MMA: Is TRT Becoming the Default Excuse for Cheating in MMA?

Elton HobsonCorrespondent IJune 30, 2011

I’m going to do something in this article I once thought I’d never do.

I’m going to agree with BJ Penn.

Recently, the pride of Hilo took to Twitter to vent his frustration about the Nate Marquardt/TRT scandal. In his usual measured, diplomatic style, Penn explained that the recent rash of TRT (Testosterone Replacement Therapy) cases in MMA was, in his educated opinion, “B.S.”

Amen, brotha (editor’s note: the author of this article is not BJ Penn’s “brotha” in either the biological or Hulkamaniac sense of the word).

It was a little surprising to find myself siding with the vitriolic Hawaiian. I remember the last time Penn made so public an outcry—the seemingly endless BJ/GSP “Greasegate” fiasco—I spent pretty much the whole time doing this.

It was just a three-month long biblical rain of facepalms. It sucked.

Yet here I am, shaking my clenched fist of indignant rage right alongside him.

Maybe it’s because I’m starting to feel like I’m caught in MMA “Groundhog Day” every time another fighter gets busted for having enough testosterone in their system to fuel a high school basketball team.

The script reads something like this: suspicions are raised after Fighter X takes a piss test that melts the Daisy cup (or whatever) faster then a lougie from this guy. Fighter X breaks out the violin to tell one of the two default excuse stories for steroids in MMA.

The first story revolves around Fighter X somehow not knowing that one of the many “supplements” he grinds into his morning bowl of Wheaties each day contains enough testosterone to kill a Centaur.

The second story—and the one that has become the du jour favorite—usually starts with a heart-wrenching story about misspent puberty’s, failing personal lives and the all-important symptom of “not feeling like myself” lead Fighter X to seek out medical advice.

Usually, this comes from a trench coat wearing “doctor” who’s degree is neatly scribbled on the back of a napkin from Harvey’s (which also doubles as his office).

The problem? Low testosterone levels, of course! The solution? Some nice, totally legal, medically approved shots of liquid cheating in your left ass cheek, stat!

Am I being cheeky here (OK, pun intended)? Of course I am.

Yet in both Chael Sonnen’s case and Nate Marquardt’s (the two most recent high profile cases of TRT in MMA) there is considerable suspicion to be cast on their respective physicians.

In Marquardt’s case, his application was all wrapped up except for the minor problem of his doctor being not USADA approved and being reg-flagged in the state of New Jersey. Whoops.

Sean Sherk is a famous example of a "Story A" fighter - though the same machine that tested him positive said a glass of tap water was on 'roids, so who really knows?
Sean Sherk is a famous example of a "Story A" fighter - though the same machine that tested him positive said a glass of tap water was on 'roids, so who really knows?

In Chael Sonnen’s case, well, he brought this guy to his CSAC hearing. This guy didn’t bring an M.D.

Let me be clear: I don’t mean to completely discredit the millions of people who take TRT for sound, medically justifiable reasons.

I just find it hard to believe so many of those millions chose to pursue Mixed Martial Arts as a career path.

Look at Chael Sonnen, possibly MMA’s most (in)famous TRT case. The normally abrasive Sonnen told quite a sad story when he was dragged in front of the CSAC to explain why he had taken testosterone in advance of his UFC 117 fight with Anderson Silva.

Rather then go with the obvious reason (“Because I was fighting Anderson freakin’ Silva, and I didn’t think I could smuggle a baseball bat or a .44 Magnum int the Octagon in m trunks”), Sonnen broke into a long soliloquy about non-functioning gonads and critically low testosterone and a non-existent puberty and the challenges of living with a disability.

Never mind the fact that while Chael was battling this debilitating handicap, he was also winning high school, state and national wrestling championships.

Quite a feat for a man who needed a doctor’s needle to even achieve “normal” levels of testosterone, wouldn’t you say?

Or what about Shane Carwin, a teammate of Marquardt’s at Grudge Training Centre and a man who looks like someone stretched Bruce Banner’s skin over The Hulk’s body. A federal investigation revealed Carwin once had equine growth hormone (yeah, horse steroids) mailed to his house.

Carwin recently said there was “nothing to comment on” in regards to those now year-long steroid allegations. He then stuck his fingers in his ears, stuck out his tongue at Ariel Helwani, and ran away shouting, “La la la la! I can’t hear you!”

Chael Sonnen shows off his infamous bacne.
Chael Sonnen shows off his infamous bacne.

And then there’s Marquardt himself, who to his credit has been much more forthcoming and remorseful then either Carwin or Sonnen.

I want to believe his sad tale of failing marriage and lost energy and the dreaded “not feeling like himself”. I do. I really do.

But then I remember his 2005 suspension for PED use and his use of the tried and true “Story A” (the supplements in the Wheaties one) to explain away the infraction. I remember his post-fight scrap with Renzo Gracie in Pancrase, his attempt to piledrive Thales Leites and the accusations of greasing from Rousimar Palhares.

And it all adds up to a plate full of excuses and half-truths I don’t think I can swallow.

You know the old adage about where there’s smoke, there’s fire? Well right now Nate Marquardt’s house is billowing smoke from every door, window and crack, while he stands out front trying to tell people that he merely left the cake in the oven too long. Again.

It almost makes me respect Josh Barnett, MMA’s most despised PED user, for the audacity and the—can I call it honesty?—of his “excuse.”

His explanation (to the extent he even has one) pretty much boils down to, “Yeah, maybe I took steroids. Maybe not. Maybe f**k yourself.” Blunt. Unremorseful. Real.

It beats the multitude of fighters who are pissing in fans ears and telling them it’s rain. Or to use a more fitting analogy, are leaking chemical whatever into commission approved testing cups and telling them it’s piss.

I won’t get into the morality or “rightness” of PED use, which is a whole discussion in and of itself. If we’re going to outlaw them, and react with anger and disappointment as fans when someone gets caught using (which we always do, don’t lie) then we need to not be satisfied with the same lame excuse—or worse, no excuse at all—time after time.

Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, well, better blame your non-functioning gonads.