Vitor Belfort has earned his second straight TKO victory at a UFC on FX show, this time taking out former Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold in the first round. The win was met with glowing admiration from many fans but has also attracted a wave of criticism, owing to Belfort’s controversial use of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). The debate over TRT has been smoldering for some time, but seeing “the Phenom” take home another stunning knockout has re-ignited the issue for much of the MMA community.
Vitor is not the only fighter using TRT, nor is he the first. Fellow standouts Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen, and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson have all received the treatment and gone on record in favor of it. Proponents say TRT doesn’t offer an unfair advantage because it only restores the fighter’s testosterone count to a natural, healthy level. Although professional athletes may seem like odd candidates for low testosterone (the condition generally only affects men who are older and/or dealing with chronic diseases), supporters maintain that the grueling nature of a long MMA career has potential to depress a fighter’s levels.
TRT’s detractors are not so charitable. They believe many fighters are suffering from low testosterone due to years of anabolic steroid abuse, a claim that is certainly plausible given the number of MMA fighters who have tested positive over the past decade. Allowing fighters to legally use TRT, critics say, is simply an endorsement of cheating. UFC President Dana White has been one of many prominent figures to come out strongly against TRT, having publicly stated that he wants it banned across the board.
Belfort’s case could seemingly be used as evidence for either side. Supporters might point out that he’s 36 now, and his first fights are older than the sport of MMA itself, dating all the way back to the NHB tournaments of the late 1990s. His speed and power are tremendous, you say? Nothing new there, because they always have been. Has his career seen a big resurgence since starting TRT? Sure, but Vitor has always had his ups and downs, and he’s been crushing opponents at 185 pounds since before the TRT regimen was initiated.
Yet the other side has plenty of ammunition as well. Belfort failed a steroid test after a Pride event back in 2006. The supporters are correct that he’s been fighting for almost 17 years, but after that length of time, how can an athlete achieve peak performance without getting some “help”? Hell, you can tell just by looking at Vitor that something is up. Do a Google image search for “Vitor Belfort UFC 126″, and then contrast that with the guy who fought on FX last Saturday. It’s hard to ignore the increased muscle mass and definition that the TRT-fueled version of Belfort has acquired in the space of only two years.
So what’s the takeaway here? Is TRT a medical treatment for fighters that suffer from a debilitating condition, or merely a loophole that allows them to cheat? The truth is that we aren’t going to reach an immediate consensus, so it might be a good idea to take a step back and find some neutral ground. TRT is here (for now at least), so let’s implement some safeguards to help prevent its abuse. Let’s enlist the help of the medical and anti-doping communities to learn more about TRT and how it affects athletic performance. Let’s compile a list of fighters who are on TRT and make it public, so potential opponents will have full disclosure on who is receiving therapy. And let’s have the UFC and the ACs work together to increase drug testing of fighters who use TRT.
We may not be able to agree on the ethics of TRT just yet, but we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Employing a common sense approach to TRT will help reduce the risk of abuse and preserve the legitimacy of MMA competition.