UFC Veteran Chael Sonnen Spotlights the Issue of Testosterone Therapy in MMA

Chael Sonnen's suspension was upheld by the California State Athletic Commission yesterday afternoon by a vote of 4-1. Photo by Ken Pishna, MMAWeekly.com

Yesterday, the California State Athletic Commission voted 4-1 to uphold an indefinite suspension that was placed on former UFC middleweight contender Chael Sonnen on April 19th due to a claim that he may have committed perjury during a hearing in December regarding a positive drug test for elevated testosterone levels. The positive test followed the UFC 117 main event title showdown between Sonnen and champion Anderson Silva, a bout that Sonnen shockingly lost in the final two minutes of the fifth round after dominating Silva for most of the fight. 

As if the elevated testosterone levels weren't enough, Sonnen was implicated in a money laundering scheme involving his own real estate business in January. Sonnen accepted a plea deal resulting in 2 years probation, fines, and the loss of his real estate license.

The California State Athletic Commission felt that the case had bearing in yesterday's proceedings, using it as a foundation for questioning Sonnen's trust. Sonnen pleaded ignorance during the hearing, but most of the testimony pointed toward a long list of contradictions and lies.

The most incriminating evidence was the lack of a paper trail combined with an inconsistent history of admission to the condition, hypogonadism, Sonnen has suffered from over the years. Sonnen pointed out during the hearing that without testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), he would have the testosterone levels of a "93-year-old man", yet did not disclose the condition to the commissions until well past the first time he took treatments. From ESPN's Josh Gross:

Sonnen fought in Nevada three times since 2008 and tested clean. For each fight, Sonnen indicated whether he was using prescription medication or over-the-counter supplements. Against Bryan Baker in 2008 -- Sonnen's first bout since the treatments started -- no mention of testosterone was included in pre-bout medical questionnaires. In 2009 against Dan Miller, Sonnen indicated he was taking an antibiotic. Later that year, before fighting Nate Marquardt, Sonnen listed an antibiotic and a drug for congestion.

"None of those instances did he mention anything regarding any type of testosterone or anything to that," Kizer told ESPN last year.

Obviously, the ignorance to report the treatments in previous bouts screams to those fans who were pushing the opinion that Sonnen was hiding it in order to receive the performance gain without being caught. If it is a legitimate condition that Sonnen is dealing with for the rest of his life, why didn't he inform commissions ahead of those bouts? 

The broader issue is the use of testosterone replacement therapy in the sport of mixed martial arts. The NFL, NBA, MLB, and even the WWE have all banned the therapy. The NFL, NBA, MLB, and even the WWE have programs to curb its use. Why hasn't mixed martial arts, and would that effectively crush any hope of Sonnen returning to the sport? Would he be physically lesser of a fighter if TRT isn't an option anymore?

At 34 years old, Sonnen is fighting not only against a saga of lies and legal problems, but time. The suspension will only last until June 29th, when his license expires, but the CSAC ensured that it would be contacted if Sonnen tried to obtain licensing elsewhere.

Commissioner Van Lemon noted during the hearing that he had serious issues allowing TRT in mixed martial arts competition, and I imagine the body of paperwork and dialogue from this case will cause other commissions to be cautious about its acceptance as well. Perhaps this is the case that causes the UFC and athletic commissions to join the ranks of other professional sports in banning the treatment? If so, I have my doubts whether Sonnen can physically compete with the elite fighters in the division. 

UPDATE: According to Josh Gross at ESPN, CSAC Director George Dodd stated that Sonnen can't reapply until May of 2012:

 

 Josh Gross 
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