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Nine Different Ways of Looking at Testosterone Replacement Therapy in MMA

Opinions that fans and pundits have on testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) and its place in MMA are about as varied as the search engine terms that brought you here. With Dana White promising to “test the shit out of” fighters on testosterone replacement therapy to Vitor Belfort lashing out at his critics on Twitter over his own TRT usage, we’ve seen two different extremes over the course of this weekend alone. It’s a complicated issue that has many different ways of being interpreted; possibly none of which are entirely right or wrong by themselves. With that in mind, here’s an attempt at condensing the plethora of opposing views on the issue into nine different ways to look at it, arranged in no particular order.

1.) It’s Incredibly Dangerous For Both Fighters Involved.

Perhaps the most common criticism I’ve heard and read regarding testosterone replacement therapy in MMA is that it makes an already dangerous occupation even more hazardous. This is easy to observe through the perspective of the user’s opponent. It’s one thing if Barry Bonds wants to hit longer home runs, or if Hedo Turkoglu wants to flop harder — their opponents are not physically hurt by their actions in either example. However, if an MMA fighter takes testosterone to become more aggressive and punch harder, the likelihood of his opponent suffering irreparable brain damage increases dramatically.

Often neglected, however, are the additional long-term risks that the TRT user opens himself up to. Testosterone may make a fighter faster and stronger, but it doesn’t exactly undo brain damage. Prolonging a fighter’s physical prime also elongates the amount of time he’s receiving blows to the head. Imagine if boxers like Meldrick Taylor and Riddick Bowe – who showed signs of dementia pugilistica by the ends of their careers yet didn’t retire until they couldn’t stay in shape — had access to testosterone replacement therapy. Giving aging fighters the illusion that they can keep taking shots to the head because they’re still in good physical condition is bound to end in disaster.

2.) TRT Isn’t Nearly The Advantage It’s Made Out to Be.

The way that some fans rant about TRT ruining the sport, you’d swear that Jose Canseco is set to fight a 260 pound Ken Shamrock for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. Sure, many TRT users have been successful in their recent bouts, but is that because of the drugs or because they’ve been fighting beatable opponents? Was it a colossal upset when Dan Henderson defeated Mauricio “Shogun” Rua? Or when Forrest Griffin beat Tito Ortiz? Did anyone really think that Vitor Belfort had no chance at knocking out Michael Bisping? Didn’t think so.

Let’s not forget about the times when the extra juice turned out to be meaningless, either. Chael Sonnen still lost to Anderson Silva (twice), Frank Mir still got the tar beat out of him by Junior Dos Santos and Todd Duffee still got knocked out by the doughy Mike Russow. Wait for that last one to sink in before acting like a syringe full of testosterone is enough to make someone unbeatable.

3.) Damn the TRT Users, But Only If We’re Paying No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain.

So, Dana White promises to “test the shit out of” fighters who apply for therapeutic-use exemptions, and suddenly, all is right in the UFC? Not quite. As Old Dad pointed out, only fighters with TUEs have to worry about blood tests. Fighters who aren’t admitting that they’re taking synthetic testosterone are getting the same urine tests that everyone else is subjected to. You know, the same urine tests that can only gauge testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratios, not the presence of synthetic testosterone.

Basically, Dana White’s promise to crack down on testosterone abuse can only catch the fighters who follow the rules for obtaining a therapeutic-use exemption. It’s a great way to make it look like TRT is no longer an issue — the number of people applying should drop once it results in more testing — without actually addressing the problem. If we’re worried about catching cheaters, then why are we only focusing on the guys who are already disclosing their drug usage?

4.) It Fuels the Debate: Are Fighters Entitled to Retire on Their Own Terms?

I’m reminded of what Muhammad Ali’s trainer, Angelo Dundee, said during an ESPN documentary about the tragic Ali vs. Holmes fight. “A fighter has the God-given right to say bye-bye whenever he wants to,” said Dundee, “because it’s the life he leads. I don’t believe in telling a fighter to retire because you’re not God.”

Regardless of your stance on the quote, testosterone replacement therapy supports your belief. On one hand, it isn’t up to the fans to tell someone when he should stop making a living as a fighter. If he wants to use TRT to keep fighting, and is aware of the risks involved, let him proceed. On the other hand, no one is entitled to a career as a professional fighter; that’s why commissions make fighters apply for licenses. Licensing a person who is too old to compete without drugs seems like cognitive dissonance to those who are opposed to TRT.

5.) It Keeps Our Sport From Gaining Legitimacy.

