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ESPN Highlights Disproportionate TRT Exemptions for MMA vs. Other Sports; Will Change Follow?

Posted on by Ken Pishna

Vitor Belfort UFC 156

Testosterone replacement therapy and the debate over its use in professional athletics has been one of the hottest topics in the discussion about sports performance.

It is a hot-button in MMA in particular with notable fighters such as Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, Dan Henderson, Frank Mir, and others regularly being granted therapeutic use exemptions to enlist the assistance of TRT.

ESPN’s Outside the Lines (watch the video hererecently shifted its gaze onto TRT use in mixed martial arts, focusing its white-hot spotlight primarily on Belfort, whose recent career resurgence, which has co-incided with his TRT use, has made him a lightening rod for criticism. Beyond Belfort, however, ESPN’s Mike Fish focused on the disproportionate allowance of TRT in mixed martial arts compared to most other sports.

Of particular note, Fish pointed out that not a single athlete in the summer Olympics in London in 2012 received a TRT exemption, and that the United States Anti-Doping Agency, which oversees thousands of athletes, issued but a single exemption in 2013.

Outside the Lines confirmed that mixed martial arts, by comparison, has had at least 15 athletes over the past five years that have been issued exemptions for the use of TRT. Six Major League Basebell players have received exemptions in the past six seasons, while no professional boxer is known to have received an exemption from the athletic commissions that oversee combat sports.

The Outside the Lines piece certainly casts light on some damning facts about TRT usage in mixed martial arts, although there is no clear end in sight to the debate on whether or not TRT usage is purely medicinal or if it is definitively performance enhancing.

The Association of Ringside Physicians recently issued a statement calling for an end to TUEs for TRT.

“The incidence of hypogonadism requiring the use of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) in professional athletes is extraordinarily rare. Accordingly, the use of an anabolic steroid such as testosterone in a professional boxer or mixed martial artist is rarely justified,” read the statement. “Steroid use of any type, including unmerited testosterone, significantly increases the safety and health risk to combat sports athletes and their opponents. TRT in a combat sports athlete may also create an unfair advantage contradictory to the integrity of sport. Consequently, the Association of Ringside Physicians supports the general elimination of therapeutic use exemptions (TUE) for testosterone replacement therapy.”

The Association’s statement has rippled through the mixed martial arts world, but has yet to produce any tangible results. The Nevada State Athletic Commission, which is one of the leading commissions to oversee combat sports in the United States, is however slated to discuss and possibly take action on its current policy on therapeutic use exemptions for testosterone replacement therapy at a commission meeting on Thursday.

With Vitor Belfort currently slated to challenge UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman in an event slated for May 24 in Las Vegas, the NSAC’s discussion on the topic on Thursday, depending upon the outcome, could be a tipping in the conversation leading to action.

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  • Pat Garret

    This fight would be awesome, if held in Brazil.

  • L

    Everyone knows the more testing and more regulation just means only the sophisticated (and therefore rich already) dopers will be able to get away with it.

    • MuayThaiFood

      That is s good point. The reason Lance Armstrong was so successful in doping for so long was that he had the resources to hire professionals to help him mask his usage and stay one step ahead. I still don’t think it’s right to say that it should just be a free for all because it’s going to be hard to catch cheaters. I just hope that if they decide to ban TRT exemptions that it be across the board. I’m not convinced that Vitor’s past steroid use is why he needs TRT or that he really does need it in the first place. Same goes for Chael, and a lot of other fighters. There may be some that really do need it but unfortunately if you make exceptions then someone else will try to exploit that to gain an unfair advantage.

      • Shocked_n_Awed

        But your last sentence kinda proves the ugly point – it doesn’t matter what the ‘cleaners’ try to do when it comes to getting performance-enhancing drugs out of sports. There will always be someone (or groups of someones) trying to circumvent the rules. The only way to have a truly even playing field is to say, “Everything’s legal, everything’s fair game. You wanna ruin your life for some fleeting fame and cash, it’s your body.”
        ‘The Clear’ stuff that ARod and others were using could well still be an unknown substance to the testers, if the original whistleblower had never opened up; so how many other unknown drugs are out there right now, being used by various athletes?
        Sadly, the guys at a disadvantage will be (and always have been) the clean ones who don’t want to sacrifice long-term health for short-term glory.

        • MuayThaiFood

          How about making the penalties so harsh that the risk vs reward isn’t worth it? Bigger fines, permanent suspensions.

          • Shocked_n_Awed

            Honestly, if the idea most of these substances could shorten your life expectancy isn’t a deterrent, what penalty could be? :)

            I think the kind of guy willing to do PED’s to get to that top level has the ‘whatever it takes, to Hell with the consequences’ attitude.

