Bloody Elbow roundtable: What to make of Bigfoot Silva and TRT

Bradley Kanaris

The Bloody Elbow staff converses about the aftermath of Antonio Silva's positive test for elevated testosterone and shares their opinions on TRT.

Brent Brookhouse: Bigfoot Silva vs. Mark Hunt was one of the best fights in recent memory. The kind of sloppy action fight that gets the blood pumping even while you sit on your couch halfway around the world.

But it has now been significantly tainted by the news that Silva tested positive for elevated testosterone. Silva says he was on testosterone replacement therapy for the fight and that his doctor kept upping the dosage, stressing that it "wasn't his mistake."

This is similar to his situation in 2008 when Silva tested positive for Boldenone, an anabolic steroid, and was suspended for a year. In that case, it was said by his manager that the failure was actually caused by Novedex. Silva has Acromegaly, which can lead to decreased testosterone, so he may be one of the few UFC fighters who has legitimate cause to claim that he has low testosterone (a side effect of Acromegaly).

But the question now becomes: what do you do with Bigfoot?

It's his second failure in five years -- though first under the UFC banner. Is his medical condition a good enough reason to allow for the failures with only the punishment that he faces already -- the draw removed from his record and loss of his Fight of the Night bonus, or is it time to make TRT related failures a bigger deal?

Kid Nate: The UFC has clearly made a decision to allow and tacitly encourage fighters to use TRT, even fighters with checkered histories like Bigfoot, Belfort, Marquardt and Chael Sonnen. Hell maybe especially fighters with checkered histories. Maybe that's the thinking here - "we can't let these losers get caught roiding again, I know we'll give them therapeutic use exemptions for steroid treatments (TRT), no way they can f*ck that up."

Well Bigfoot has shown that no really good plan involves fighters and their "medical advisors."

It's long past time the UFC cut the crap and banned TRT. This might be a short term way to mitigate a certain amount of bad publicity for drug testing failures but in the long-run it's just a scandal waiting to happen. What if Mark Hunt had suffered massive brain trauma and died shortly after that fight? The UFC is just lucky that he only suffered massive brain trauma, they won't always be so lucky.

Now that the UFC's numbers are plummeting, they need to watch they sh*t because the knives are coming out for them. All the people who don't like them and don't like cage fighting have been laying in wait, now that they're no longer the hot new thing, the knives will be coming out.

Iain Kidd: Guys on TRT are already tested significantly more than guys not on TRT, at least in Nevada. I'm good with it if the UFC follows the strict protocols the NSAC has set out for it; the random blood/urine tests leading up to the fight, then the day after the fight, i'm fine with it. Under NSAC rules your total T level not only can't be higher than normal, it's not allowed to be on the high end of normal. Your total T levels on TRT are supposed to stay below 700ng/dL at most, when the range for a "normal" person is 300ng/dL - 1100ng/dL.

If, and this is a huge if, all commissions follow the same testing procedure and rules, I'm more than OK with guys who need it getting TRT. The incidence rate in the UFC is below the incidence rate of the general population for the same number of guys, without even taking into account the added risk factors of regular head trauma and severe weight cutting practices.

Are some guys going to try to cheat using TRT? Almost certainly, but with the increased testing scrutiny, it would be significantly harder for them to cheat on TRT than it would the "traditional" way.

Tim Burke: I'm not a fan of "what if" arguments. I don't think the UFC should ban TRT because "what if something bad happens when the guy's on TRT?" It hasn't happened, and if you want to open that pandora's box, all sorts of things could potentially be banned. Personally, I don't care about TRT. As Iain said, with good commissions it's pretty regulated. And they're clearly catching people that are going out of bounds (Silva, Rothwell).

Do I think it's laughable that these guys need TRT? Yes. Do I think it's any potentially more dangerous than a bazillion other things in MMA? No. So in the end, I don't really care about it. It's just a talking point for people like us. Vitor Belfort's victories in 2013 aren't "tainted" to me. Not in the least. Everyone's on something, if you don't believe that then you're naive. Belfort's just going through more stringent testing than everyone else.

As for Bigfoot, I don't think you do anything in addition to what he already got - a nine month suspension and a whole lot of scrutiny the next time he tries to fight in a state with a good commission. That's it. It's basically a non-issue.

Anton Tabuena: There's just too many ways to abuse TRT. Especially when several unqualified commissions who can't/don't do the proper tests are giving out exemptions, like quack doctors giving weed prescriptions to every dude who "has trouble sleeping". Just because "everyone is on something", doesn't mean regulatory bodies and promotions (who also regulate themselves at times) should allow this. It shouldn't work that way.

