The more Vitor Belfort talks about his use of synthetic testosterone, the less legitimate the “treatment” sounds.
That could be because something is getting lost in translation here, or it could be because Belfort just isn’t the best advocate for a controversial treatment that several prominent UFC fighters make use of.
Or, a third possibility, maybe testosterone-replacement therapy sounds like a highly suspect end-run around anti-doping regulations because that’s exactly what it is.
Take Belfort’s latest on the subject, courtesy of an interview with Brazilian media outlet UOL, translated by MMA Fighting’s Guilherme Cruz. It starts with the usual TRT patter, telling the tale of a visit with a concerned doctor who looked at Belfort’s testosterone levels and was dismayed at the results.
“I’ve (been doing this) for three years,” Belfort said. “I did some exams and they saw I had low testosterone levels. The doctor said ‘Vitor, we need to do something. I don’t know if you agree with this, but it’s important that you do it.’ And it was done.”
Isn’t that always the way it happens in these stories? It’s never the fighter’s idea to get on testosterone. No, it’s always some doctor, clutching his clipboard and shaking his head at these troubling testosterone levels. He’s the one who insists on this controversial course of action for the good of his patient, who just happens to be a wealthy pro athlete. The fighter, well, he didn’t go to med school, so what choice does he have but to take his doctor’s advice and get on the juice?
But pull back from this familiar scene and do some math with me for a second. Belfort says he’s been on testosterone for three years. Assuming his own timeline is accurate, that would mean he was on it before his fight with Anderson Silva at UFC 126 in February of 2011.
That fight took place at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, so forget all this concern about whether Belfort, who was popped for steroid use in Nevada back in 2006, could possibly get a therapeutic-use exemption in the same state now. According to this interview, he may have already fought there while on testosterone, and for a UFC title no less. If so, seems like that would be something the Nevada State Athletic Commission would want to know about (I reached out to NSAC executive director Keith Kizer on that score earlier today, but have yet to hear back).
That’s not even the weirdest or most disturbing bit of info to come out of this interview, though. That would be Belfort’s claim that, if he needed to get off testosterone in order to get another UFC title fight, he totally would.
“I’ve already said that, if they agree with it, I would (stop doing TRT),” Belfort said. “No problem at all. If they want me to get there in a disadvantage, that’s OK.”
So, to recap. Belfort’s low testosterone levels alarmed his doctor so much that he told Belfort he absolutely needed to get on this controversial hormone-replacement therapy. No way around it. Better start injecting yourself with a powerful performance-enhancing substance right away, man. And so he did. But if he has to get off it now in exchange for a major career opportunity it would be “no problem at all.”
Belfort doesn’t elaborate on what he’d do if he actually won the UFC title and then had to defend it – would he keep fighting “at a disadvantage” (by which he means, with his natural hormone levels) for as long as he held the belt? – but we’re told it doesn’t matter since the UFC said he wouldn’t need to be TRT-free in exchange for a title shot.
In fact, he already fought Jon Jones for the UFC light heavyweight title in September of 2012, which falls well within his three-year window of testosterone use. If you’re keeping score at home, that makes two UFC title fights for the hormonally-enhanced version of Belfort. At this point, why not shoot for the hat trick?
Of course, you could make the case that any treatment a fighter would be willing to discontinue for the sake of convenience or career advancement is not one he actually needs in the first place. You could make that case just by looking up what the word “need” means.
If you don’t absolutely have to have it, you don’t need it. You might want it. You might prefer it. You might even think it’s a really good, totally legitimate, not at all problematic or risky or controversial option. But if you’re willing to stop it in exchange for the right deal, you don’t need it.
But we knew this already. We’ve seen it with other fighters who absolutely needed TRT until they didn’t. Fighters like Nate Marquardt, or even Dan Henderson, MMA’s patient zero on the TRT front, who went without it in his last fight and yet miraculously did not drop dead in the center of the cage as a result of testosterone-deficiency.
It’s stuff like this that really highlights the difference between want and need when it comes to this particular issue. I don’t blame fighters for wanting a little extra testosterone. It’s a pretty important hormone, so who wouldn’t want to top off their levels? Especially when the “normal” range is so unbelievably broad, I can see why shooting for the top of that range rather than the bottom would be a pretty attractive prospect for a pro fighter. If it was an option, sure, you might want it. That doesn’t mean you need it.
But again, we knew this already. It’s just a question of when we’re going to start acting like it.
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(Pictured: Vitor Belfort)