Five years ago, before the UFC’s deal with USADA, the state of drug testing in MMA was debating testosterone replacement therapy and how the sport should deal with it. MMATorch columnist Jason Amadi looked at four key discussion points.
Testosterone replacement therapy seems to have supplanted fighter pay as the topic du jour in mixed martial arts. In all honesty, TRT might simply the latest thing in MMA to be passionately discussed for a few weeks before being ultimately forgotten about. However, as long as it’s being discussed you should probably know why you’re supposed to care, or at least try to understand why you don’t.
So allow me to either explain your outrage or complete indifference with four facts on testosterone replacement therapy.
(4) Testosterone Replacement Therapy Is Completely Legal
The way the average person feels about enormous professional athletes in their late twenties and early thirties receiving therapeutic use exemptions for testosterone couldn’t be less relevant to the legality of TRT.
We know that prior steroid abuse can cause low-T and thus necessitate testosterone replacement therapy. We know that there are ways to manipulate your testosterone levels to trick doctors into prescribing TRT. However, if a fighter goes through the proper channels and still gets granted a therapeutic use exemption, who are we to question it?
Testosterone replacement therapy should really only be prescribed by a board certified endocrinologist and not some mark doctor. In a perfect world, the World Anti-Doping Agency would govern drug testing in mixed martial arts, but that isn’t the case.
Should athletic commissions update their policies and adhere to the WADA code? Yes, absolutely. Could the UFC probably afford to do more stringent testing on top of what the athletic commissions are doing? Yes, absolutely. But would any of that really eliminate testosterone replacement therapy in MMA? No, probably not.
(3) The UFC Isn’t Going to Ban Testosterone Replacement Therapy
I’m no lawyer but you have to wonder whether or not fighters would be within their rights to sue the UFC if they banned the use of TRT. While it is a controversial issue in mixed martial arts right now, in theory doctors prescribing injections of testosterone to bring an athlete up to normal levels isn’t really wrong.
If a fighter has gone through the proper channels to qualify for a therapeutic use exemption, on what grounds can the UFC really deny them?
Most people seem to think that fighters are manipulating their levels to qualify for the therapy, getting superfluous amounts of testosterone injected into their bodies and then benefiting from the elevated levels in training before lowering them back to normal for the fight.
The problem is you can’t really prove that someone is abusing TRT without catching them in the act. Again, I’m not a lawyer, but if a fighter would take the UFC to court over this issue it would be hard to imagine what the UFC’s defense could be.
(2) We Don’t Trust Fight Promotions to Test Their Own Fighters
This is going to be one of those times where I have to use the WWE to make an example about mixed martial arts, but don’t hate me; it’s completely necessary.
Following the 2005 death of the former WWE superstar Eddie Guerrero, the WWE implemented a wellness program to randomly drug test their performers throughout the year. The testing is done by an independent third-party and the WWE fines, suspends and in some cases releases talent that tests positive for banned substances.
In the six years that the WWE’s Wellness Policy has been in effect, quite a few prominent superstars have been popped for banned substances and the suspensions of many of those superstars have hurt WWE’s storylines and cost them money. Despite all of this, most people still think the WWE’s Wellness Policy is a sham.
While major stars have been popped for banned substances here and there, most still feel that their top guys either don’t get tested or WWE looks the other way to preserve their image. Whether right or wrong, the average person believes that the WWE is still as rife with drug and steroid abuse as it ever was.
The fact is the financial interests of organizations like the WWE and the UFC depend on their top draws appearing on pay-per-view. No matter what anyone says, as long as these promotions are the ones handing out the punishments to their own talent, the integrity of their drug testing programs will always be brought into question.
(1) Nobody Really Cares About Performance Enhancing Drugs in Combat Sports
Now, when I say no one really cares about PEDs in combat sports, I don’t mean that people won’t feign outrage upon discovery of a fighter’s positive test. However, there is a clear, demonstrable history in combat sports of fighters getting popped for steroids and receiving nothing but a small fine and week’s worth of fist shaking.
We see prominent MMA media members grandstand and call for the UFC to show “zero tolerance” for fighters who test positive for banned substances, but those same media members turn around and pat other promotions on the back for signing those fighters.
When Nate Marquardt was released from the UFC, his name was dragged through the mud for about a week before everyone decided he should go to Bellator and be granted an immediate title fight against Hector Lombard.
When Josh Barnett (the most famous alleged steroid abuser in the history of the sport) was signed by pre-Zuffa Strikeforce, everyone called it a major coup and celebrated his participation in the Strikeforce World Heavyweight Grand Prix.
When Chris Leben tested positive for steroids, no one cared. When Stephan Bonnar tested positive for steroids, no one cared. When Thiago Silva tested positive for steroids, it was discussed for a week because of the hilarious nature of turning in a sample that “isn’t consistent with human urine,” but ultimately no one cared about that either.
No one was really surprised when Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos tested positive for steroids, though some interesting discussion did come of it. However, who among us isn’t going to demand she be granted a title fight against Ronda Rousey upon her return?
The fact is, when a fighter tests positive for banned substances or elevated levels of testosterone they simply get slapped on the wrist and move on. It’s not something most people are willing to admit to, but that’s exactly what we all want.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS 5 YRS AGO AMADI COLUMN: 5 YRS AGO – Ask MMATorch: Amadi addresses potential Super Heavyweight Division’s viability, JDS’s low pound-for-pound ranking