Twitter Mailbag: Belfort's TRT comments, UFC 161's drawing power, MMA HOF


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This week’s crop of Twitter Mailbag questions seemed at least as concerned with Vitor Belfort‘s explanation of his testosterone use and Jon Fitch‘s ongoing fighter pay beef with the UFC as with the actual upcoming fights at UFC 161 in Winnipeg.

Seems like there’s probably a lesson in there somewhere, but I’m not sure what it is.

You can ask your own question on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA, or you can just follow along quietly as I tweet updates from my upcoming trip to The Peg. I hear it’s like Detroit, only Canadian. I’m not sure how to take that.

* * * *

I buy it in the sense that I think Vitor Belfort really believes it, but that’s about it. I respect Belfort for sitting down and talking about it with our own John Morgan. I think he did the right thing by apologizing for his behavior at the press conference following his win over Luke Rockhold, and when he says he’s upset that people aren’t giving him credit for all his hard work in the gym, I think he’s being sincere. I think he probably is working very hard. I also think that hard work is aided by his use of a powerful performance-enhancing drug, and no amount of desperate rationalizing changes that.

“Just so people understand,” Belfort says at one point in his conversation with Morgan, “taking testosterone doesn’t give you an edge for any reason.” Sorry Vitor, but that’s just not at all true. If it were, we wouldn’t have had any reason to care when Alistair Overeem popped positive for it. We also wouldn’t have batted an eye when Brian Bowles recently put Overeem’s T/E ratio to shame. Testosterone is a performance-enhancer. That’s not even up for debate. As soon as any pro athlete tells you that this substance he’s currently catching all manner of hell for using is not aiding his performance, you should be immediately suspicious. They wouldn’t go to so much trouble to use it if it didn’t work.

Belfort insists that he uses TRT “to not be at a disadvantage.” He says his natural testosterone levels are low. Let’s assume, for the moment, that he’s right. Then we have to ask why they’re low, which is about the point where we come back around to his failed drug test in 2006. We know he was using steroids, and we know steroid use can damage a person’s endocrine system. So how do we know Belfort didn’t create this problem for himself? And if he did, why should he get permission to use steroids legally just to counteract the effects of the steroids he used illegally?

“It’s hard to describe the reason I need TRT,” Belfort said. “I mean why does your body generate cancer? You eat properly, you do everything right, and you still generate cancer.”

Except Belfort doesn’t have cancer; he has low testosterone. And he didn’t “do everything right.” He did at least one of the things known to cause this condition. So why is it so hard to describe why he needs TRT? Seems to me like it might be pretty simple. Also seems like it’s totally insane that our sport allows it.

No disrespect to Rosi Sexton vs. Alexis Davis, which is a fight I’m looking forward to, but I’ve got to go with Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson. They’re both coming off disappointing decision losses, and both are struggling to stay relevant. Henderson may be battling the natural effects of age (even if he, too, has TRT to help turn back the clock), but Evans seems to be dealing with an even trickier adversary in his struggle to find the passion and the fury that once made him a champion. Are his competitive fires still burning hot? Is stoking them as easy as rediscovering his “swagger,” as he seems to think? Those are tough questions, and he’s running out of time to come up with an answer.

Sure there is. I just wonder whether that will be enough to get fans to shell out the pay-per-view bucks, especially with UFC 162 just around the corner. You’re right about UFC 161, though. You look at that card, and you don’t see many matchups that are easy to call. Virtually every fight could easily go either way, and even the betting odds don’t edge up into the 4-1 territory except for the women’s bantamweight bout between Davis (-400) and Sexton (+300). On paper, these are close fights. But is that enough? Especially when you’re being asked to pay $55 for a card with no title fight, a main event featuring two guys coming off losses, and no fight that’s guaranteed to establish a top contender? I don’t know, but the UFC seems hellbent on finding out.

Seems like Jon Fitch and Dana White are having two different arguments at this point. In one corner you’ve got Fitch saying the UFC never liked him, never made him feel welcome, and couldn’t wait to get rid of him. In the other you’ve got White claiming that the UFC paid Fitch a bunch of money and gave him plenty of opportunities to prove himself. The disagreement here isn’t so much about the exact dollar figure Fitch was paid (which, by the way, White doesn’t like to discuss unless he’s mad at the fighter in question, and then he can’t bring it up fast enough). The question is whether that dollar figure is fair, and also whether money alone is enough to negate Fitch’s claim of a “hostile work environment.”

