LOS ANGELES - UFC president Dana White is "thrilled" by the Association of Ringside Physicians' call for the elimination of testosterone replacement therapy in mixed martial arts.
White still believes the UFC can't be solely in charge of eliminating steroid users from its bouts, saying government athletic commissions should close the TRT loophole permanently.
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"The doctors came out and said they want to ban it? Well, that's the answer," White told The Associated Press on Monday. "It's legal in the sport. The commissions let you do it. You get an exemption, and you have to be monitored and all the stuff that's going on, but if they're going to do away with it? There you go. It's a problem solved." The ARP is an association of ringside doctors involved in boxing and MMA -- the so-called combat sports. The organization's consensus statement calls for the elimination of therapeutic use exemptions for testosterone, a thorny issue in MMA circles for years.
"Steroid use of any type, including unmerited testosterone, significantly increases the safety and health risk to combat sports athletes and their opponents," the ARP's statement said. "TRT in a combat sports athlete may also create an unfair advantage contradictory to the integrity of sport." Several UFC fighters in recent years have been given exemptions by athletic commissions to use synthetic testosterone before their bouts, including veteran stars Chael Sonnen, Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort and Frank Mir. The exemptions were granted ostensibly for medical reasons, including a supposed deficiency in naturally occurring testosterone caused by hypogonadism -- a diminished function of the gonads.
Well before the ARP added its influential voice to the chorus against TRT, many medical professionals have questioned the legitimacy of such exemptions, particularly for professional cage fighters.
"The incidence of hypogonadism requiring the use of testosterone replacement therapy in professional athletes is extraordinarily rare," the ARP's statement said. "Accordingly, the use of an anabolic steroid such as testosterone in a professional boxer or mixed martial artist is rarely justified." White knows the UFC's next showdown with TRT use is imminent, and he hopes the Nevada State Athletic Commission won't grant an exemption to Belfort, who is scheduled to fight Chris Weidman for the middleweight title in Las Vegas later this year.
The 36-year-old Belfort, who failed a steroid test in Nevada several years ago, has improbably revitalized his career with three spectacular stoppage victories in his native Brazil. Belfort knocked out the 43-year-old Henderson with a head kick in the first round last November in Goiania, Brazil, earning a title shot.
Belfort has been open about his TRT use for the past year, while Henderson has acknowledged it for several years.
"He drives me crazy, and me and Vitor were not on good terms a few months ago," White said. "Just because this whole TRT thing, I think, is unfair, and I said we're going to test the living (daylights) out of him (during training). And we have, and he has complied, and he has been within the limits he's supposed to have." Although the UFC tests its fighters when they sign contracts and adds additional in-house testing before certain fights, White said he's wary of completely stepping in front of government regulators on the issue. When the UFC stages fight cards in areas with no appropriate athletic commission, the promotion acts as its own regulator.
"We couldn't be more proactive," White said. "Drugs hurt us. Hurts our sport. Let alone our perception in the media and everything -- it destroys great athletes. Drugs destroy great athletes, because once you start on them, you can never get off them. You're on them for the rest of your career." Other prominent fighters believe the UFC should be doing more.
Georges St. Pierre, the UFC's longtime welterweight champion before stepping away from the sport late last year, re-ignited the public discussion of drug testing in MMA earlier this month with criticism of the UFC's current testing policies, calling them ineffective and beatable. St. Pierre believes performance-enhancing drugs are still a major problem in MMA.
Tim Kennedy, a rising UFC middleweight and former Army Green Beret, hailed Monday's statement from the ARP in a post on his Twitter account: "So the Association for Ringside Physicians supports elimination of TRT in MMA, the fighters want it gone.
Only the cheaters want to keep it." UFC middleweight Bubba McDaniel echoed Kennedy's sentiments in a post on his Facebook fan page: "If you have abused Steroids so long that you need TRT to remain normal. Your time is up because you've CHEATED long enough!!"