Posted 09/14/2014 by Mike Fagan in Untethered MMA

UFC Fight Night 51: Bigfoot Silva vs. Andrei Arlovski Review

Maybe you skipped UFC Fight Night 51 and, instead, hiked in a state park or picked apples with a loved one or found twenty minutes in your day to do some contemplative meditation. You know, good for you; that’s a great way to enjoy life. But the UFC machine has sucked you in, and you found yourself checking Twitter for UFC results. Maybe you should turn your phone off and just enjoy the moment, you know? But who am I to judge?

Anyway, you were probably surprised to see Andrei Arlovski knock out Antonio Silva. You should have been surprised: “Bigfoot” Silva’s been a quality heavyweight for some years now, and we’ve written Arlovski off since 2011. Silva came into this fight as a 3-1 favorite for a reason.

While the result was surprising, it was a natural conclusion to the fight that played out. Bigfoot looked slow and plodded around the cage. That’s not out of the ordinary as Bigfoot’s always been on the slower and ploddier side of things, but he looked especially so last night. Play-by-play man Jon Anik made note of Silva biding his time (or something similar), but Silva looked more like a guy fighting a half-second behind. Arlovski consistently beat him to the punch while controlling pace and distance.

Nine months ago, Silva fought Mark Hunt in what may have been the greatest heavyweight fight in UFC history. The Bigfoot in that fight threw 40 or more strikes in three separate rounds, including 82 and 69 in rounds four and five, respectively. The UFC found elevated levels of testosterone in his system, however, and suspended him for nine months.

Silva was on testosterone replacement therapy thanks to acromegaly, the same syndrome that gave wrestlers Andre Rousimoff (aka Andre the Giant) and Paul Wight their tremendous size. A cyst on the pituitary gland causes Silva’s acromegaly, which affects the production of testosterone. According to his manager, Alex Davis, Silva’s normal testosterone level is 70 ng/ml. (Typical male levels are anywhere between 250 and 1000 ng/ml.) Testosterone therapy allowed Silva to avoid surgery to remove the cyst.

You might wonder why Silva would avoid a surgery that seems so beneficial. The pituitary gland sits under the brain, and the only way to access it is through the nose. Injecting testosterone seems like a reasonable alternative.

But that’s no longer an option for Silva thanks to the Nevada commission’s ban on testosterone replacement therapy. That ban came two days after an ESPN published an Outside the Lines report investigating the issue. It’s hard to look at the rate of TRT use in MMA/the UFC and not suspect something was up. That something could be the effect of long-term side side effects of weight cutting and/or head trauma, prior steroid abuse, and/or straight-up corruption. In the case of Bigfoot Silva, however, it appears to be a legitimate medical issue.

That Outside the Lines report also notes the number of therapeutic-use exemptions handed out in other sports. Major League Baseball handed out six over the prior six seasons. The National Football League was more ambiguous, but admitted a “’handful’ had been handed out since 1990.” Even the United States Anti-Doping Agency had authorized an exemption in the past year. MMA wasn’t alone in this regard.

Even if we assume every fighter on TRT abused a loophole in the system, the answer isn’t to shut down therapeutic-use exemptions. The answer is to close the loophole. Provide stricter standards for receiving therapeutic-use exemptions for testosterone, perhaps by requiring a diagnosis from a commission-approved endocrinologist.

There’s a refrain from some anti-doping types that if a fighter’s body isn’t producing enough testosterone naturally that fighter should not be fighting. But we would not suggest commissions prevent diabetic fighters from fighting because their bodies do not produce enough insulin naturally. (Insulin is on WADA’s list of banned substances. Diabetics are given a sort of automatic therapeutic-use exemption.) Whether Bigfoot or Dan Henderson or anyone else with past TRT use is on the up-and-up is irrelevant; someone will eventually come along with a legitimate medical need.

We can’t fully subscribe Bigfoot Silva’s performance to a lack of testosterone use. The fight with Hunt also saw him absorb 184 strikes, somewhere around 90% of which landed on his head. And at 35 years of age (happy birthday, Antonio) and 25 professional fights, he could simply have hit a wall in his career. But the fighter we saw last night was a shell of the fighter we saw nine months ago, and he’s on his way to surgery on his head in direct response to the TRT ban.

Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter

Mike Fagan