As much as many fans hated watching Allen Iverson cross over Michael Jordan, moments like these are an important part of mainstream sports. Athletes get older, and can no longer keep up with the younger generation. When that happens, they either ride the bench or retire. There’s no discussion about shooting mainstream athletes up with testosterone once they can no longer compete. It’s bad enough that critics of our sport think that MMA fighters are steroid taking lunatics instead of athletes. The fact that many of our aging stars are on TRT can’t possibly be helping our argument.

6.) Every Sport Has Its Drug Issues, and TRT Is Ours. 

Wait, are we really going to let some football loving simpleton lecture us about drugs while NFL players are popping painkillers like Pez? The other mainstream sports aren’t without their issues: the NBA has a colorful history with cocaine, the NHL is trying to combat Ambien usage among players and Major League Baseball’s issues with amphetamines are only an afterthought because of The Steroid Era. Athletes are no different from the rest of us. They use drugs to improve their lives the same way that we use drugs to improve our lives.

7.) It’s Addict Mentality at its Ugliest.

A sure sign of addiction is when a person feels that he or she needs drugs in order to function. The belief that one can’t succeed without taking drugs has caused turmoil in the lives of many addicts, and it’s hard not to spot this mentality in many TRT users. It’s hard to look at a fighter who believes that he can’t compete without a TUE and not think that perhaps low testosterone levels are the last thing that he should be worried about. This is especially true in the instances where fighters who have failed drug tests in the past are using TRT. It hurts to type this, but Michael Bisping has a damn good point.

8.) Who the Hell Even Cares?

This mentality may be is pure, unadulterated capitalism at its ugliest, but why would any fan of the sport be opposed to fighters using a drug that enhances their abilities to entertain us? We aren’t buying tickets and PPVs to see how healthy these guys will be when they’re fifty years old. We’re spending money to see the impressive ways that these guys can hurt each other right now. Fighters have found a legal loophole that aids them in their efforts to entertain us. If anything, we should be upset that some of them aren’t taking full advantage of it.

Oh, and save the ”sanctity” and “purity” lectures for marriage and Christmas decorations, not two guys beating the crap out of each other in a cage, okay?

9.) The Way That You, The Reader, Look At TRT.

Which is obviously the correct way, and anyone who thinks that numbers one through eight are even remotely relevant is a complete idiot. Of course, the correct way to look at testosterone replacement therapy is….

@SethFalvo

Don’t be shy. Let us know how you look at the issue of TRT in MMA in the comments section.

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GroundPounder- April 9, 2013 at 11:29 am
It does seem that there can be an physical advantage, but since everyones levels are naturally different how can you regulate an acceptable average. You could measure before and after a match, but the tricky part is figuring out what a particular athletes healthy figures would be. There are cases where someone does need TRT with a legit reason. There's some good resources online to test your own levels and find out more information http://mcaf.ee/tbsri
deadw8- February 20, 2013 at 11:35 am
@MorningwoodII
#1 Chaels punch without drugs would be like a snowflake whispering a soft word in your ear before melting beutifully on your naked shoulder.. Or that's how I vision it atleast.

And back on track a little bit, the levels of testosterone allowed when on TRT are very generosly set. An athlete on TRT "legally" will therefore still have an advantage over a clean athlete..
It feels weird to say but Bisbing got this one right.
deadw8- February 20, 2013 at 11:23 am
Hypogonadism is a very rare medical condition an mostly adult onset hypogonadism sufferers are both obese and have type 2 diabetes, and when these aren't a factor it's almost always past steroid abuse that's the unalying cause of hypogonadism.
And to conclude my very personal opion is that if you are too old or have taken too much steroids in your past to compete without using TRT or other such substances you shouldn't be a pro-athlete now..
angry little feet- February 18, 2013 at 4:46 pm
"As Old Dad pointed out" AAAHHHRRGG. Why must you reopen these own wounds? Just when I had finally stopped hoping he would ever come home from the store.... bastard.
FightZen- February 18, 2013 at 3:05 pm
"Oh, and save the ”sanctity” and “purity” lectures for marriage and Christmas decorations, not two guys beating the crap out of each other in a cage, okay?"

