Time To Take A Stand Against PEDS

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There is something very wrong with our sport.

We’ve all known it for a while but by and large we’ve taken each failed PED test as an isolated incident, shaken our heads about cheats and tried not to think too hard about it.

We can’t do that anymore. With Jon Fitch, Hector Lombard and most shockingly of all… Anderson Silva, the Greatest of All Time failing drug tests, it’s clear that cheating is endemic in MMA and the sport as a whole has to do something drastic about it now, or else risk it’s very future.

It’s clear that we can’t rely on all the promotions to do it because drug testing is expensive and can cost you your star attraction, both of which can sink a lesser company. We can’t rely on the many governing bodies to do it, because as we’ve seen so often, they are directly beholden to the promotions for their funding and you don’t bite the hand that feeds.

So, is an international governing body the answer?

No. For one thing, such a body would be almost impossible to create in a meaningful fashion. For another, it’s been shown that international governing bodies tend to be far from corruption and bias free (yes FIFA and the IOC, I’m looking at you.)

In a sport which is dominated by one brand, it falls to the UFC to put their money where their mouth is and take a stand. They need to institute a broad ranging, transparent, out-of-competition testing regime, probably using one of the major independent anti-doping organisations like VADA or WADA where their fighters can be tested at any time.

These test results would be released to UFC officials and the public simultaneously, with set punishments for each drug infraction. A failure for PEDS should result in a ban of no less than a year and immediate stripping of any titles, while a failure for other drugs like painkillers or recreational drugs should receive a lesser, if still considerable penalty which includes mandatory rehabilitation treatment.

If the UFC – as the highest paying, most prestigious organization in the world – makes a stand against cheating, that you will be caught and your career will suffer considerable harm, then the use of performance enhancing drugs in the sport will diminish and at the very least, the sport will be seen to at least be trying to self police and keep itself clean.

Fighters with aspirations of UFC careers will be discouraged from juicing and promotion seeking to emulate the banner-brand’s sheen of respectability will follow suit insofar as they can.

If the UFC’s announcement today is anything less than something this far reaching, then the prospects for the sport as a whole are not pleasant.

MMA needs to be seen to be a clean, fair sport in order to maintain (let alone increase) it’s tenuous hold on mainstream acceptance. Any shirking from the contest ahead, against the sport’s inner demons could spell the end for MMA as a legitimate sport.

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Brazilian Juice

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This Saturday, the UFC’s second trip to Brasil of 2013 will be headlined by the same man who headlined the first, Vitor ‘the Phenom’ Belfort. On the face of it, there’s nothing strange about a promotional favourite headlining a card in his home country, especially when he’s as beloved and storied a figure as Vitor, so why does this even bear mentioning.

It’s not as if events in Sweden aren’t usually (meant to be) headlined by Alexander Gustafsson, that someone like Dan Hardy or Michael Bisping doesn’t tend to feature at the head of a UK card etc. so why should Brasil be any different.

Well, for one thing the UFC has no shortage of potential Brazilian headliners, but admittedly few have the cache or relative availability of Belfort (as he isn’t constrained by title defence responsibilities like Anderson Silva or Jose Aldo).

No, the reason I find it… curious, is that Vitor is one of the most high profile users of Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) which is becoming one of the most contentious issues in the sport,

Dumbing things down a whole lot, getting a medical use exemption for TRT use is basically allowing a fighter to use steroids because they suffer from reduced levels of testosterone, which can have a few causes but in the main comes via age.

In an industry where a lack of muscle mass, recovery time etc. is a serious hardship, that seems fair enough…

Except there are a few concerns. Without a medical exemption, TRT (steroids) is pretty much THE banned performance enhancing drug (PED) and its been pretty well established that previous (illegal) use of steroids can lead to exactly the sort of low levels of naturally occurring testosterone that TRT is meant to combat.

So, it’s perfectly understandable that many folks view TRT as a way for ageing athletes to cheat natural ageing or athletes who’ve damaged their bodies through cheating to be legally allowed to continue to cheat and keep themselves competitive.

From being an issue that was never really discussed, TRT has surfaced into the consciousness of the MMA fan base, first as a curiosity that few understood and increasingly as a subject of genuine concern.

Even UFC President Dana White has said he’s going to start ‘testing the crap’ out of all guys known to be on TRT to ensure its not being used to excess or for the wrong reasons.

