Pulev to European honours in the boxing ring, has warned his charge to be alert to the broader range of punches allowed under Triad Combat rules. He also admits his man has a point to prove after Covid-19 impeded his performance against Anthony Joshua last time out.

“These new rules make it intriguing," he says. "Maybe Mir will jump in with a superman punch, surprise us. Maybe there’s a special punch he’ll try and hit Kubrat with. Mir is also good at grappling, so maybe he’ll try and catch you in an awkward position and hit you with the other hand, because that’s allowed. It will be interesting to see how they apply these new rules.

“Kubrat is happy to be back in the ring, pre-Joshua fight he had Covid and he decided to enter the ring. Most people would have backed out but he fought through the disease. It was difficult for him to recover during the fight, so he’ll be happy to get back in the ring feeling 100 per cent.

“Pulev wants to be back in the fight game, he still feels uncomfortable with his performance in his last fight because of health reasons and he’s ready to do battle. It’s a good challenge and then sky's the limit. Let's see how this new format develops and how popular it gets. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of naysayers but we’re going to go there and give our full effort to help it succeed. There’s a lot of energy being invested into this event.”

Meanwhile, Vitor Belfort’s trainer Derik Santos has confirmed that the Brazilian is now targeting a return to action in 2022. While no names have been shortlisted, Santos has discounted Oscar De La Hoya and London’s David Haye as potential opposition.

De La Hoya, Santos believes, never truly wanted to face Belfort after the Mexican pulled out of their exhibition in September. And Haye, who had some choice words for Belfort after the Brazilian knocked out 58-year-old Evander Holyfield, is irrelevant to the US market.

"It’s likely Vitor will return in the first quarter of next year," says Santos. "I see Vitor being busy for another year then he’ll probably reevaluate. I think after a year he’ll move onto new chapters of his life.

“No, we have not heard from Oscar De La Hoya. I don’t think we’ll see Oscar back in the ring. We know he had a problem with Vitor’s rehydration clause. I really think there were some issues there and the writing was on the wall in terms of that fight falling through. I don’t think Oscar was ever training like he said he was training.

“David Haye is a tool. He has nothing to talk about. He’s disappointed British fans on more than one occasion. He went 12 rounds and did nothing with a supposed broken toe, not throwing any other punch but a flinging jab against Klitschko. He fleeced everybody with Klitschko. And then had the nerve to come out here with Fournier, walk around with his buddy and get paid for that, and then call out Tyson Fury.

"He's a tool. Nobody over here cares about David Haye at all. They all think he's a tool. Most people here can't stand him. He has no idea what he's talking about. He has no idea how hard Vitor Belfort trained to get back. He’s irrelevant. His fight with Fournier was a total farce of a fight. For that reason I'd want nothing to do with anything that puts a ton of money in David Haye’s pocket. I rule him out for Vitor’s next fight. He’s irrelevant, nobody cares about him here, there’s no interest in that at all.”

Despite the criticism aimed at Triller for allowing Holyfield back into the ring, Santos maintains Holyfield did not suffer physically during the short contest and the money generated has enabled the boxing legend to live out his days comfortably.

“First of all, the celebration wasn't a celebration about beating Evander Holyfield and Vitor Belfort already explained that a bunch of times," he says. "But people who are tools like David Haye are of course going to think that. The celebration was a culmination of so many years of not fighting and trying to get this event on. He was entitled to celebrate, he was excited when he won.

"It was the start of a new career for him, the last chapters of his career. It’s the start of something that motivates him and that's what he was excited about. And frankly he did what he was supposed to do. It was a lose-lose situation for him. He trained very hard. If he had walked around there like David did, walk around with his buddy for a few rounds, the people would say Vitor stunk up the joint. It really wasn't our fault that Oscar pulled out or that Evander said ‘let me get in there.’

“At the end of the day, Evander Holyfield told me after, and I've known him for years, he said ‘I was not hurt at all’. He was just more overwhelmed, he wasn’t hurt at all. And people are saying it’s sad to see - what’s really sad to see is when a veteran is being used by a promoter and making ten or 20 grand. It’s not sad when you’re making over a million dollars. The money he’s made off this gives him a chance to live a long good life. He’ll be able to live his life out comfortably now.”