I'm getting painfully tired of this argument. If you refuse to hold the athletes you enjoy watching to a higher standard, calling everyone who does a pussy make me question 1) why you even bother watching and 2)how you got a job writing for a MMA website. Go watch bum fights.
SethF- February 18, 2013 at 3:25 pm
Because I obviously agree with every word I've written here, and am not just presenting different arguments, right?
FightZen- February 18, 2013 at 4:24 pm
I suppose so? If that's the case, then I apologize. I MAY be a little sensitive to that argument.
MediumRare- February 18, 2013 at 1:36 pm
Pussies. Fussy, sanctimonious pussies. All PED rules and laws are horse-shit. I didn't see anyone die in Pride FC and they were usually juiced out of their minds. http://xkcd.com/1173/
nick diaz and the dub sack- February 19, 2013 at 10:49 am
Smart argument right there. It doesn't count as dangerous until someone dies. Brilliant
cman- February 18, 2013 at 12:07 pm
Here's a point I have stated a billion times and its tie in:
Allowing fighters to weight cut extreme amounts can cause this problem as well. It's most common in wrestlers who have years of dehydrating themselves even prior to mma careers. Glands are retarded from natural production same as years of steroid use because there is no fluid to absorb them.
MMA promotes this by allowing day before weigh ins. Talk to any athletic commission rep on local fights and they look for saline drip marks and make a call on fighter safety day of fights. There is a reason Hendo can fight in 3 weight classes. And look the same in all 3. There is a reason spider looks so much bigger than his opponents, he is. You can't weigh 235 3 weeks out and make 185 in a truly healthy way, dolce is full of shit other than he does do it better than just shed water weight.
Same day weigh ins and get these guys fighting at at least closer to natural weight. Would eliminate half the need for it and make it much tougher to abuse.
El Guapo- February 18, 2013 at 11:39 am
Barry Bonds wasn't on roids, he was on flaxseed.
Ditto Overeem, except his was horsemeat.
Chael...Rocky mountain oysters.
Randlemann, dead bodies.
Vitor, Jebuz.
Dan... He's the man.
mma4ever- February 18, 2013 at 11:01 am
Anything u jack ur self up with is cheating call it what u want and any one that defends that are fake mutherfuckers so fuck u all cheating peices of shit
wwhitekimbo- February 18, 2013 at 10:29 am
Here in S Florida "anti aging" clinics are popping up faster than "pain managment " clinics so finding an unethical doctor is not very hard. On a side note is it mandatory to shave your chest and get a tan while on the program ?
shatterproof- February 18, 2013 at 9:50 am
if you have/want the exemption then you should have to pay for biweekly or monthly testing, a timeline for which should depend on the science. Go over the proper amount? 6mo then 1 year suspension without exception.
Get Off Me- February 18, 2013 at 9:38 am
What baffles me is the term TRT, it's a fancy way of saying steroids. Most major sports try their darndest to punish steroid users while the NSAC offered a free pass with TRT which has hurt the UFC. Dana cracking down on steroid use is simply his way of increasing the probabilty that fighters will not test positive pre/post fights(cancelling fights/NC's). TRT needs to be called Steroids again(artificial testosterone is a steroid)and the NSAC needs to remove the exemptions it has in place, the long term negative effects of steroids are still 10-20yrs away from being truly discovered, but the threat of damager should be enough to claim fighter safety, which is the mandate of NSAC and other athletic commissions.
ytrebil- February 18, 2013 at 9:25 am
It’s not so much TRT is a problem for me at least, simply the clarity of what is going on. What levels these guys are ‘juicing’ to. Everything should be disclosed, but that’s an ideal world in which we don’t live.

On another note, wouldn’t blood doping in MMA be more beneficial than TRT? Or am I opening another can of worms here?

Tbh I don’t even blame the fighters for this. There’s loopholes here and if it’s worth so many thousands of dollars when most fighters are struggling to pay their camps, then who are we to judge? If we; critics, fans or whatever you want to call us were in a position where being a top level athlete was our a profession, are you telling me that you would not take a banned substance knowing you can get away with it, if it meant you could provide a better livelihood for you and your family?

It's the system that's the real issue here.
SethF- February 18, 2013 at 9:14 am
@amsterdamheavy & Sloppy

Good points, except for one thing: You're under the assumption that TRT isn't at all being used the wrong way. For this to be true, when Dana White promised to crack down at the guys taking too much then cycling back into the acceptable range for the drug test, he was talking out of his ass. When fighters say it's being abused, they're talking out of their asses. When journalists write about it being abused, they're talking out of their asses...you get the point. A lot of people would who would know better would have to be severely misinformed for this to be true - not likely.

