posted on March 03, 2014 12:36
It’s official. Effective immediately, the use of testosterone-replacement therapy (TRT) and subsequent therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) are no more. The Nevada State Athletic Commission unanimously voted last week to stop granting TUEs in combat sports, a potentially landmark moment in MMA.
A wonderful ESPN ‘Outside the Lines’ piece by Mike Fish (which I will reference several times in this article) highlighted the troubling aspects of TRT in the world of MMA, including the UFC’s role as enablers in the whole fiasco (despite public cries to the contrary).
The use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in MMA has been prevalent for years. From the wild-west days of Pride FC, where a roided-up Mark Coleman rampaged backstage following a loss to Fedor, to Stephan Bonnar ingesting some form of cow tranquilizer before several of his fights.
In Fish’s article, he references Dr. Richard Auchus, a nationally-recognized endocrinologist. Dr. Auchus describes the number of healthy men in their 30s, who suffer from low testosterone, as “vanishingly small” (less than 0.1% of the population).
Major League Baseball has issued six TUEs in the last six seasons, the NFL has only issued “a handful” of TUEs in the last 25 years, and no pro boxer has ever been issued an exemption for TRT.
Are we really to believe that an ever-increasing number of prominent (Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, Nate Marquardt, Frank Mir, Forrest Griffin, Quinton Jackson, Joe Warren, Antonio Silva) and not-so-prominent (Dennis Hallman, Todd Duffee, Shane Roller, Bristol Marunde, Ben Rothwell) MMA fighters really need to utilize TRT, when only a handful of pro football players have needed it for the NFL grind, in the last quarter-century?
The ESPN piece also brought to light the stunning facts that all that was required to obtain a TUE was a doctor’s note. You locate a jock-sniffing, UFC groupie (who happens to have a medical license), and you’ve found the Fountain of Youth.
The UFC’s Role
UFC President Dana White has notoriously flip-flopped on the issue of TRT, initially stating (in 2012), “The bottom line is you don't need that junk. If you don't abuse stuff (steroids) earlier in your career, you'll never need to use that kind of junk."
One month later, White would say, “Here's the thing about TRT. It's absolutely 100% legal. As sports medicine continues to advance, this is one of those things where every guy's testosterone level starts to drop as they get older and this is basically sports science now where they can bring it back up to a normal level. And I think it's great, it's absolutely fair, it's legal.”
White then, just a few days ago, applauded the NSAC’s decision to ban TRT, saying he “couldn’t wait for that garbage to go away.”
So, what is TRT to the UFC: junk, great, fair, or garbage?
Fish’s investigation revealed another shocker: the UFC had its hand in personally pushing several prominent fighters toward TRT. Belfort claims it was a “UFC doctor” that noticed Belfort’s lack of energy leading up to his 2011 fight with Anderson Silva, and encouraged him to undergo tests (and subsequent treatment) of his testosterone levels. Belfort then changed his story, saying the encounter was after the Silva loss.
Former UFC (and current Bellator) star Quinton Jackson had a similar story, saying that, in 2012, a UFC doctor referred him to an ‘age-management specialist’ to eventually undergo TRT. It’s important to note that these ‘age-management specialists’ and ‘anti-aging clinics’ have a notorious reputation for administering HGH, anabolic steroids, and illegitimate doses of testosterone (see the recent MLB drama surrounding the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez).
Fish also obtained handwritten notes that prove that ‘Dana’ (presumably, Dana White) was aware of Chael Sonnen’s TRT use a full year before the athletic commission was notified. Similarly, a 2012 dialogue showed that Greg Hendrick, then director of event operations for UFC, knew of Frank Mir’s TRT usage nearly three months before the NSAC.
Furthermore, sources also told ESPN that UFC heavyweight Roy Nelson was encouraged by the promotion to undergo TRT in 2010, though the robust Nelson decided not to take part in the treatment (that, or he decided to ‘cut’ the testosterone with McDonald’s delicious Shamrock Shakes).
