Testosterone replacement therapy.
It's the bane of the mixed martial arts world. Some folks, like myself, think it's nothing more than legalized cheating.
Athletes who have damaged their bodies with steroid usage in the past are able to score a little piece of paper from athletic commissions across the United States, and that piece of paper allows them to undo the effects of their past attempts to cheat. Instead of paying a penalty for using steroids and living with the consequences of their actions, they're given a free pass that allows them to compete against other fighters who have never once injected anything into their bodies.
Older fighters are able to turn back the clock. Instead of going through the natural aging process, they're given permission to inject themselves with a substance that essentially keeps them young, at least in athletic terms. Their bodies don't experience the decline that comes with age. Instead, they pump themselves full of a substance straight from the fountain of youth, one that allows them to train just as hard—if not harder, in some cases—than they did 10 years ago.
Dana White used to be ambivalent about TRT, back in the days before it became an epidemic. Now? White hates it so much that he's instituted random drug testing for any UFC fighter who scores a TRT exemption. If you're a UFC fighter and you get your hands on a TRT exemption, White says he's going to ensure that you're playing by the rules, that you're not overloading your system with testosterone and then scaling it back when it's time for a drug test.
TRT and the folks who use it are nearly always in the news. It remains a hot-button issue that won't go away. And that's because with every passing UFC event, we're discovering more and more fighters who have an exemption. At first, it was Chael Sonnen and Todd Duffee.
Now? Forrest Griffin, Frank Mir and Vitor Belfort have exemptions. And those are just the ones we know about; we don't know if the UFC has granted exemptions for fighters who participate in the overseas cards that the promotion regulates, because they don't have to tell us.
Belfort and his TRT exemption are back in the news because he's fighting Luke Rockhold next weekend, and Rockhold doesn't like TRT. Check out Rockhold's comments to MMAFightCorner.com:
And most of all, I got more heart than Vitor. I think I’m more of a man than Vitor.... I’m fired up about [his testosterone replacement therapy, TRT]. It just fuels me even more. It just motivates me to train and it just puts a little chip on my shoulder.
Belfort addressed Rockhold's comments during an appearance on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani:
"Why don't they talk about people that are on TRT and lose in the first round? TRT doesn't win fights. Look at Chael Sonnen, he's on TRT and he's lost fights in the first, second round. That doesn't win fights, you have to have skills."
Belfort has a point. TRT doesn't win fights all by itself. You could pump me full of pure testosterone for six months straight, and I'd still consider myself lucky to go in the cage and last more than 15 seconds with any fighter on the UFC roster.
But whether or not TRT wins fights as a standalone product isn't the issue here. By the time fight night rolls around, any fighter with a TRT exemption must have his T:E (testosterone to epitestosterone) ratio within the normal range specified by the athletic commission. Which is to say that when a TRT-enabled fighter steps in the cage, he's got the same amount of testosterone in his system as his non-using opponent.
But that's not the issue, is it? The real problem I have with TRT is that it gives an athlete advantages during his training camp.
It's a miracle drug for fighters who are tired or banged up, and I think most fighters would fall in that category while enduring a grueling eight-to-10-week training camp.
Imagine that you're a fighter, and you've gone through five or six weeks of difficult training. You're exhausted, and rightly so. You need to take some time off, but you don't want to miss your afternoon wrestling session or your sparring rounds at night.
With TRT, you don't have to miss anything; you just continue your regimen of government-sanctioned testosterone, and your body magically heals itself in no time flat. You feel younger and stronger, and you're able to train longer than you ever did before you started taking the stuff. Forget missing sessions; if anything, you're adding more workouts than you did before.
And all this is happening while your opponent—who doesn't take testosterone because he either believes in a clean sport or he doesn't qualify—is tiring and taking days off because his body can't handle the load.
TRT gives you the advantage of being able to train longer and push harder than you ever could if you weren't on the stuff.
Should fighters be allowed to use TRT?
And that's the issue here. I don't believe that TRT gives anyone superpowers when they step in the cage; we've seen fighters on TRT (Chael Sonnen and Frank Mir) lose in the last month. A TRT-enabled fighter isn't going to go in the cage and exhibit some kind of super-human strength. He's not going to kill anyone because of the strength TRT gives him.
But it certainly does give fighters an advantage during training camp.
That's the crux of the problem I have: that it creates an uneven playing field. If your opponent isn't using TRT, then you shouldn't be able to, either. I don't care if the government says it's okay or that you believe it's what you need to survive.
If your body needs testosterone to compete in combat sports—and I don't care if it's because you're old or because you damaged your body by using steroids in the past or because you just want to use the stuff—you probably shouldn't be competing in the first place.
Anything else is cheating.