When the day comes that testosterone replacement therapy is finally, mercifully banned in MMA, we may well look back on this week as a tipping point.
Much of the years-long argument on the subject suddenly seemed moot on Monday morning, after the Association of Ringside Physicians released a statement flatly condemning the controversial treatment and calling for its elimination in combat sports.
By afternoon, that opinion had received support from a surprising figure: UFC president Dana White.
In what amounted to perhaps his strongest call to date for increased government regulation in MMA, White told the Associated Press he was “thrilled” by the ARP’s call to ban TRT.
Even more shocking, White said he hopes the Nevada Athletic Commission won’t grant a therapeutic use exemption to top contender Vitor Belfort when he fights Chris Weidman for the middleweight title later this year.
"The doctors came out and said they want to ban it? Well, that's the answer…," White said. "It's a problem solved."
Now let’s hope the UFC president’s new hardline sticks.
After years of taking a more hands-off approach to drug testing issues, White put his disdain for TRT on record early last year when he told fans in London he thought it was “cheating” and was “absolutely 100 percent” against it, according to a report from MMA Opinion.
A month later, after Lyoto Machida defeated TRT user Dan Henderson at UFC 157, White underlined that belief in an interview with AXS TV’s Inside MMA.
“There were some situations in the UFC where it just got to the point where I said, you know what? This is bullshit,” White said. “I don’t like it anymore. At one point, I was like, hey, listen, it’s sports medicine, it’s legal…(but) it’s unfair. You’re stronger, faster, more explosive, all the same results you get from doing a performance enhancing drug, right? And the recovery ability. Like, after you train, your recovery is a lot faster. Especially if you’re jacked up on that stuff.”
Since then, however, it’s been a bit more difficult to pin him down on the issue. Though he’s said he doesn’t like TRT—and the UFC has suspended fighters like Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Ben Rothwell, after they were caught with elevated testosterone levels—he’s vehemently defended Belfort and other fighters he’s implied use it properly.
White’s denied that Belfort spending 2013 fighting exclusively in Brazil had anything to do with his hormone therapy and bristled at the notion the NAC might not license him to fight Weidman in Las Vegas.
What’s more, once Belfort’s push toward a second middleweight title shot gained momentum with highlight reel knockouts of Luke Rockhold and Henderson, White seemed downright giddy over his performances. He even went as far as to use Belfort as the yardstick by which other aging fighters should measure their career resurgences.
Monday was a departure from all of that. Not only was it White’s first call that state athletic commissions should ban TRT, but it marked his first admittance (at least in so many words) that there had been a rift between he and Belfort on the subject.
"He drives me crazy, and me and Vitor were not on good terms a few months ago," White said to AP. "Just because this whole TRT thing, I think, is unfair, and I said we're going to test the living (daylights) out of him (during training). And we have, and he has complied, and he has been within the limits he's supposed to have."
The million-dollar question, of course, is what happens from here.
Now that White and ARP have both come out against TRT, it’s getting more and more difficult to make a case for why the stuff should be legal in combat sports. If the UFC can no longer be counted among those who even tacitly defend hormone therapy usage, it’s starting to seem like the only people for it are the fighters who use it and the doctors who sell it to them.
Making that circle ever smaller is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t yet amount to any substantive action.
We’ve seen White take a stand against TRT in the past, but then downplay the issue when users like Belfort, Henderson and Chael Sonnen start to get hot. What will he do this time?
As the NAC searches for a new executive director in the wake of Keith Kizer’s resignation earlier this month, let’s hope White continues to add his voice to the anti-TRT chorus.
As the date of Belfort vs. Weidman draws nearer, here’s hoping he sticks to his guns and keeps saying Belfort shouldn’t be using testosterone.
And if the athletic commissions won’t act? Perhaps the UFC will.
At this point, the fight company’s hat is officially in the ring.
Let’s see if it stays there.