The Vitor Belfort Factor
Vitor Belfort has been tearing through the UFC ranks in the last calendar year, scoring vicious KO victories over a murderer’s row of middleweights (Dan Henderson, Luke Rockhold, Michael Bisping). All of these fights took place in Belfort’s native Brazil, where he was allowed to utilize TRT as part of his training regimen. At the time, there was no regulatory body for MMA in Brazil, so it was the UFC that was, essentially, allowing Belfort to use TRT.
The UFC knew that Belfort would likely not have received a TUE in Nevada, due to former NSAC head Keith Kizer’s unwillingness to grant exemptions to fighters who have failed drug tests on their resume (Belfort tested positive for the anabolic steroid 4-Hydroxytestosterone following a 2006 Pride FC fight in Las Vegas). Therefore, the UFC enabled his doping by allowing Belfort to fight exclusively in Brazil.
Belfort had earned another shot at the middleweight title, and was scheduled to take on undefeated champion Chris Weidman in May. As the challenger, Belfort couldn’t demand that the fight take place in Brazil, and had to settle for Las Vegas as the site. In the same vain, the UFC couldn’t make the champion fight ‘on the road’ without drawing the ire of fans and pundits who would claim favoritism.
While in Vegas for an awards show on February 7th, Belfort was asked to submit to a voluntary drug test for the NSAC (the NSAC could not demand out-of-competition drug testing for Belfort, since Belfort was not currently licensed to fight in Nevada; the NSAC claims they were performing ‘due-diligence’, since they were aware that Belfort would soon be applying for a license).
Though the NSAC does not have the authority to reveal the results of the test (again, due to the fact that Belfort is not licensed to fight in Nevada), many are speculating that they did not approve of the results. Less than three weeks later, the NSAC handed down their decision to ban TRT in combat sports.
Belfort’s attorney has refused to release the results of the test, claiming, “The test is not relevant as Vitor is not applying for a license to fight in Nevada at this time.”
And why wouldn’t Belfort be applying for a license for a fight that is only three months away? Because he has been pulled from the May 24th card.
Though there are contradictory reports on whether the UFC removed Belfort, or Belfort removed himself, the end result is that Belfort would have sufficient time to cycle off of his TRT use to properly prepare for Weidman (Belfort has been replaced by Lyoto Machida).
Belfort has also contradicted himself, stating that he would drop his TRT program if it was a provision for a title shot, after claiming that he needed TRT to prevent “serious health problems, and even death.”
The Safety Factor
Most pundits believe that the fighters currently abusing the TRT privilege are utilizing the enhancement because of their body’s inability to produce desired levels of testosterone on their own, due to previous anabolic steroid abuse.
Some of the fighters (and their doctors) have side-stepped this accusation by claiming that the ‘real’ reason for their body’s lack of testosterone production is due to repetitive head trauma suffered from years of competition. Though unproven by medical studies, these fighters/physicians claim, according to the ESPN article, the need for TRT is a result of “repetitive head injury resulting in damage to the hypothalamus or pituitary in the brain, which affects the release of natural testosterone.”
Even if this is the case (and, again, this has not been proven by medical studies), should any sane doctor really be pushing drugs on his patients to encourage their return to an Octagon where the main objective is to KO your opponent or choke them unconscious?
And what will be the UFC’s response when some roided-out competitor literally kills his opponent in the cage?
The Future of Cheating
While the NSAC’s decision to ban TRT is a great first step, PEDs will always be a concern in MMA. Just because Nevada has decided to refuse to grant TUEs to fighters, doesn’t mean that each state’s athletic commission will follow suit.
The UFC needs to expand the NSAC’s TRT ban, and create a similar policy as a company. That way, all bases would be covered, no matter what the local (or international) governing body allows.
The wealthy MMA fighters will always have access to the latest designer drugs, and the PED creators have historically been one step ahead of the drug testing programs. Until random, year-round, out-of-competition blood testing is prevalent, there will still be many loopholes in the process
If fighters need a little boost, call Stephan Bonnar. I’m sure he still has some of his ‘moo juice’ laying around.