Testosterone Replacement Therapy is gone, and hopefully soon, so is Chael Sonnen.
On Saturday, Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting broke the news that the former UFC middleweight contender and current Fox Sports mixed martial arts analyst failed yet another random drug test issued to him by the Nevada Athletic Commission.
If you’re counting at home, that’s five banned substances that were found in his system between his first random test, on May 23, and the second, on June 5: Anastrozole, Clomiphene, EPO, hCG and HGH.
Sonnen went on Fox Sports 1 when news of the first positive test was announced and lied several times while discussing the test, most notably saying that Anastrozole and Clomiphene were only banned out of competition. That is demonstrably untrue, as found on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s web site, where it notes that they are both banned in and out of competition. In other words, an athlete is not allowed to have either in their body 24/7/365.
Sonnen did a lot of fast-talking and tried to gain sympathy by noting he took Anastrozole and Clomiphene to aid in fertility. While it doesn’t change the fact that he took substances that are banned, he had at least some argument at that point because they’re occasionally used to assist in fertility. He also said he was taking them as part of his post-cycle therapy to get off Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT), which was banned by the Nevada commission on Feb. 27.
News of that failed test broke on June 10, nearly three weeks after the May 23 test was ordered by Francisco Aguilar, chairman of the Nevada commission. What the media did not know at the time it reported on June 10 the results of Sonnen’s May 23 test failure was that he had been tested again by Nevada on June 5.
The June 5 test showed the presence of EPO and HGH (Human Growth Hormone) in his system, which Sonnen said he is not going to dispute. Neither EPO nor HGH are used for fertility or in any way to cycle off TRT. EPO helps increase the body’s production of red blood cells and aids in delivering more oxygen to the lungs and muscles. That helps increase endurance and aids in recovery after workouts.
Curiously, the same tests that are used to detect Clomiphene and Anastrozole are used to detect the presence of EPO and HGH. No EPO or HGH was discovered in Sonnen’s body in the May 23 test, but their presence was found in his body following the June 5 test.
At the time Sonnen was tested on June 5, he was still an active fighter. He did not announce his retirement until June 11, the day after the news broke of his May 23 test failure.
Somehow then, the EPO and HGH got into his body after the May 23 test and before June 5 one, prior to his June 11 retirement announcement.
There are many galling aspects to Sonnen’s case, including his comments on Fox Sports 1 excoriating Wanderlei Silva for refusing a May 23 test. Sonnen alleged that Silva, whom he was supposed to fight at UFC 175 on July 5, had been using performance-enhancing drugs in Japan.
Sonnen also said that disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, who admitted to taking EPO and HGH, gave himself cancer.
In an interview with Larry Pepe of Pro MMA Radio in 2010, shortly before his middleweight title fight in Oakland, Calif., against Anderson Silva at UFC 117, Sonnen said the following:
When you screw up, you have to own it. That stuff really gets under my skin. Take Lance Armstrong. Lance Armstrong did a number of things and he gave himself cancer. He cheated, he did drugs, and he gave himself cancer. Well, instead of saying, ‘Hey listen, I cheated and gave myself cancer, don’t be like me.’ He actually made himself the victim and then went out and profited something like $15 million dollars from this ‘Hey, poor me, let’s find a cure for cancer’ campaign instead of just coming clean and saying, ‘Look, here’s what I did, I screwed myself up, and I hope people learn from my mistakes.’ You just watch these guys and can’t help but think, God, what a fraud.
The same, of course, could be said about Sonnen, who later in what he apparently thought was a joke denied making the comments about Armstrong.
As terrible as what Armstrong did was, winning multiple Tour de France titles while cheating regularly, he was riding a bike. He wasn’t training to punch or kick someone.
Fighting is a very dangerous sport under the best of circumstances, but it can have potentially lethal consequences when one of the competitors is jacked on banned substances.
The UFC’s stance has not been nearly strong enough against performance enhancing drugs and it’s cast a stain over the entire sport.
