The testosterone replacement therapy era ended swiftly and unexpectedly on Thursday, with all the fireworks of a subdued but unanimous vote by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
As the first state regulatory body to ban TRT outright for combat sports, the NSAC reaffirmed its position as the nation’s most influential and forward-thinking athletic commission. Minutes later, the UFC joined the party by announcing it will follow Nevada’s lead and disallow TRT at shows where it does its own oversight and drug testing.
And thus, the decisive blow was finally struck in what for years has been MMA’s most high-profile performance-enhancing-drugs crisis.
As former baseball play-by-play man Jack Buck might say: Go crazy, folks, go crazy.
Clearly, the sport’s battle with PEDs is far from over. There is still a marked need for better, more thorough overall testing, and it remains to be seen how quickly other states will join Nevada in banning TRT. Even still, this must be regarded as a great day for MMA and a huge step toward a cleaner industry.
Very happy to see TRT banned, absolutely a ridiculous idea to start with and a major factor of my personal retirement from fighting— Brian Stann (@BrianStann) February 27, 2014
TRT was listed second-to-last on the NSAC’s 27-item agenda on Thursday and observers expected its discussion would focus merely on the commission’s standard for approving therapeutic-use exemptions. Instead, in a whirlwind dialogue and vote, the body banned TRT use entirely.
In the moments that followed, MMA social-media circles exploded in excited relief. The sport’s long national nightmare, it seemed, was on the verge of a happy ending.
UFC officials attending the meeting left hastily without talking to reporters, but minutes later, company president Dana White—who’s waffled on TRT over the years—reportedly texted ESPN’s Brett Okamoto to say he fully supported the move.
Dana White via text: It's a great day in the sport! I applaud NSAC. TRT needed to go away.— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) February 27, 2014
“(I) couldn’t wait for that garbage to go away,” White told MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani a bit later, as the UFC released a statement urging other state athletic commissions to also ban TRT.
It was hard not to notice a subtle sense of irony on the day, as the NSAC voted to eliminate testosterone use at the same meeting where it approved the UFC’s request to hold a pay-per-view event at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on May 24.
It is thought that show will be UFC 173 and feature the middleweight title bout between Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort.
Belfort became the poster boy for TRT use during 2013, winning three straight fights via head-kick knockout while seeming to recapture the speed and fearsome power of his 19-year-old self.
As a fighter who’d been caught using steroids in Nevada in 2006, Belfort’s TRT usage raised suspicions among fans and media, especially when he claimed he couldn’t remember when he started the controversial treatment or the name of the doctor who recommended it.
It had been assumed that Belfort would apply for a TUE in Nevada leading up to his clash with Weidman. No word yet on what the 36-year-old "Phenom" will do now.
UFC expected to issue a press release on this news in the coming hours. I have reached out to Vitor Belfort but no response just yet.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) February 27, 2014
The NSAC vote was also notable because it came just two days after an ESPN Outside the Lines report indicated that the mainstream media had finally noticed MMA’s massive TRT-related black eye.
The collaboration of ESPN investigative reporter Mike Fish and longtime fight journalist Josh Gross was a painstakingly comprehensive look at TRT in MMA. While the report was likely an eye-opener for the uninitiated, for people already familiar with the story, it was simply the last nail in the TRT coffin.
In its wake, it was no longer possible to go on blathering about “normal” hormone levels or “hypogonadism” without looking like a fool.
Perhaps NSAC members read the series of stories before casting their historic vote. Perhaps not. Whatever the reason, kudos to the “fight capital of the world” for finally doing the right thing on behalf of clean fighters, dedicated fans and the good name of MMA as a whole.
This decision by the NSAC and UFC isn’t a magic elixir that will cure all (or even most) PED use in MMA. State commissions will conceivably need to work even harder now to catch drug cheats. Indeed, Nevada commission members admitted part of their reasoning for banning TRT was that they didn’t have the budget to track it properly.
Make no mistake, though, this is a leap in the right direction. As other major sports work feverishly to cleanse themselves of PEDs, MMA will no longer appear complicit in aiding and abetting those who take chemical-induced shortcuts.
The loophole is now closed and those MMA fighters who continue to look for a leg up from science will have to do it outside the rules.
That alone is cause for celebration.