MMA has always has always turned a blind eye when it comes to steroids in the sport, that is until recently. The big boot dropped when the Nevada State Athletic Association made the decision to ban testosterone replacement therapy that had become very popular among fighters in their 30s. The UFC quickly followed suit and banned TRT in all regions where they acted as the regulator such as Brazil or Japan.
Looking back, it become a bit of a joke when you think of the legendary Pride fights, Japan didn’t test for steroids and it allowed fighters to make themselves bigger, stronger and faster without repercussions. We saw Alistair Overeem transform his body from a skinny light heavyweight to a hulking heavyweight, it was enough to earn him the unofficial nickname OverRoid. He wasn’t the only one but his transformation was the most apparent.
In the UFC, fighters had enough time between their fights, they didn’t have out of camp testing so it was easy for them to cycle while they weren’t prepping for a fight and the cycle off before camp starts. It was rare for a fighter to be caught although there were some high profile examples such as Josh Barnett and Sean Sherk as both of their failed tests resulted in the loss of a UFC championship.
Despite the relatively low number of failed tests, there was always the impression that fighters were on steroids. It was too much for some clean fighters to deal with, former welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre cited lack of quality safeguards against steroids in the sport saying he wouldn’t return if changes aren’t made to stem the problem.
This week Chael Sonnen retired, he was great for the sport but he also popularized in an era of fighters who relied on testosterone replacement therapy and would use their TRT exemption to juice in between fights. It wasn’t an issue so long as their testosterone levels fell between the NSAC mandated levels. It was a free pass for former steroid abusers to get back on the juice and for other fighters looking for an extra edge to claim to have low T levels. It might have passed mustard but finding a doctor to write you a script for just about anything in the United States is far too easy, doubt me, look at the oxycotin problem in Florida; Florida is also home to the infamous biogenesis lab that listed several MMA fighters as steroid purchasers.
With the recent clampdowns and failed tests, we’re going to see several of MMA’s old guard retire because they can’t use the TRT and perhaps it’s for the best as it’s rare for a players in any sport with serious drug testing to be among the best in their mid to late thirties. When Vitor Belfort is doing at 37 what he couldn’t do before he started his TRT, there is something wrong with the policy and it needed to be addressed.
It was a good move by the UFC to follow the lead of the NSAC, it will help the long-term viability of the sport but at the same time, it will be sad to see the careers of so many great fighters come to an unceremonious end, although without TRT, that end would have come a few years ago.