This column reflects the opinion of the author.
There is a battle brewing in the world of mixed martial arts. On one side is the president of the sport's most influential promotion, a man who is never afraid to speak his mind. And this man is a medical progressive, all in favor of procedures that will make his athletes better fighters for a longer time span. That support extends all the way to Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT), a controversial treatment that allows older fighters to compete with the testosterone levels of a much younger man.
"Here's the thing about TRT. It's absolutely 100% legal," he said in August 2012. "As sports medicine continues to advance, this is one of those things where every guy's testosterone level starts to drop as they get older and this is basically sports science now where they can bring it back up to a normal level. And I think it's great, it's absolutely fair, it's legal."
On the other side of this proverbial cage match over medical ethics, fighter safety and the tough issue of testosterone use, is the sport's most profane spokesman. Never at a loss for words, he told fans and the media gathered in London for UFC on Fuel 7 that older fighters using injections of testosterone were often just cheaters and that the practice needed to stop for the good of the sport.
"There are plenty of guys in the UFC that are naturally gifted and talented fighters," he said. "If your testosterone levels are too low then you’re probably too old to be fighting, stop fighting!...We can test everybody. I’m telling you right now, if you are using testosterone replacement therapy, get ready...because we’re going to test the sh*t out of you."
Unfortunately for fans of consistency and those trying to wrap their heads around a very complicated issue, those statements were both made by the same man.
UFC president Dana White can't seem to make up his mind about how his promotion and the sport of MMA is going to tackle this tricky problem. And, in fairness, it's an issue with many facets. I confess to having mixed feelings about TRT myself, torn between wanting to see great fighters extend their careers and the specter of an unfair advantage affecting the outcome of bouts.
To make matters even more confusing, White's actions don't join neatly with his words. While he says he doesn't support TRT in his sport, the fact is TRT user Dan Henderson will star in the co-main event of UFC 157 against Lyoto Machida next week.
TRT user Chael Sonnen is currently starring in The Ultimate Fighter and will compete for the light heavyweight title against Jon Jones in April.
TRT user Vitor Belfort was approved to use the treatment in a show the UFC helped regulate and will be on it again as he faces newcomer Luke Rockhold in Brazil later this year.
Years ago, my dad taught me an important lesson that has helped me navigate almost four decades on this planet. "Watch what they do," he told me. "That's more important than what they say." Sure, he was just ripping off an old maxim, but that makes it no less true.
Fighters aren't dumb. They had daddies too. And they'll be watching carefully. Everyone in the sport has learned to take what Dana says with a grain of salt. It's what he does about TRT that matters. And right now, it's still a ticket to the top of the UFC. Fighters will act accordingly.