UFC's Vitor Belfort on TRT: 'I just want people to know I have a conscience'


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vitor-belfort-22.jpgVitor Belfort believes it’s important to live a life with no regrets. For that reason alone, he’s finally ready to open up about his use of testosterone-replacement therapy (TRT).

“I want to leave a legacy, and the first legacy I leave is myself,” Belfort told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “If I can live with myself, I can give this to my kids. Nothing is worse than to go home and have to sell yourself to your family, to make up a whole different history of what you did, of how you lived your private life. That’s no way to live.

“The TRT is my private life, but it’s become public, and it’s now a big, big thing. I believe that all the good things I’m doing, people kind of forget it and have a tendency to not pay attention or give credit for the way I’m winning fights, the way I’m working, the way I’m being an example for my Blackzilian teammates. I’m putting in the hard work, and I’m not done yet.”

Belfort (23-10 MMA, 12-6 UFC) is undeniably one of the most recognizable faces in the sport. Our conversation took place on a flight headed from the Brazilian city of Fortaleza, host site of this past weekend’s UFC on FUEL TV 10 event, to Rio de Janeiro, where Belfort will spend the next few weeks filming a reality show and tending to a few investment projects. As we talked, we took short breaks so Belfort could take pictures with fellow passengers and even the crew. Young, old, male, female – it made no difference. His popularity in Brazil is that strong.

That Belfort would even choose to have the conversation with me may be as surprising as the actual revelations he’d soon share. Three weeks earlier this was a man who had made waves at a UFC post-event press conference by jokingly asking attendees to beat me up for asking about TRT following his violent knockout win over Luke Rockhold.

Between then and now, Belfort had reached out to apologize, and we had both agreed to continue in our professions in the most appropriate manner possible.

“I recognized my mistake,” Belfort said. “Some people even said I shouldn’t apologize because I did nothing wrong. But I told them, ‘You’re wrong. I’m going to apologize.’ I think you recognize when you’re right and when you’re wrong. Sometimes, you may actually be right, but it doesn’t mean you’re always right. So if you make a mistake, you just recognize and admit it.

“I think I just felt like everybody was attacking me. And right there, in that fight, I shocked the world. Nobody expected me to win the fight with a head kick. I expected everybody to recognize my hard work. But when something came up about TRT instead, it kind of hurt my feelings.”

The truth is Belfort hated getting the questions because he didn’t know exactly how to answer them. I had asked him similar questions prior to his bout with Michael Bisping in January, and his frustration then, too, was evident. Belfort said it was a topic he always hoped would just work itself out and that his hesitance to discuss his participation was part of a deep-seeded, family-taught concern.

“When I was very young guy, I was very active, and I was treated medically for [attention deficit disorder],” Belfort said. “But oftentimes people are like, ‘I don’t want people to know.’ I believe the first ones that teach that kind of thing to people is their own family.

“My sister used to have depression, and my family would say, ‘No, don’t tell.’ My sister was like, ‘No, I can’t let my boyfriend or whoever know I’m on medication.’ Then they stop taking medication, and they get even worse.”

But after the press conference incident, Belfort sought the advice of trusted friends and advisers, and he eventually realized his place in the world. As a public figure, and one who seems to be doing his very best athletic work at 36 years old, people have questions. Belfort hopes he can finally answer them.

“So basically what TRT is for me is to not be at a disadvantage,” Belfort said. “People talk like it’s a cheating process, but it’s the opposite. Low testosterone is something that can cause serious health problems and even death. You can have problems, big problems, if it’s untreated. So the treatment is for you to live longer and have a better life by having less health problems.

“People think TRT is about increased sex drive or performance-enhancement. It’s not that. It’s about life. It’s like women and progesterone. They don’t get pregnant if they don’t have any progesterone, so they need to replace that hormone. It’s similar with TRT. It’s just for me to have better health, a better life.”

Belfort, Brazil and questions about drug testing

TRT is not illegal in MMA, even if it is still considered somewhat controversial. Athletes are free to apply for a therapeutic-use exemption (TUE) from local governing commissions, as Belfort has done in his past two fights with the Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission, or Comissao Atletica Brasileira de MMA (CABMMA).

A general concern with TRT use is that an athlete will elevate his testosterone use during training camp and then allow his levels to taper off as the fight approaches so as not to fail any drug tests. Further complicating matters in Belfort’s case is an overriding concern that the newly established CABMMA is not prepared to properly handle such cases.

CABMMA official Cristiano Sampaio said that is simply not true, and that Belfort’s case was handled properly from start to finish while under the careful watch of Dr. Marcio Tannure, the head of the Brazilian commission’s medial committee.

“Our mandate as the CABMMA is to ensure a suitable environment for MMA events in Brazil with a focus on the ethical conduct and safety of the participants involved,” Sampaio said. “Every fighter competing … has met our stringent medical and licensing requirements in order to be eligible to compete, including Vitor Belfort.”

Sampiao went on to explain that once a TUE is granted, there are still ample hurdles to clear before and after fight night that include a minimum of three blood tests in the three months before the fight, as well as a pre-fight urine test. There are also post-fight tests of both urine and blood.