He said that a few months ago, and since… well, it’s all gone a bit quiet.

TRT user Chael Sonnen went through the bulk of the promotion for his (undeserved) Light Heavyweight title challenge without an issue being made of it, aside from champion Jon Jones implying that his TRT use was the result of his lacking a ‘championship soul’.

Many other fighters have made noises against TRT use, with Brits Michael Bisping and Tom Watson joined by Vitor’s next opponent, former Strikeforce Middleweight champion, Luke Rockhold.

With Nevada State Athletic Commission boss Keith Kizer saying that there is no way that Belfort, as a previously busted steroid cheat, would be given a TRT exemption in Nevada, it’s curious that the UFC have stopped booking him in the USA.

Of course, Dana will cry that the new Brazilian commission are overseeing the bouts and they are signatories to the nascent global body, the IMMAF so it’s not up to him (a version of his usual ‘we are regulated by the government’ shtick) but the decision to regularly book Belfort in his home country at just a time when the authorities in the States are getting more vocally against TRT is just a little bit curious.

Is the UFC trying to protect a bankable star by allowing him to compete in a place where testing may be less strenuous than in their core market.

Are they simply using the most conveniently available Brazilian headliner for their next scheduled card?

What do you think?

TRT: A Tale of Cheats, and Growing Old

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It’s a bewildering alphabet soup of technical terms, from TRT (Testosterone Replacement Therapy) to TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemptions) to NSAC (Nevada State Athletic Comission) and the UFC’s (do I really need to explain that one) attitude to either, but it’s one of the biggest issues in modern MMA.

Lets break it down to what it means to almost everyone outside the goldfish bowl of MMA and its bizarrely fractured set of authorities and moral standards.

Steroids.

That’s right, call it what you like but TRT basically amounts to the same thing athletes have been illegally imbibing to increase muscle mass and speed recovery for the longest time.

Of course, it’s not quite as clear cut as that, because in order to get a therapeutic use exemption for TRT, you need to be diagnosed as suffering from low testosterone – which occurs naturally as you age, but is of exceptional disadvantage to athletes who’s strength, ability to train harder, for longer and recover from injury or tiredness quicker – all things that’s testosterone helps you with – is paramount.

Surely then, it’s fair enough for fighters who have been diagnosed as having low testosterone to be allowed to bring those levels back up to a level equal with younger athletes?

Well, no… for a few reasons.

For one thing, a reason that you might have low testosterone is because you abused performance enhancing drugs in the past. When you look at many of the fighters who take TRT, the proportion of them who have either been busted for drug use or spent a significant part of their career competing in an area with notoriously spotty drugs tests (Japan) is rather high.

Is it right that someone who has cheated in the past, diminishing their natural ability to produce testosterone, then gets a pass to artificially keep their levels at around (or above) those of clean athletes?

For another thing, testosterone declines naturally with age, just like almost all of a fighter’s other physical gifts. As you get older, your strength, cardio, speed, reactions, flexibility etc. all fall away.

Professional sport is almost never a lengthy career. Football and rugby players who compete at the top level into their late thirties or beyond are exceedingly rare, and they invariably have younger teammates to do their running while they bring their experience to the team.

MMA lacks that safety valve of a younger pair of legs to take the ball while you get your breath back. A fighter comes into the ring as a whole package of physical and mental gifts. That is one of the things that makes MMA special. Two competitors enter, as whole and complete packages with no substitutions and only the most tangential influence from their corner. Having one guy enter with an asterisk next to his name, indicating that he has been allowed to use a substance that the other man would receive a ban for using is just plain WRONG.

With that in mind, is it right that a fighter who’s abilities are on the wane should be able to extend their career by gaining an artificial chemical advantage/parity with their younger opponents?

My answer to both questions is… No.

Cheats shouldn’t prosper and older fighters may well be best advised that if they can’t keep up, then maybe it’s time to embrace their future as a coach or explore other career avenues. The retirement age for MMA is NOT in your 60s… (We’ll come back to this thought over the next wee while…)

For all that I can sympathise with those athletes who genuinely want to use TRT to stay on a level playing field due to illness, it’s become a gray area, a loophole by which the true quality of MMA fighters is being distorted by the widespread and excessive use of drugs which are blankety prohibited across most of sport.

The cost is too high.

I implore all MMA promoters and governing bodies throughout the world, please ban TRT for fighters and implement random drug tests. Clean the sport up, and keep it special.