Forrest Griffin and TRT: Why It Is Not OK for Media to Embrace the Trend

James MacDonaldFeatured ColumnistJuly 15, 2012

PHILADELPHIA - AUGUST 08:  Anderson Silva (R) throws a right punch to Forrest Griffin during their light heavyweight bout at UFC 101: Declaration at the Wachovia Center on August 8, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

A lot has been written about Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) in the past year, and this particular soap opera does not appear likely to run out of steam any time soon.

If one were to go to Las Vegas and throw a rock in any direction, there’s roughly a 50 percent chance that it would hit a fighter who is on TRT. OK, so that’s only a rough approximation. It’s probably more like 48 percent, or at least that’s the impression the fans are starting to get.

The media coverage of the issue could be characterised as the production of a moral panic. But as each new Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) for TRT comes to light, one realises that the number of column inches dedicated to the subject is not at all disproportionate.

The recent revelation that Forrest Griffin is now artificially boosting his testosterone levels has only added to the hysteria. This is a man who, at least from this writer’s perspective, does not take the sport of MMA as seriously as he once did. Despite his relative indifference, he has potentially tarnished his near spotless reputation by adding his name to the list of much-maligned fighters who have added testosterone to their diet.

A recent article on B/R defended Griffin’s decision to hop on the TRT bandwagon, arguing that fighters should be looking to extend their careers through any legal means available to them. That in and of itself is a respectable perspective, but the content of the argument rather missed the point.

The author makes the claim that, “If monitored properly… TRT can be used fairly.”

That is not strictly true. The issue with TRT has never been about the fighters’ levels on fight night—although the comically lax allowance of a 6:1 testosterone to epitestosterone ratio is worth addressing. The controversy has always surrounded the potential for fighters to boost their levels to Hulk-like proportions during training camps.

"But they aren’t competing against anyone when they train!" I hear many of you mewl.

Again, that is not the point. The problem is that boosting one’s testosterone levels allows one to train harder, for longer, and recover faster. In a nutshell, one fighter may be training like a regular human being, while the other is training like Superman.

If you are still having trouble grasping the issue, visualise the training montage from Rocky IV. Now think of Rocky as being like the Randy Coutures of the MMA world, and think of Ivan Drago as being like the Alistair Overeems of the business. That is what we are dealing with, and by any definition it constitutes an unfair competitive advantage.

Some may say that these fighters in their mid-30s are simply trying to restore parity, since younger athletes will have naturally higher testosterone levels. Here is my answer to that particularly naive objection. Once we develop a substance that, upon being injected, gives an athlete 10-15 years of MMA experience, then we can talk about fighters in the twilight of their career artificially turning back their biological clock.

That is not how competitive sport works. You do not get to step into a figurative time-machine and continue on indefinitely. More importantly, you do not get to choose a select few individuals who get access to that time-machine, while excluding others. It creates an uneven playing field, and that only hurts the sport in the long run.