(EDITORIAL COMMENTARY by Erik Fontanez)
During a meeting in Las Vegas on Thursday, the Nevada State Athletic Commission voted unanimously to put an end to therapeutic use exemptions for testosterone replacement therapy. Effective immediately, TRT is now banned in Nevada combat sports.
Belfort, to his indignation, has become the face of TRT, having been granted consecutive exemptions of late, which happen to coincide with a career rejuvenation. The three straight knockouts he’s recently collected – head kicks of Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold, and finally a rematch with Dan Henderson that led to finishes – have had the MMA community raising its collective eyebrow.
It’s become easy to question someone in Belfort’s position because TRT is a treatment that can help those with low testosterone as a result of past steroid use. In 2006, the fighter popped positive for an anabolic steroid after his Pride 32 fight with Henderson – who, coincidentally, later became a TRT user as well – and has since walked with the stigma of an association with performance-enhancing drugs.
Now that TRT is banned by Nevada, other athletic commissions, as well as the UFC, are following the state’s lead in kicking off the post-TRT era. Belfort has elected to stop utilizing the therapy and plans to now fight without the help of synthetic testosterone.
Try not to get caught up on the TRT-doesn’t-help-land-head-kicks talk because, much like Belfort’s lawyer’s opinion on the results of a drug test the fighter recently took, it’s irrelevant (for the record, the results of that test are without a doubt relevant). The fact is Belfort fought three times in Brazil, underwent a procedure that elevated his testosterone levels to a point past where his body naturally produces it, and walked away with one-sided wins over guys that were all formidable foes prior to meeting the self-proclaimed “Young Dinosaur.”
The standard for a performance-enhancing drug to be accepted inside the Octagon was set during this run, and it’s concerning.
Belfort said, according to his doctor, that he’ll need 90 days to come off his treatment for his body to adjust to the “extremely hard training routine.” Once his body has acclimated to being off the treatment, Belfort will then get a shot at the winner between Weidman and Machida.
What this basically means is Belfort will not compete with the assistance of a supplemental anabolic steroid in his system for the first time since 2012. The assumption is that he won’t be the same, and it’ll be noticeable in a five-round fight where 25 minutes may pass and exhaustion from lack of testosterone will start to show its ugly face.
But that’s the price Belfort will have to pay, and it’s for the greater good. It’s nothing against Belfort and his desire to take the steroid; it’s more so about the sport of mixed martial arts and its necessity to clean itself up. Allowing exemptions for testosterone was never a good idea for professional athletes, especially ones that are in their mid-30s or younger, which is at least 10 to 15 years before the target age for TRT patients.
If your body isn’t naturally producing the hormones it needs to compete in professional sports, and you need a performance enhancer to “even things out,” then it’s probably time to start buying three-piece suits and pick up a microphone for a post-fight career as an analyst. Word is it pays well; just ask Kenny Florian and Brian Stann.
Nevada made the best move it can make in dealing with one of the most controversial topics in combat sports, eliminating any leeway for it to be used with permission. But let’s not be naive and think this will clean up the sport. Whether or not Belfort or any other fighter was using TRT for the betterment of his health, precluding its use will not change the fact that there will still be abusers of artificial testosterone and other anabolic steroids, and until testing becomes airtight to the point of suffocation, the presence of performance-enhancing drugs will always be in sports in some facet.
Until then, those collective eyebrows will rise time and time again, wondering if something shady is going on behind the scenes. But it will no longer happen TRT with governing bodies or the sport’s largest promoter condoning it.
(Follow @Erik_Fontanez on Twitter)