Maybe it’s time for all those Vitor Belfort haters to back off. Just a little bit.
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A leading expert in MMA health tells Fox Sports that testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is “not a ticket for better performance” in the cage.
“It can help make you stronger,” said Dr. Jonathan Gelber, a noted ringside physician and founder of FightMedicine.net. “But you really have to have an elite base to begin with.”
Belfort has become the poster boy for TRT in MMA. He’s beaten contenders Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson with violent knockouts in 2013. After the first-round finish over Henderson on Saturday in Brazil, UFC president Dana White called Belfort “f*cking awesome.”
In all of those fights, he’s gotten a testosterone-use exemption, which begs the question: How much is the 36-year-old Belfort benefiting from TRT?
It’s hard to say, Gelber said. Testosterone can certainly make a person stronger, but there’s no research showing it can help other things needed in a fight, like endurance. Perhaps it’s lucky for Belfort that he hasn’t been dragged deep into bouts by his opponents recently.
“If you’re not strong to begin with,” Gelber said, “it’s not going to make you that much stronger.”
The biggest issue with TRT is how often it’s allowed in MMA, he said. It isn’t difficult to game the system and show yourself to have low testosterone. And fighters who have used anabolic steroids in the past – Belfort has failed a drug test before – organically have low testosterone because their body becomes so used to getting it through a syringe that it stops producing a sufficient amount on its own.
Testosterone-use exemptions are beyond rare in the Olympics. Yet many 30-something MMA fighters like Belfort, Henderson and Chael Sonnen are allowed to be on TRT. There doesn’t seem to be a strong system in place to determine which fighters should or should not be able to use TRT – if any at all.
Keith Kizer, the Nevada state athletic commissioner, has said that Belfort might not be able to get an exemption to fight in Las Vegas because of his previous failed drug test. That doesn’t mean Belfort can’t compete in Vegas; he just might not be able to use TRT. Belfort’s last three fights have all been in Brazil, which is reportedly less stringent when it comes to drug testing.
“It’s really a tricky situation and no one has a really good method of figuring it out,” Gelber said.
There is a test in place to determine what percentage of testosterone in a person’s body is natural and how much is synthetic, but it’s expensive.
“Commissions don’t have the money, promotions don’t have the money,” Gelber said.
Until new rules are put in place, we’ll just have to keep wondering what exactly we should feel every time Belfort knocks someone out.