            Having said that, I don’t have any better ideas; you might be foreshadowing where they end up going. :)

          • Sir_Roy

            Problem is twofold; those not cheating are a definite minority (let’s all face facts) & the second problem revolves around supply and demand. No real baseball fan will enjoy a game more with the absence of ARod (despite the proclamations of certain few).

            What if Anderson Silva or GSP got caught back in the heyday? Two superstars out of the roster. Permanently. The consequences are equally as severe for the fans and promoters alike. A bad string of luck, and many of the A-listers could be gone from many sports overnight. The prospect is too financially devastating to see the light of day. As long as there is competition as ferocious as it is, with the stakes and rewards as high as they are, there will always be athletes looking for an advantage … any advantage.

          • L

            The way I see it, if you make PEDs illegal, then all you are doing is forcing athletes to take experimental PEDs, which will not result in a positive PED test.

            If you make it legal, then people will use GH and Test. After a period of time fighters may (or may not) find the pros and cons of their choices for themselves.

          • Sir_Roy

            By administering punitive measures, commissions simply apply a band-aide to a festering wound without addressing the cause. So making it legal will at least assure they are medically monitored reducing side effects and risk.

            The cause lies within the psychology behind the spirit of competition (i.e. success versus failure). We’re asking these fighters to refrain from an advantage, and thereby put their careers and livelihood on the line, because they know if they’re not taking every edge available, their competition sure as heck is.

  • Jason

    Finally a news publication (i.e., ESPN) has shone a light on the BS that is TRT. Good on you, ESPN. I wish MMAWeekly or Sherdog had gotten the nerve to post this years ago, but at least its out there now.

    • Shocked_n_Awed

      I agree wholeheartedly that it’s great for the sport (well, the future of the sport) to see this highlighted. I would suggest, even if this site or Sherdog had done a similar story, it couldn’t possibly have the same impact as when broadcast by a media giant like ESPN.
      Plus, I would have to believe (with all due respect to MMAWeekly and other similar sites), ESPN probably have far more resources, and much deeper pockets. :)

  • Joe Dog

    May the guy with the smallest balls win!

  • HpPavilion22

    Belfort been doing extremely heavy steroid cycles since he beat the living crap out of a natural drug free Tank Abbott..

    • Damn

      Yet guys like dan henderson been doing it over 7 years in pride then ufc. Your point is?….I’m guessing if he does it is ok?

      • HpPavilion22

        Dan Henderson is a cheater too..

  • DamianCross

    Something’s been bothering me about a TRT ban. When I was a kid, I had terrible asthma. I had to take prescribed steroids to survive some of the harshest attacks. I grew out of it (into remission) eventually, but the damage was done and my T levels went in the toilet.

    If I was a fighter today, am I to be punished just because I took the medicine prescribed to me years ago? That doesn’t seem fair.

  • asd

    They seem to not realize that suffering from repeated HEAD TRAUMA also decreases your production of testosterone.

    MMA is a completely different sport from track&field or basketball. The wear and tear on the bodies is totaly different and way higher, which REQUIRES specific measures to help those athletes’ bodies function properly.

  • Hugh Shakeshaft

    Dana has one option, get out in front of this, eliminate TRT exemptions to legitmize the sport. If he want’s to be on par with the NFL, he should align his PED policy with the NFL’s. Anything less would slow UFC’s momentum. In addition, I hope he recognizies the urgency of this decision. Vitor could beat Weidman on TRT ….ASTERISK! Get out in front of this Dana. Make the call now, well in advance of Weidman Belfort. You are thinking long term in so many other ways, free fights on Fox, FS1, building up the sport, don’t get hung up on TRT or you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot.

  • MIR

    What about Mir? If TRT is such a big advantage then why does Mir get the living crap beat out of him every time he fights. I’m also sure they also have to be within certain levels of TRT. So if you’re diagnosed with low T they prescribe you just enough to bring your levels up to normal. All that being said, I too think it should be banned, I believe that if you have low T and can’t live up to your expectations in the ring then maybe you should just find something else to do for a living. Just not sold that it’s as big as advantage that people believe it to be.

    • Hugh Shakeshaft

      It doesn’t have to be a winning advantage, it just has to be an advantage.

    • Come on. Read up

      It’s not a therapeutic boost back up to normal levels… They’re ALLOWED to be up to 4x normal human levels. It’s hugely unfair. Not to mention, all camp they can be as high in T as they want. They only need to be at 4x normal during testing.