During his seven-and-a-half years with the UFC, Fitch claims he made “roughly $176,000 a year before management and gym fees.” Is that a lot? Depends on your perspective. There are those who would argue that Fitch wasn’t exactly driving ticket sales or pay-per-view buys, so he should be happy with what he got. Others would counter that Fitch was one of the best 170-pounders the UFC had, and at a time when the UFC is raking in mountains of cash. What’s important to note is that, whether you think $176,000 a year for a pro fighter is a good deal or not, in the end Fitch was let go in part because he was “super f–-ing expensive,” according to White. Now White wants to turn around and brag about how much the UFC paid Fitch, as if he didn’t just tell us a few months ago that the high price tag was a big part of what got Fitch fired.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the UFC was never in love with Fitch. White says it’s a “myth” that he ever had a personal beef with him (until now, that is), but it’s obvious that Fitch didn’t have the kind of style that the UFC prefers. His fights could be tedious. On more than one occasion I’ve seen him drain the energy right out of a crowd. Still, he was one of the top three or four welterweights in the world for a while, and now the UFC acts as if it was doing him a favor by paying him less than half the league minimum for a Major League Baseball player during that time. If you’re the biggest organization in what you claim is quickly becoming one of the biggest sports in the world, seems like that doesn’t quite add up.

Uh, octagon jitters?

At this point, I’ll settle for almost any title contender who’s not coming off a loss. Even that seems like a lot to ask for considering the UFC’s recent title fight track record.

I wish I could say yes, we totally saw the need for an independent MMA Hall of Fame and then we all pulled together and worked tirelessly to make it happen. But that’s not true. The good news is, one man did do that, and that man is The Underground’s Kirik Jenness. He’s got a website (still a work in progress), a panel of voters (yours truly included), and he tells me that he expects voting to begin some time in the next 30 days. Hopefully soon we’ll be on the path toward establishing a hall of fame that actually means something in this sport, as well as one that recognizes true accomplishment in MMA without getting bogged down in the company politics that have plagued the UFC’s effort. I’d like to say that’s the result of all our hard work, but really it’s Kirik who deserves all the credit.

First of all, it’s important to note that California has not necessarily banned testosterone-replacement therapy. As CSAC executive director Andy Foster told our own Steven Marrocco on the subject of therapeutic-use exemptions for TRT, “I’m not going to say no (to those who previously have been approved), but no new ones will be given out.”

In other words, if you’ve already got permission to use testosterone, you’re essentially grandfathered in, at least for now, but California is putting up the “no vacancy” sign for aspiring users of the performance-enhancing substance that totally doesn’t enhance performance, according to the dudes who are willing to do just about anything to use it. I can’t decide if this is the worst possible solution to the problem, or merely the necessary first step to an eventual total TRT ban. It seems to me that the difference between those who are allowed to use TRT and those who aren’t shouldn’t be based entirely on an arbitrary, retroactive deadline. If you believe that some fighters might have a legitimate need, then you have to acknowledge that future fighters could have that same need. And if you believe that pro fighters shouldn’t receive permission to inject testosterone, then it shouldn’t matter whether they got their paperwork in before the commission came to its senses.

The upside is, things are changing on the testosterone front. UFC President Dana White recently changed his tune on it, and now athletic commissions are slowly starting to respond as well. We’re heading in the right direction, even if we’re doing so at a halting, sometimes excruciating pace.

God, I hope not. I’m weirdly, sadly proud of the fact that I never saw “Here Comes the Boom,” and I hope to maintain my integrity as a man who will not go see obviously crappy movies just because they’re MMA-related. Plus, I have a baby, which means I don’t go to movies anymore. Instead I just wait for her to go to sleep so I can enjoy the quiet lull before it starts all over again. Silence is my movie now, which is fine by me because it’s free and Kevin James isn’t involved.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie.com and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA. Twitter Mailbag appears every Thursday on MMAjunkie.com.

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