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.
As some of you may know, I am very open about my struggles with addiction. I’ll have to be careful here; I don’t want to project my illness onto other people so much as I want to make the case that TRT could be a gigantic red flag in some instances.
That being said, 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?
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….
Don’t be shy. Let us know how you look at the issue of TRT in MMA in the comments section.