COMMENTARY | It's almost as if every fighter in the UFC nowadays undergoes testosterone replacement therapy (TRT).
It's been a hotly debated topic over the past couple of years due to its increasing popularity in the sport of MMA. Some call it cheating, others don't seem to have any problems with it, while a few are still on the fence about this issue.
Does TRT give fighters a competitive edge?
Well, it depends.
For example, if a fighter truly has low testosterone levels, the process just brings the person in question's testosterone levels to the normal threshold. So technically speaking, that fighter wouldn't have a competitive edge against healthy males with naturally normal levels.
So what's all the fuss about?
Like almost everything else, a number of folks find ways to abuse the system. Some fighters increase their testosterone levels significantly beyond the normal threshold during training, which would give them a competitive edge, and then drop down to normal levels prior to their bouts -- which is usually around when they get tested.
That became obvious when an increasing number of muscle-bound MMA fighters started suffering from low testosterone levels even though only about 1 percent of males between the ages of 18-40 in the general population suffer from naturally low testosterone levels.
It's been a while since I studied statistics, but I'm pretty sure the number of UFC fighters with therapeutic use exemptions for TRT is significantly higher than 1 percent. Of course, past steroid use increases the chances of low testosterone levels.
Surely, the UFC's brass must have noticed the emerging trend, yet they failed to enact new policies aimed at curbing the abuse of therapeutic use exemptions (TUE) for TRT.
At times, it even seemed like they were encouraging it.
When Chael Sonnen's sample showed elevated testosterone levels following his UFC 117 encounter against Anderson Silva, the bout that turned "The American Gangster" into a household name thanks to his dominant performance against "The Spider," even though Sonnen ended up getting submitted during the fifth round, the Ultimate Fighting Championship's brass was all too willing to forgive Sonnen even though he didn't even bother with getting a TUE.
Unlike Pat Healy, who lost $130,000 in bonuses for testing positive for marijuana metabolites after putting Jim Miller to sleep at UFC 159, Sonnen got to keep the extra $60,000 he netted for receiving the "Fight of the Night" honors.
Many fans were just as forgiving, holding Sonnen up as the next best thing to hit the world since the internet, while UFC president Dana White was busy trying to figure out how to maximize Silva vs. Sonnen 2 profits.
Of course, a lot of things have changed since then. With all the recent criticism of TRT in MMA, White has changed his stance, and he now vows to stop fighters from abusing the system.
While it might not seem obvious to some, fighters aren't to blame for the current TRT dilemma. It's the lack of proper regulatory procedures by the UFC (local athletic commissions also share part of the blame) and other mixed martial arts promotions that has always been the problem.
Simply put, when properly monitored, it's difficult to gain a competitive edge from TRT usage, as frequent tests and strong penalties for violators go a long way in terms of keeping everyone honest.
Unfortunately, no one was doing that for quite some time.
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