In both the Rockhold and Bisping fights, Belfort’s levels were all deemed acceptable, but “The Phenom” said he took things one step further and conducted additional tests at his own expense.

“For the fight with Rockhold, I did seven blood tests,” Belfort said. “I did one every week. I have records of all of them. Some of the results are even lower than they should be, and the doctor said, ‘You should probably increase,’ and I said, ‘No, I don’t want to get to a level that’s bad for me.’

“I just want people to know that I have a conscience, and I wanted to have something, a record, that for the rest of my life people can know I was doing something right. I don’t ever want to cheat.”

Dr. Tannure confirmed Belfort’s testing claims and said the records will remain on file so that any future commission hoping to evaluate the fighter’s application for a TUE can have substantial data to prove he’s done it by the book.

“I have the receipts, too; sometimes the blood work cost over $1,000,” Belfort said. “Dealing with hormones is something you don’t control. It’s inside you. I wish I could not be doing this. Waking up and putting a needle in your arm, I don’t like it. It’s annoying to me. But it’s become part of my system, just like someone treating diabetes or some other condition. I don’t like it, but this is something I have to do for treatment, and I’m not ashamed. Everything is legal, and I want people to know what it is.

“Everybody talks, talks, talks. But nobody really knows. Sometime we have a tendency to judge or criticize. Most people who do that, maybe they just don’t know. I hope just explaining everything can let people know. I had low testosterone, and it was making me feel tired and lethargic. I visited with my doctors, and they recommended TRT for me.”

A failed drug test and its lasting legacy

Belfort, of course, isn’t the only fighter to compete with exemptions for TRT. Todd Duffee, Forrest Griffin, Dan Henderson, Frank Mir and Chael Sonnen have all been awarded exemptions in the past by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which is arguably the most influential state commission in the country.

But, until now, Belfort has seemingly been the biggest target of criticism for using it, which is a reality fueled on by his increasingly chiseled physique and his impressive success in recent years, which includes a 4-1 mark with four stoppage victories – not to mention a near-upset of UFC light-heavyweight champ Jon Jones in 2012.

“We live in a world where some people can’t accept men with integrity succeeding,” Belfort said. “Just so people understand, taking testosterone doesn’t give you an edge for any reason. If you take too much, it’s actually going to mess up your system bad and cause the absolute opposite effects. People have a tendency to interpret things wrong. I understand that it’s cheating when you do something that’s not legal, but this isn’t illegal.

“I believe the credit of my performance belongs to my work ethic. It’s my will. It’s the coaches that invest their time in me. It’s my team. They sacrifice everything along with me. So it’s a journey. It’s the UFC. I encourage reporters to study my life, study my work ethic and what I’ve been doing a long time. Now I’m just maintaining that.”

And Belfort said he’s happy to submit himself to as many tests as it takes for people to finally believe he’s telling the truth. In fact, not only is he willing to be tested more often, he’d also like to see his peers tested far more frequently, as well.

“I think a lot more people are taking testosterone during camps and just not telling anyone,” Belfort said. “So why not test everybody? Don’t just test me. Test everybody. I think we’d see some changes.

“There are rules in place for TRT. Anytime something is given to you, there’s accountability. I have to follow the rules. Everybody wants to criticize me, but I’m following the rules, and I think everybody should be tested during camp.”

Most detractors of Belfort’s TRT use, including NSAC executive director Keith Kizer, point to a 2006 suspension for steroid use as reason why the fighter should not qualify for a TUE. After all, steroid use has shown it can lower the body’s production of testosterone, which could have something to do with Belfort’s shortage. It’s a fact that’s going to dog Belfort and his reputation as long as he’s using TRT. In fact, it’s a reason some fighters have opted against TRT even when the option was available to them.

UFC fighter Nate Marquardt, for example, ditched TRT in 2012 and said it simply wasn’t worth the hassle and scrutiny. Former UFC and WEC fighter Shane Roller said he also stopped using TRT – against his doctor’s recommendation. He said he he didn’t want to be labeled a cheater since so many other fighters abuse it.

However, Belfort, who in 2006 argued he didn’t purposefully take any banned substances, said it’s not so black and white.

“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. I have an uncle who drinks a liter of whiskey a day, and he’s 97 years old. So now you think if everybody drinks a liter of whiskey per day, they’re going to live forever? No.

“Everybody is different. It’s hard to tell, and I’m definitely not a doctor. Some things you’re not sure exactly why they’re the way they are, but you have to address it.”

And so Belfort said he will continue with the treatment he believes is medically necessary. However, he is not willing to allow others to point to TRT as the reason for his success. That comes from time in the gym and working with top coaches, he said, and he hope others will learn to accept the same.

“What hurts me is that people are trying to take away my hard work,” Belfort said. “Hard work pays off, but not just hard work – the right hard work. I’m working with Pedro Diaz, Henri Hooft, Kenny Monday. I believe the way is to go there, sweat in the gym, and don’t make any excuses. Enjoy the process.

“I had something bad happen, but I have a God that turns bad into good. I am a perfect example of that – the way I was raised, the way things happened. So that’s Vitor Belfort: turning bad things into good.”

For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.

John Morgan is MMAjunkie.com and USA TODAY’s lead MMA reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @MMAjunkieJohn.

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