With the news of Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva being just the next fighter the UFC has given a permission slip for anabolic steroid (testosterone) usage, it’s no surprise that the most vocal supporters of UFC are coming out of the woodwork to try to defend the company — and defend steroid usage in combat sports.
And I am here to tell you, as I have the last two years, what a giant political loser this argument is.
Sam Genovese wrote an article titled How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Accept TRT. The article encapsulates pretty much every argument you can find online in defense of testosterone use in the UFC, albeit in a more concise & honest approach.
It’s the kind of defense that demonstrates why the UFC is struggling to gain credibility for their sport on a worldwide basis. The insiders & fans who are busy defending or accepting steroid usage in combat sports are, in my opinion, living in a bubble. I truly think that they believe what they are saying and are unrepentant about it. I admire honesty, but honesty sometimes can equal tone-deafness. Backing steroid usage in the UFC is as tone deaf as you can get.
Arguing against steroids in combat sports is not about morality
Look, no one thinks that making a moral argument against steroids in combat sports is a good way to persuade anyone about the dangers of such drug usage. I agree. You often have to ditch your morality to be successful in a blood sport, especially a sport that is legally classified as ultrahazardous. But if I was to tell you that allowing fighters to use synthetic testosterone automatically increased their chances of dying from a heart attack or stroke by 30%, would you dismiss that? If I was to tell you that testosterone usage extends careers for fighters in an attempt to allow them to both deliver & receive brain damage in bouts where participants are wearing four ounce gloves, would you be so receptive if you read what kind of brain damage resulted from such activity?
Your attitude might be more sober if you read preliminary results from a combat sports study being conducted at the Lou Ruvo Cleveland Clinic center in Las Vegas. As Sam pointed out in his article defending anabolic steroid usage, it is a dangerous tool being used to absorb more head trauma.
Now, I’m not going to pretend to know if elevated levels of testosterone directly led to this increased ability to take a punch, but I find it hard to believe that it had nothing to do with it.
What we know so far from the increasing amount of anabolic steroid users in UFC is that the steroid usage is not improving their win/loss record, but it’s giving older fighters more punching power and extending careers that perhaps should have been shut down due to the effects of damage to the endocrine system.
Playing with fire
That, in turn, is a real issue of legal liability for the UFC — especially when they are the ones giving out the testosterone permission slips. And that is why the issue is so very toxic for the UFC long-term: they have changed the rules of engagement when it comes to doping in combat sports. Before the Fertitta empire started promoting UFC, there was no world in which fighters started crying hypogonadism and a need for testosterone. There wasn’t a world where fighters were talking about the effects of “Low T” in their early 30s. You can thank Big Pharma and their massive ad campaigns pushing products like Axiron or supplement makers pushing products like Ageless Male as a tool for out-of-shape guys in their 40s to try to increase their sex drive and overall vitality.
When abused, testosterone (anabolic steroid) usage is playing a medical game of Russian Roulette.
In the years that I have railed against testosterone usage in MMA, I have done so strictly on the issue of health & safety. It is making an already dangerous sport that much more dangerous. It makes drug testing look like an even bigger joke than it is. When the people handling the drug testing are also the ones who are giving the permission slips to use steroids, you know the system is screwed up. It’s not intellectually honest to argue otherwise.
Sam argues that since UFC has helped open the floodgates for legalized doping that therefore there’s no turning back and we should just accept the landscape that Zuffa HQ has created.
Regardless, TRT is the way of life nowadays in the UFC. As a fan you can either learn to love it (as I have) or continue to beat your head against a brick wall as more and more fighters get on the “Jesus juice.”
When I look at the things it allows fighters to do, such as allowing Belfort to blow dudes doors off with his newfound kicking abilities, it is hard to argue against the results.
If TRT wasn’t causing such drastic and exciting changes in fighters, it would be much harder to be apathetic about its use.
There is a reason why I don’t use the phrase “TRT.” Using TRT is a cute way for Big Pharma and steroid defenders to try to make anabolic steroid usage seem innocuous. It’s no different than political wordsmiths like George Lakoff or Frank Luntz focus group-testing voters in trying to figure out which buzzwords are palatable for the masses.
Vitor Belfort is a whipping boy for testosterone usage for a reason. He got busted for steroids before and now he’s been on a hot streak since using anabolics. Chael Sonnen, on the other hand, remains a celebrated figure despite being a complete and total charlatan on drug usage. Using testosterone doesn’t make you a better fighter but it does set the table for you to absorb more damage in your career. You, as a fighter, are not promised a God-given right to fight. There is no case law citing the Americans with Disabilities Act that states that you have a right to use steroids in order to make more money. However, there is so much greed and so much cognitive dissonance in combat sports right now regarding testosterone usage that nobody is seemingly able to have an honest conversation about what the real expectations are for fighters in an ultrahazardous sport. As John Hackleman, Chuck Liddell’s famous trainer, noted we have a system where promoters and regulators are enabling fighters to use anabolic steroids but can’t use insulin, HGH, marijuana, or Benzodiazepine. Nick Diaz got railroaded for his marijuana usage in Nevada while guys like Chael Sonnen become advisers to Keith Kizer on steroids. And then people turn around and laugh at guys like Josh Barnett for failing standard drug tests because they weren’t smart enough to ask for permission to use steroids.
This is the kind of environment that the UFC and its fans want to try to push onto the masses as some version of a clean, “safer-than-boxing” sport? The environment that the UFC has created deserves outright scorn. What Zuffa and their most-preferred-regulators have done is box supporters of Mixed Martial Arts into a corner because it’s impossible, with a straight face, to argue with critics of MMA about the health & safety of the sport when the powers-that-be are enabling or promoting a pro-steroid agenda under the guise that 30-somethings are suffering from “low T.”
Front-Page Photo Credit: Jason da Silva-USA TODAY Sports