An Ode to TRT, MMA’s Departed Helping Hand
I don’t agree with Mike Fagan. While both a useful template for beginning articles (and a guiding principle of Untethered MMA), this simple phrase also accurately describes my opinion on Fagan’s love of all things performance enhancing drug related. Perhaps as a young child, Fagan caught the All Drug Olympics sketch on Saturday Night Live (recognizable to any proper Kevin Nealon aficionado) and, then and there, decided that athletes should be free – free to decide what to push, how far, and by what means. MLB enthusiastically embraced this model during the 1990′s, with reporters actually noticing jars of substances banned in other sports protruding from Mark McGwire’s locker during interviews; it worked out pretty well for them, ultimately. So when the Nevada State Athletic Commission unexpectedly banned the issuance of therapeutic usage exemptions (hereafter known as TUE) of testosterone replacement therapy (hereafter known as TRT), Mike Fagan promptly shed a tear for TRT.
So did I, strangely enough.
There were two sides to my reaction to the news, and the first was primarily logical and practical. The move by the NSAC cast immediate aspersions (although not to me, regrettably) on the then-scheduled Weidman-Belfort title shot, ultimately resulting in Belfort’s premature withdrawal from the bout in order to “readjust” to training without a TRT TUE. It also directly impacted the recently suspended Antonio Silva who, despite a clearly documented history of pituitary-related growth spurts rendering his endocrine system incapable of producing enough testosterone to adequately supply him, would now return from his nine month suspension absent TRT. These athletes were among the most tested in combat sports, subjecting themselves to an out-of-competition regiment that dwarfed what non-recipients of TUEs were subject to (this was expertly covered by Iain Kidd at Bloody Elbow). In essence – and in the wake of the ESPN OTL report that had multiple athletes in MLB, the NFL and NHL receiving TUEs for TRT while playing – I saw the decision as one that punished some fighters with legitimate medical concerns while lessening the number of drug tests for those intent on gaming the system.
The other side? Well, that one was completely selfish, and it’s the one I’d like to talk to you about today. I’m going to miss TRT because it was really, really fun to watch at work sometimes! You’ll notice athletes all the time that sort of “put it together” in terms of gameplanning, training and lifestyle choices later in their career, and you’ll think back wistfully to when you and they were younger and try to picture what today’s brain could have done in yesterday’s body. With TRT, in at least a few spectacular instances, we got to see some of the greatest fighters of all time combining late-career wisdom with prime-career power. And my GOD, was it glorious.
Antonio Silva v. Mark Hunt, UFC Fight Night 33 – Since I’m not Luke Thomas (looks up, mouths “thank you”), I’m going to refrain from calling a 6’5, 280 lb professional fighter a liar when it comes to the consequences of his pituitary tumor. Given that Bigfoot isn’t making up/faking his acromegaly, his medical need for TRT is arguable to even the most ardent opponents of TUEs. Keep in mind: Bigfoot received a TUE for TRT for this fight and still failed the drug test because your T/E ratio is not magically adjusted when you receive a TUE – it remains the same and, in fact, is scrutinized more carefully than your non-TRT receiving opponent. Pezao’s victories over Fedor, Browne and Overeem were – and are – legitimate wins. I’m just hoping some of it rubbed off on Hunt.
Anderson Silva v. Chael Sonnen II, UFC 148 (Fight Pass link) – UFC 117 mirrors the above in that its TUE recipient, Chael Sonnen, also failed his post-fight drug test for having an unacceptable T/E ratio (the standard for which, again, remains the same whether or not one is on TRT) and was suspended, forcing him to win two more fights en route to this titanic rematch. Over a million PPVs were generated by the anticipation (Silva’s sneaky shoulder strike during the pre-fight presser certainly didn’t hurt), culminating in a brutal body-knee finish and little doubt as to whether Silva still had it. Sonnen was, correctly, forced to win two fights following his suspension in order to earn his rematch, and one of them – the final one – was a close decision victory over Michael Bisping.
And now, the part you’ve all been waiting for.
So TRT is now officially banned in Nevada. U could argue I only have one loss on my record. After I beat Kennedy I want my shot at the title
— michael (@bisping) February 27, 2014
Michael Bisping v. Chael Sonnen, UFC on Fox: Evans v. Davis (despite what Fight Pass tells you) – I’m slightly confused by Bisping’s tweet, in that it seems to imply that only one of his losses has come to an opponent that wasn’t on TRT. Does that mean he’s implying that Rashad Evans was/is on a TUE, or that Wanderlei Silva was/is? In the interest of journalistic integrity (and not getting e-mails like I did from Matt Lindland that one time [hi, Matt!]), I will leave both out from this delightful children’s treasury of Michael Bisping losing to fighters on TRT.
Michael Bisping v. Dan Henderson, UFC 100 (Fight Pass link) – TUF ultimately served only one purpose this season, and that was to convince America that Michael Bisping sucked and needed to be knocked out by a true American Hero. And, in the most bought MMA PPV in history, it happenened. It was beautiful. It remains beautiful. It’s still the only example of a fighter BRAGGING about throwing an unnecessary blow and catching zero heat for it.
Michael Bisping v. Vitor Belfort, UFC on FX 7 (Goddammit, Fight Pass. You make it so hard to defend you sometimes.) – Bisping, once again a win away from a title shot, is once again swatted away like a silly fly. If you can go through this collection if Bisping-related misery and still oppose TRT, you’re a better MMA fan than I, good sir/ma’am.
I don’t agree with Mike Fagan on performance enhancing drugs overall. But I’m going to miss TRT.