The Dangerous Hyperbole Surrounding Testosterone Replacement Therapy

Jonathan Snowden@JESnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterMarch 30, 2012

Hulk Hogan
Hulk HoganPaul Hawthorne/Getty Images

This article reflects the opinion of the author.

Steroid use can be a dangerous game of "Can you top this?" Pro wrestling fans will remember the 1980s, when the success of ludicrously ripped acts like the Road Warriors and Hulk Hogan convinced promoters that swollen muscles were the key to monetary success. What followed were a ridiculous menagerie of overly muscled human action figures, wrestlers like Hercules Hernandez, who rewrote the book on human anatomy.

The result was tragic. Swollen hearts were an unfortunate byproduct of those swollen muscles. Wrestlers from that generation started dropping like flies. Most of our heroes, the wrestlers from that era we grew up on, like Rick Rude, Hawk and Curt Hennig, are dead and gone. No one who was a wrestling fan can possibly minimize the real danger in the drug's misuse.

But testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is not the same thing as steroid abuse. It's just not. If you don't trust the doctors who prescribe it to millions of men, trust your eyeballs. The UFC's top stars don't look like bodybuilders. They have lean and functional physiques.

The pythons Hulk Hogan was so proud of? That's a show muscle—the bicep is a muscle for people who want to look strong, not people who want to be strong. After all, its sole purpose is to lift up the lower part of your arm. That's it. Functional strength is built in your back, thighs and butt. Not in your arms.

The purpose of testosterone therapy isn't to build giant and jacked super warriors, complete with comic-book-style physiques and powerhouse punching prowess. TRT is designed to bring people, typically men in their 30s and above who have seen the amount of testosterone their bodies produce dip, back up to normal levels of testosterone.

It doesn't give athletes an unfair advantage over their opponents. If properly managed by the state athletic commission, a fighter will never even take particularly large doses. In Nevada, for example, a fighter looking to get approval for TRT has to submit at least five different tests to the commission. That doesn't leave much room for abuse (for more on the ins and outs of drug testing, please see Mike Chiappetta's exhaustive article at MMA Fighting).

That's what makes critiques of the procedure so baffling. Take Fight Opinion's Zach Arnold, an outspoken opponent of TRT, even if the fighter is under a doctor's care and carefully scrutinized by the state:

The media frenzy towards the UFC if a fighter, on a UFC-regulated show, cripples or kills another fighter while using testosterone will be voluminous. Let’s not go down this path in combat sports. Clean up the mess now before someone pays a permanent price. Once a major incident happens, the stain will be hard to erase and the damage will be done.

This is where Zach and I need to part ways. The men and women who compete in the cage do so with the knowledge that things could go badly, very badly, at any moment. That's what makes them so admirable—they understand the risks, accept them and enter that cage despite them.

So far, the sport has been lucky enough never to have a death inside the UFC's Octagon. Even serious injuries have been few and far between. If it happens, and boxing's tragic history tells us it inevitably will, it won't be because an older fighter has increased his energy level with TRT. It will be because the sport is inherently and unavoidably dangerous.

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