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By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
The testosterone replacement therapy issue continues to permeate in the MMA world, and the prevalence of the treatment amongst fighters is leading many to look into doing it themselves. One such fighter is 37-year-old former Champion Rich Franklin, who said on Monday that it's an avenue he's at least explored as a means to continue his career.
"Yeah, I've kicked around that idea and everything, and actually I’ve talked to doctors that work with the UFC and the athletic commission in Nevada and all that kind of stuff," Franklin said in an interview with Ariel Helwani on "The MMA Hour". "And at 37, my count obviously is not what it was when I was 25, and I’m a candidate for that kind of stuff. I haven’t started yet."
"I'm not sure if that's something I want to do or how I want to approach that, because TRT is... once you start that process it’s a permanent fixture. Once you start putting those hormones in your body - those synthetic hormones - then your body is not going to produce its own hormones any more, and so you really have to think carefully. My levels are still decently healthy for a male, but they're not high enough to continue a prolonged career at a top level for many more years."
That last sentence highlights one of the issues with the treatment and its use in the sport. For a therapeutic use exemption to be warranted for the treatment, an athlete's testosterone levels are supposed to be below an average male level. That "average" mark is a wide range of levels, and only the severely low levels are supposed to result in a medical necessity for the treatment.
However, that doesn't stop doctors from prescribing it when fighters aren't at the "below average" levels. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson admitted he was simply lower on the scale, and brought up slightly with his use of the treatment. It's a system primed to be taken advantage of, and even Franklin admits that until everything is outlawed, fighters will be looking for ways to get around certain rules.
"I'm sure that there are people that find ways around things, and cheating and all that kind of stuff but that’s just a natural thing," Franklin said. "The only way to really, really, really cure something like that is to have a 100 percent zero tolerance policy on these kinds of things, but it’s just impossible across the board, because this is how sports operate."
Penick's Analysis: Here is where there's a major ideological crossroads on the issue of TRT. In the case Franklin is highlighting here, were he to try to undergo TRT, it wouldn't be as a medical necessity, it would be about prolonging his career. That's a clear intent for performance enhancement, keeping a career going when the body naturally can't do so. There is one side of the argument who believes there isn't anything wrong with that, and indeed would like to see any medical advancement that can improve an athlete and bring longevity to their career be legalized. However, with the rules as they stand, TRT continues to seem like a loophole being used by fighters to enhance their training and their overall performance without being stigmatized as a prohibited substance. The extreme view against TRT is that it is, at the base level, a performance enhancing drug, and athletes shouldn't at all be allowed to use it. Regardless of which side of the debate you fall on, what is clear is that the discussion isn't finishing anytime soon.
[Rich Franklin art by Cory Gould (c) MMATorch.com]
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
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