Recently, testosterone replacement therapy seems like a bit of a failure in MMA.
Chael Sonnen and Frank Mir—two UFC fighters who have successfully gained therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) for testosterone replacement therapy (TRT)—have famously come up short in three title fights between them.
But what would've happened if they had won?
Could we still respect Sonnen if he had beaten Anderson Silva into the mat during their UFC 148 rematch, fueled with extra testosterone that wasn't his own?
If Frank Mir had battled back from getting picked apart by Junior dos Santos at UFC 146 and snatched a last-minute submission win from the jaws of defeat, what would we say with the knowledge that Mir needed a biological handicap to beat the champion?
Just how large would that asterisk have been?
Regardless of what you may think about TRT, the fact remains that some MMA fighters use it, and we may eventually have a "TRT champion" in the UFC.
In fact, it's more possible than we may think.
We came extremely close with UFC 151: The infamous canceled fight card where Jon Jones was supposed to face former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson.
According to a previous interview with ESPN, "Hendo" has been on TRT since 2007—the same year that he transitioned from PRIDE to the UFC and promptly lost two title unification bouts to Quinton Jackson and Anderson Silva.
Henderson has since climbed back into the pound-for-pound rankings while retaining his "H-bomb" punch, defying years of wear and his own old age. It's an amazing story for a fading legend.
But it's still underlined by TRT use. So what's the difference?
Fighters like Michael Bisping, Mark Munoz and Tito Ortiz (along with several others) are unambiguous about their stance. To them, it's cheating, plain and simple, even if you have special permission to do so by an athletic commission. It's a fair point, especially since TRT is thought to level a playing field that should rightfully skew to younger, healthier fighters with good genes.
However, it's hard to label Henderson a cheater. He claims he regularly monitors his testosterone levels and naturally tests below the average. He also advocates stricter supervision by state commissions. By all counts, he plays by the book.
So if Henderson had beaten Jones by KO, would his TRT use have mattered that much?
Would that invalidate his title reign?
This author seriously doubts many MMA fans would have really begrudged the beloved American hero for using testosterone treatments to drag himself up to a competitive level against a champion 17 years younger and faster. Especially a champion as universally hated as Jones, for that matter.
Sonnen, Mir, Nate Marquardt and Forrest Griffin have all used TRT, but there's a perception that they do it for an unfair edge, and not because they legitimately need it.
Henderson, on the other hand, is lumbering into cages with a giant ticking clock following him everywhere he goes, propping himself up with equal parts will, stubbornness and science.
At the moment, only a few MMA fans (and Jones) seem to have an issue with that last ingredient.
So maybe our concern isn't the act of a TRT user winning a UFC championship.
Maybe what ultimately matters is which fighter eventually wins a UFC title on TRT, the legality of his (or her) TUE, and whether or not that champion's current popularity is positive enough that it overshadows the stigma of the treatment in the first place.
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