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 411mania » MMA » Columns

The Round Horn 02.20.14: The TRT Exemption Clause
Posted by Koeddy Laemmle on 02.20.2014

In the last decade the world of American sports have been continuously rocked by scandals involving performance enhancing drugs (PED's). Throughout the same amount of time mixed martial arts has become the fastest growing sport in the United States with the UFC leading the way. Partially responsible for the growth of UFC has been their ability to avoid any major setbacks, such as PED scandals of their own, while other professional sports have seen some of their biggest names and memories tarnished; turning once proud and crowning moments into a dark cloud over their sports' history.

With the sudden explosion of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) usage in the UFC, it is very apparent that some fighters are abusing it to get the upper hand on their opponent. At the moment TRT is most prevalent in MMA and has yet to knowingly have a major effect on any other professional sports. TRT is supposed to be for men who can no longer produce an adequate level of testosterone on their own, a condition known as hypogonadism. TRT can be prescribed by any doctor and it is administered by injections or gels with close monitoring of levels required to keep users from exceeding the mid-level range of testosterone. Many health risks have yet to be discovered but recent studies have shown increased chances of sudden heart attacks or strokes.

This whole TRT issue is eerily similar to a scenario two decades ago that created a string of controversy surrounding PED's in professional baseball. Androstedione, or andro for short, was an over-the-counter drug used for creating synthetic testosterone in those lacking adequate levels. Throughout the 1990's plenty of big names in baseball, most notably Mark McGwire, used andro to boost their testosterone and it was incredibly easy to get your hands on. In 1997 andro was finally banned and labeled as a steroid by the International Olympic Committee. It wasn't until 2004 that the United States Food & Drug Administration followed suit and banned the sale of andro. A surge of steroid scandals in baseball followed, turning for sure Hall of Famers into asterisks on the history of baseball.

Even though the UFC has taken necessary measures to combat TRT, it is actually in the hands of the state athletic commissions to ban the substance completely. The California State Athletic Commission is already one step ahead of the rest, banning TRT use for MMA fighters in their state last summer. California was also the first state that saw any real controversy surrounding TRT when Chael Sonnen was infamously suspended following a failed drug test for elevated testosterone following his classic encounter with Anderson Silva in the summer of 2010. Sonnen would later get a TRT exemption from the Nevada State Athletic Commission even though he had lied about a discussion he had with their executive director, Keith Kizer, during an appeal to his 2010 suspension.

In spite of the fact that testosterone levels are supposedly monitored while using TRT, there has been much speculation that fighters are training at excessive levels and dropping back down just in time for the fight-time drug test. Although unfairly criticized for changing his stance, nobody has expressed more public antipathy of TRT than the President of the UFC, Dana White. He has publicly acknowledged the issue on numerous occasions and has combated the issue the best he can by announcing stricter drug testing on those who have TRT exemptions. Rather than the standard pre and post-fight drug tests, fighters using TRT will be tested all throughout their training camp to make sure they are at a reasonable level of testosterone.

The stricter testing has already seemingly made it's impact on the UFC roster. This is evidenced by two suspensions at the end of 2013 between heavyweight fighters Ben Rothwell and Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva. Both fighters tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone after getting TRT exemptions. Bigfoot, who had just come off the performance of a lifetime, had previously failed a drug test for anabolic steroids in 2008. Rothwell, was a rare instance where the UFC actually took matters into their own hands after the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services handled the situation by sending Rothwell an "administrative warning". Both fighters were suspended for nine months meaning they will miss more than half of 2014.

Hopefully it isn't long before the substance is banned altogether, before anybody's UFC career is tarnished beyond repair. The name most affected would be future UFC Hall of Famer and current Middleweight title contender, Vitor Belfort. Following a career resurgence including three highlight reel knockouts over highly ranked opponents in 2013, many questions have been raised due to Belfort's extensive association with TRT, reluctance to discuss it and previous suspension for steroids. Keith Kizer even stated he didn't believe Belfort would be granted a TRT exemption in the state of Nevada due to his previous steroid suspension. For this reason, Vitor Belfort has fought outside the country for his last five fights. With his scheduled title shot at UFC 173 on May 24, 2014 set to take place in Las Vegas it will be interesting to see what happens.

Belfort's opponent, and current UFC Middleweight Champion, Chris Weidman has actually gone on record of saying he would prefer the Nevada State Athletic Commission just grant Vitor his TRT exemption out of fear Vitor would "take whatever he wants and cycle off it" under less restrictive drug testing. This raises more questions especially when taken in context with things Georges St-Pierre has stated publicly. Regardless of the commission's decision on Belfort, this is a situation that needs to be handled before it becomes a bigger picture issue. Every PED scandal has developed from smaller scale stories and this TRT dilemma would harm the years of work that have finally brought the UFC into global acceptance. If something is not done soon, TRT will wreak the same havoc PED's have to big names in other sports over the last decade.


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