Posted 11/12/2013 by Derek Suboticki in Subo Says

TRT Or Not To TRT: A Fighter’s Dilemma

By Derek Suboticki, November 12th, 2013

The ratings for UFC Fight Night 32 reflect… well, they reflect a card that didn’t have a lot of American impact. Outside of the hardcore MMA community, Brazil and (possibly) Temecula, the headlining bout between Olympic octogenarian Dan Henderson and New Old New Vitor Belfort wasn’t enough to entice the casual fan, at least not away from the incipient NBA season or college football’s prime. It’s understandable: the main card had a decidedly Brazilian flavor, catering to their new TUF crowd – an odd combination of words if ever I’ve typed one (hi, Shogun’s submission loss to Chael Sonnen!) – and a good chunk of the promotion’s (indeed, the sport’s) top talent is currently booked or injured [resists urge to make Anthony Pettis joke]. It also explains the focus, intense and negative, on Vitor Belfort’s use of testosterone replacement therapy.

Belfort’s entire second run in the UFC, beginning with his first round destruction of Rich Frankin at UFC 103 in 2009, has been accompanied (and, some would argue, fueled) by testosterone replacement therapy, hereafter referred to as TRT. During Vitor’s four year UFC sabbatical, he tested positive for steroids (later blaming an erroneous over-the-counter supplement purchase) at PRIDE 32 in 2006. Now, I know what you’re thinking, because I’m you: “But PRIDE didn’t drug test! They sucked! How did that happen?” Well, as a last-ditch effort to stay afloat, PRIDE decided to put on a PPV card in Las Vegas, which – spoiler alert! – has a slightly more stringent drug testing protocol than Honshu or Hokkaido. The card featured two failed drug tests (Belfort and Pawel Nastula, owner of one of the most brutal records in MMA history) and Randleman’s infamous attempt at floating Zombie Piss past the NSAC. Pro tip: that stuff is only good for pre-employment drug tests, and brother, there it is liquid gold.

(Side note: I disagree with Zuffa’s policy of only considering a bout a rematch if the first contest happened under their control. It’s history. I’m all for screwing Frank Shamrock [not Pat Miletich] forever, but let’s not go crazy here. This policy is why you’d never know Henderson and Belfort had fought before if you didn’t routinely read Subo Says. I’m providing a valuable service here. Lord’s work, really.)

Opposite the Phenom in Fight Night 32′s Octagon-shaped petri dish was “Decision” Dan “Hendo” “Hollywood” Henderson, whose nicknames have clearly undergone some sort of lab-assisted transformation over the years. While emerging unscathed by allegations of charisma or self-promotion skills, Hendowood managed to get a few shots in about Belfort, noting that he had already “beat him the first time when he was on steroids.” He also tried to minimize his own TRT usage, stating that he “always testing myself during camps even when I’m not required because people accuse me,” although, as we’ll talk about later, the ire of the MMA media crusading against TRT has disproportionately focused on Belfort. Vitor has, at length, attempted similar mitigation of the impact to his image; again, however, his has been assailed much, much more.

Henderson has his own theory on the disparity between criticism, chalking it up to Belfort’s positive test following their original battle. There are many fans that I’ve spoken to – keeping in mind the teeny, tiny universe of sports fans that are even AWARE of TRT, let alone for or against it – that propose a sort of dividing line between candidates for the therapy. Those without failed steroids tests on their records, they say, should be allowed to avail themselves of the opportunity to supplement their hormone levels as they age. The others? No (testosterone) soup for them. I’m torn here. Vitor was 29 for his original bout with Dan, but many fighters make the mistake of cheating at younger ages, and boy, I hope I’m smarter when I’m 36 than I am now. Punishing athletes in their late 30′s for mistakes they made in their early 20′s? I’m not, prima facie, comfortable with that.

Of course, we know that Vitor wasn’t the only fighter on TRT in that cage. We know Dan Henderson has been using TRT for years. But we don’t really like to talk about it, do we? As Mike Fagan (@itsmikefagan) demonstrated on Twitter using some fancy Google sorcery, there is a staggering disparity between articles about TRT that mention Vitor without Dan and article that commit the inverse:


Why is that, exactly? Is it, as Henderson posits, Belfort’s failure pre-TRT? Is it nationalism? Or is it, as I believe, a unique product of Henderson’s career over the last half decade? I don’t think anyone wants to look back at the Bisping knockout – which, it has to be mentioned, featured Dan bragging about hitting Bisping post-consciousness “just to shut him up a bit” and receiving NO HEAT WHATSOEVER FROM ANYONE – and think that Captain America was on the juice. The knockout of Fedor at a measly 206 lbs?  The war with Shogun? These fights are infinitely less likely to happen, let alone impress, without TRT. And while Belfort has his own highlight reel of knockouts in the same timespan (arguably over better competition), very few fighters garner hardcore affection (that came out wrong) like Dan Henderson. To be against TRT in all guises, to consider it a form of legalized cheating and promotional/AC collusion as, say, maybe a guy named Shmack Shmarnold might, is to be against years and years of Dan Henderson being Dan Henderson. I think that’s why you don’t hear his name as much.

It’s also way, way easier to make fun of Todd Duffee. I mean, come on.

Bottom line, I can’t imagine a fighter in his mid 30′s that qualifies for TRT and doesn’t use it out of some sense of honor or code. The very first rule anyone that ever plays video games with a sibling learns is “if they let you do it, it’s not illegal.” I think it’s a pretty silly thing to expect, and, consequently, I don’t. Can you imagine loving a fighter for years and then disavowing that relationship because they want to, with AC approval, extend their careers and make more money? Have you before? Will you in the future? I’m interested in hearing from you. Send your responses to the @mmaowl mailbag (and hate mail, too. It’s been too long since I got some) and, if I like them and they don’t make me look too bad, I’ll find some way to use your words towards my word count.

Let the hardcores do what they want to do, feel what they feel, condemn what they condemn. Jon Anik referred to a failed drug test suspension as “circumstances” in explaining Thiago Tavares’ temporary Octagon sojourn; one wouldn’t be terrified of the media if one were a TRT user. Don’t, as a fighter, handicap your earning ability as an athlete in fealty to an insatiable group.


Derek Suboticki  is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also co-hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at, also available as a podcast via iTunes.




Derek Suboticki

Derek Suboticki is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also co-hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at, also available as a podcast via iTunes. Previous work includes being former editor at Head Kick Legend and Fightlinker and contributor for Watch Kalib Run and Cageside Seats.