Also, comparing the NFL's anti-aging supplementation to TRT in MMA is apples to oranges because NFL players are randomly tested year-round to make sure that they're not abusing drugs. It's not a perfect system, but it's a lot more than the "take their words for it" system we have in place.
amsterdamheavy- February 18, 2013 at 8:40 am
@Sloppy: Levels that high are not common from my understanding. 900 g/dl is still pretty goddamned high, especially for someone in their mid 30s. Also, from my understanding, no respectable endocrinologist would allow a patient's levels to knowingly rise that high. When supplementing with TRT the goal is to be in the 650-900 range as far as I know. Ive never heard of anyone on TRT with levels so high that was actively being managed by a physician who knows what they are doing.
You do bring up something interesting though regarding an individual's maximum levels. Find an individual's natural "high point" would be difficult as...when your levels are high, there are no issues and no real need to test except as a basic panel during routine bloodwork. The goal of TRT is never to be at "maximum human levels" but just to be at moderate to high levels. Since findind that number for an individual could be complicated, and it would potentialy complicate enforcement as well, I think that if a limit was set for people supplementing, it should be right around 900, which would theoretically be 75% of human maximum, but still higher than most people naturally walk around with in their 30s.
Sloppyspray- February 18, 2013 at 8:19 am
@amsterdamheavy - You make a lot of good points in your post (and seem to base these points in some understanding of TRT). You could probably shine some light on this issue I have when discussing "human natural range" of testosterone. Should this not be limited to each respective individual? Not just based on what the highest level the human body can naturally produce? For example, if Overeem's body naturally produced a total test of 1300 ng/dl during his prime, while Sonnen only produced 1000 ng/dl, should Sonnen now be allowed to use TRT to bring his levels up to 1300 ng/dl when his body was never capable of producing that in the first place?
dipsetkilla316- February 18, 2013 at 8:00 am
His punches r soft yet he dropped Anderson like twice.
MorningwoodII- February 18, 2013 at 7:38 am
#1) So how soft would Chael's punches be without TRT?
deadw8- February 20, 2013 at 11:27 am
it would ne like a snowflake whispering a soft word in your ear before melting beutifully on your naked shoulder.. Or that's how I vision it atleast.
GrandShamrock- February 18, 2013 at 7:35 am
Is anyone here impressed by how similar Chael looks like Landsberg in that photo?
ksgbobo- February 18, 2013 at 6:52 am
I'm under the impression that it doesn't matter if you takes PEDs, in any sport. You still have to be good at what you do. Its all about technique, in any sport. PEDs may give a slight advantage over your opponent but nothing out of the ordinary and what a normal human being can do.
An athlete may be stronger and faster since he was using PEDs, but does that mean his technique is better? I don't think so. They still have to punch, kick, shrimp, roll, throw swing, run, jump...whatever.
I have this opinion because I haven't seen anything to show that two athletes with the same level of skill, that the athlete using PEDs is better than the one who is not.
amsterdamheavy- February 18, 2013 at 6:37 am
1) Thats just nonsense. This would apply to steroids, not TRT. This is not entirely a semantic difference.
2) This is absolutely TRUE. The idea is to maintain a normal test level, not to boost beyond human maximum, ever.
3) True - TRT isnt the main problem. Stop using "synthetic testosterone". The correct term is "exdogenous testosterone" (from outside) as opposed to ENgodenous (from inside).
4) I do not agree with conflating TRT use and "the need to retire". This is just silly; see Todd Duffee.
5) Im petty sure you dont know what youre talking about. Im also pretty sure that you will find TRT and HGH supplementation amongst professional athletes in most sports under the context of "anti-aging". It isnt cheap, but anyone earning even a league minimum in major sports could easily afford this treatment, and, if done correctly, it would be undetectable in any test because, and I reiterate, TRT should never raise levels beyond natural.
6) I guess the point is valid to some degree, but the bullet point is kind of shit. Im sure there are more fighters with drinking problems than using steroids/abusing TRT exemptions.
7) Interesting point. I think the mentality you are describing applies far more to those that are using TRT to cover steroid abuse. For a real TRT user, the issue is being able to function or perform at your best, in any context, while not exceeding natural human potential. When used at minimum levels, like TRT, the risk of this "performance based addiction" is very, very low - because you arent gaining anything extraordinary, youre only getting back to where you were, or some would argue, where you should be.
8) This is a debate unto itself. Personally, I could care less if this stuff was legal and everyone used it - but it isnt...and in the name of fair competition, it needs to be controlled.
9) The correct way to look at TRT is as a supplement that fills a deficiency in the body's chemical make up. A man under 70 with a test level of 400 is in bad shape, just like a man with no vitamin C in his diet with get rickets. Not the best analogy, because more vitamin C isnt better, but its the best I can come up with right now. As long as testosterone levels re being maintained in the medium to high "human natural" range, there should be no issue with its sanctioning as a prescribed treatment - but to do this there need to be very stringent testing protocols in place to prevent abuse under the guise of supplementation.
mma4ever- February 18, 2013 at 6:33 am
Numer 8 is just stupid and dundee is a dinosaur cheating is cheating assholes to afraid to lose with honor and respect and let the better man get his due should be weeded out . punk ass mutherfuckers.
anderson wanderlei paulo thiago alves silva- February 18, 2013 at 6:20 am
The trt debate is very similar to the use of a marijuana card. There's a way to do it legally and a way to do it illegally. Some people need it and some people don't. Some people get an exemption because its just easier and gives them a way out.
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