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By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
The issue of testosterone replacement therapy has been a hot topic as of late, brought back to the surface with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson's revelation that he was on the treatment heading into his fight with Ryan Bader at UFC 144.
UFC President Dana White has been asked about it many times, but to date hasn't really clearly given his stance on it outside of touting its legality and the fact that the commissions allow it. During a media scrum following a UFC 146 pre-fight press conference on Tuesday (video at MMAWeekly.com), he gave as clear a response as he has ever given.
"I actually think that [TRT is] good…" he began. "Obviously it's bad these guys who abused steroids earlier in their career, that's what's so terrible. Amongst all the other things that you find out what's good and what's bad about using steroids, these young, talented guys - who are full of testosterone already - go in and and start abusing these drugs; now when you get up to your late 20s - which should be your prime - and early 30s, now you're all screwed up. You're off the steroids and now you've destroyed your system forever to where your body can't produce testosterone. Now we have medicine where you can replace it and get back to normal levels. Which is good. But we want to stop guys from taking steroids when they're young. You shouldn't do it. It's bad; no matter what short term effects you have, the longterm effects are a lot worse. It's stupid, and that's what we're trying to stop right now. Testosterone replacement therapy isn't [as big an issue]."
While White often deflects conversation about drug testing in the sport by pointing to the responsibility and oversight of state athletic commissions, he tried to tout what they are now doing as a positive step forward.
"We're involved a lot," White said. "Every guy gets tested on The Ultimate Fighter. All of the guys [living in the house] tested negative for any type of performance enhancing drug or any other kind of drug. And [we did] full background checks to get into The Ultimate Fighter. Because we do all these full medicals on these guys, we've found some things like brain aneurysms, things that guys didn't know about because they were fighting on these smaller shows that don't give the money for proper medicals."
"The other thing is, whether you live in the house for six weeks, or now 13 weeks, you're not doing s***. You're not using anything while you're in there. You end up winning The Ultimate Fighter based on your talent, your skills, conditioning, etc. And now we don't sign guys to contracts without testing them first. We do more, and the athletic commission does more, than any other sport on this planet, I don't know how many more times I can say that."
White's frustration grew when he was confronted about out of competition testing as opposed to what is typically just days before and after fights.
"Let me put it to you this way: we've got 375 guys under contract, we're doing a zillion fights a year, traveling all over the world, all these other things we're doing," he stated. "Now do you really think that we can crack down and just f***ing chase these guys around everywhere they live all over the world, and just randomly test these guys all the time? On top of all the other things we're doing?"
"These guys are being tested [multiple times]," White continued. "Look at a guy like [Alistair] Overeem. Overeem's never popped positive for anything. They pre-tested him before he fought last time. They guy's never tested positive for anything, but you look at the guy and some think, 'damn, he's a lot bigger than he was...' They're pre-testing him, and he was negative. Then they tested him again after the fight. They pre-tested Nick Diaz for marijuana, then tested him after the fight. The list goes on and on, not just these guys. They busted Nate Marquardt before the fight. Nate Marquardt's out the day of the fight."
"So come on, let's be realistic... It's unrealistic for me to chase these f***ing guys all over the world and test them for marijuana, cocaine, steroids, this and that, it's impossible. We do more than any other sports organization on the planet. I want to see f***ing baseball, football, all those other guys get tested the way we get tested. There'd be no football or baseball or whatever if they got tested the way we get tested."
Penick's Analysis: There are multiple issues with this entire conversation. Let's start with TRT. The main issue I have with the use of TRT in the sport is the fact that it's not being diagnosed, administered, or monitored properly. There are fighters using TRT who have not been examined over a period of several months by a board certified endocrinologist to determine that their testosterone levels are below acceptable levels, necessitating the need for this therapy. There is a wide range of acceptable testosterone levels for males in the age range that the UFC employs, and unless a fighter is below the low end, they shouldn't be getting approved for TRT because they're already in normal ranges.
Now, I'm not necessarily against a fighter who has previously used steroids in his career getting approval for TRT to move within normal. That said, it would only be acceptable if they underwent extensive testing to see that they're under normal levels, and they'd need to be monitored frequently to make sure the levels are being kept where they're supposed to be. However, that's not how TRT is being administered and handled right now, and that leads to an unacceptable acceptance of the treatment from White and the UFC at this time.
As far as random drug testing is concerned, it's not unrealistic to think the UFC could be administering out of competition testing. If they really want to hold the claim of the most thoroughly tested sport, then maybe they should create a dedicated department in their company that handles drug testing.
The sports he mentions have far more than 375 athletes competing, and there is out of competition drug testing with clearly defined punishments for positive tests. They've been implemented in a more widespread fashion in recent years because of scandals in the respective sports regarding this issue.
Then there are the Olympics. There are athletes from hundreds and hundreds of countries who compete in the Olympics, and they're tested out of competition and far more frequently than those in the UFC. The thought that the UFC is doing all that could be done, or that implementing some type of out of competition testing is unreasonable or unrealistic is false.
Honestly, they don't even have a responsibility to implement anything more. But they also can't make the claim that they're the most stringently tested sport in the world based off what's currently in place.
It's not even an issue of what should or shouldn't be allowed. There may be many practical reasons for allowing athletes to use certain performance enhancers in a monitored and controlled way to maximize what they're able to do in their respective field. But when the systems in place don't allow for that, and testing as it stands is well behind what's being used, these claims of stringent testing don't hold much, if any, weight, and it's really a disingenuous argument to make.
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
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