Sonnen and Vitor Belfort have become the poster boys of the MMA cheaters, but it’s hardly as if they’re the only ones who have used PEDs.
UFC president Dana White inexplicably went on Fox Sports on June 10 to defend Sonnen. White didn’t know at the time about the EPO or HGH that was in Sonnen’s body, but he made Sonnen sound as a victim as he was trying to transition off TRT.
Let’s say that that was true — Though the presence of EPO and HGH in his body suggest it hardly could have been — and that Sonnen did take Anastrozole and Clomiphne in an attempt to cycle off TRT. Still, there should have been no defending him because both of those substances are banned at all times and it was Sonnen’s responsibility not to have banned substances in his body.
White was way out of line in defending Sonnen on June 10. He should have kept quiet and allowed Sonnen to defend himself, and not put the weight of the UFC behind an obvious rules violation.
The UFC simply needs to do far more than it’s doing to combat PED usage among its athletes.
A good first step would be for White and UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta to use their influence to have Fox Sports fire Sonnen from his role as an MMA analyst and co-host of UFC Tonight.
The UFC, and Fox Sports, would be a laughingstock if it allows a guy who had five banned substances in his body to go on the air and act as if nothing occurred.
In a statement to Helwani about his June 5 positive test, Sonnen said:
Yes, the Commission is aware of other prescribed medications I was taking and I will not challenge their allegations. I will cooperate with the Commission and look forward to having a dialogue about how fighters who transition off TRT can avoid violating any rules.
In that last sentence, he’s again trying to play fast and loose with the truth and use his considerable verbal skills to minimize his failure. He can look forward to having a dialogue about how fighters transitioning off TRT can avoid violating rules all he wants, but the hard truth is that there is zero verifiable documented evidence that links EPO and HGH to transitioning off TRT. EPO and HGH are simply performance-enhancers.
What he’s doing with that statement is talking fast and trying to obscure the fact that he can not answer why he had EPO and HGH in his system. Thus, he tries to make it look as if he’s going to volunteer to help.
Sonnen failed a drug test given by the California State Athletic Commission following his 2010 loss in Oakland to Silva, when his testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio was 16.9:1, or more than four times the allowable limit of 4:1 in California. The average male’s ratio is 1:1, so Sonnen’s T/E ratio was 17 times higher than average.
He was taking TRT because he suffers from hypogonadism and his body doesn’t produce enough testosterone.
Don Catlin of antidopingresearch.org thoroughly discredited MMA fighters who got Therapeutic Use Exemptions for TRT because they have hypogonadism during a June 13 appearance on “Inside MMA” on AXS TV.
During an interview with show hosts Kenny Rice and Bas Rutten, Catlin said athletes who say they are hypogonad “are fibbing.” Here is a brief exchange on the topic between Catlin and Rice:
Catlin: I know this field. I’ve been doing it for 25, 30 years. And I know that all the men who come in and say they have hypogonadism are fibbing.
Rice: It doesn’t exist?
Catlin: No, and that’s why for the Olympics, we say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. Say whatever you want. You still can’t take it.’
The incidence of hypogonadism in males with no history of previous steroid usage between the ages of 18 and 40, roughly the age range of MMA fighters, is less than one percent. But when a person takes anabolic steroids, the body surpresses natural production of testosterone.
It was thus almost malpractice to give TUEs to fighters for TRT, because even if it were true that these fighters were suffering from hypogonadism, the likely reason was because of prior steroid use.
It’s long past time to get rid of Sonnen, who has repeatedly been able to fast-talk his way out of trouble over the last four years.
But once again, the burden shifts to the UFC. Whatever efforts the company has made to combat PED usage among its fighters aren’t nearly enough. It needs to do far, far more to prevent a tragedy. If it doesn’t take action to rid its sport of PED abusers, you can be sure that eventually, a juiced up fighter will cause serious injury, or worse, to an opponent.
And that’s a lot worse than an MMA analyst lying about the facts on national television.