And seriously, you shouldn't be rewarded with legal roids, when you've destroyed your system with illegal ones. I don't care if there are rare cases of legitimate dudes who have low T. If you have low testosterone, and you can't perform properly, then don't fight anymore. It's that simple.

KJ Gould: Bigfoot's kind of a difficult case for a couple of reasons. Obviously he has had past PED test failures to consider, for a horse steroid no less.

However we do know he legitimately had a brain tumour removed that was near or pressing on his pituitary gland, and with that does come a need for various hormone therapies. I know this to be true because my father a few years ago also had a brain tumour removed from near the pituitary, and while his developed later in life and didn't cause acromegaly, since the surgery he has been on a cocktail of testosterone (taken as a gel), thyroxine and growth hormone.

The thing with dosages at least in my father's experience with doctors, is it's a constant treatment of adjustments based on the doctors advice. Whether it's his GP or a specialist he sees a few times a year at King's College Neurology department, his dosages can increase or decrease. My father's also retired, in his 60s and won't be pursuing any kind of professional sport.

To me Bigfoot's latest failure is actually more of an indicator of his legit need for hormonal treatments, compared to any fighter who might be 'cycling off' so that their levels stay within the accepted 'norm' for regulated MMA testing -- which in itself can vary state to state in the USA.

Maybe the question stemming from this is, should fighters be licensed to fight if they're on treatment for medical conditions to begin with? If brain damage is the reason you're requiring all this medication, maybe it's time to call it a career?

Zane Simon: I hate to say that I feel like this is a non-issue, but it kind of is. While Bigfoot put on an awesome show that got fans invigorated and is a notable fighter in the sport, he's not someone who draws a lot of his own press. He's more or less a non-entity when he's not fighting. As such this is exactly the kind of incident that most people are going to have already forgotten about in a few months much like I think a lot of people have already forgot about Rothwell's failed test. Is Bigfoot a bigger name than Rothwell, sure, but he's not way bigger. I think this is one of those things that makes hardcore fans wring their hands a bit, but that the rest of the sporting world takes no notice of whatsoever.

Ben Thapa: I strongly agree with KJ's perspective. This was a failure of the medical professional charged with keeping the testosterone ratio in the right range, not Pezao.

From a personal experience, I know that keeping a constant level of a certain medicine in your body becomes a challenge involving diet, exercise and variable timing of shots or pills. A diligent doctor is going to track that bouncing ball with a margin of acceptable error -which is fine for most people.

However, Bigfoot Silva is not most people. He's a professional athlete who had acromegaly treated with surgery and that doctor needs to make sure he's within the proper tolerances with a greater degree of accuracy than normal patients.

A medical screwup cost Bigfoot a significant amount of money in bonus form and in terms of sponsorships and the fines. This really wasn't his fault, but the only way the UFC can act and keep its reputation from totally free falling is by punishing him

In an ideal world, Bigfoot gets a much better doctor to deal with this going forwards and only loses his bonus. But we don't live in an ideal world, do we?

Steph Daniels: KJ took the words straight from my thought process. I am a former RN, and as a result, I have a hard time getting on board with anyone with serious health issues fighting. I recently read that physicians haven't ruled out that Matt Grice may one day return to fighting, and that blew my mind. Don't get me wrong, I love the amazing success that Nick Newell has recognized, but his disadvantage isn't life threatening, and has actually been worked into his fighting techniques in positive fashion, but someone like Silva, and Hong Man Choi (also suffered from a pituitary tumor and still has eye issues to this day), arguably shouldn't be allowed to fight. I think it's a tremendous risk MMA is taking, and may one day come back to bite them in the ass.

Tim Burke: I wonder if there are any comparisons with Nikolai Valuev, who has acromegaly and was the world heavyweight champion in boxing. He mostly fought in Germany and Switzerland (and only once in the US) during his run at the top and I'm not sure what kind of testing he would go through there, but you'd have to think he was on some sort of hormone therapy to be able to compete at a high level.

Dallas Winston: I don't even give enough f*cks to explain my indifference.

Fraser Coffeen: Honestly, I'm kind of with Dallas on this one. I know I should get all righteous and indignant, but I don't really get all that worked up one way or the other. I think that's largely because the whole system is set up in a way that makes TRT usage no big deal. You get a fine, you get suspended for 6 months that you probably wouldn't have fought during anyway, you come right back like nothing happened. No biggie at all.

What does bother me is the inconsistency. Either allow it or don't allow it, but stop with this current in the middle nonsense. Anton's point about legalized prescription marijuana brings this to mind as well. If you want to make it legal, make it legal. If you don't, make it illegal. But making it illegal, then setting up all these easily manipulated loopholes is stupid, and ultimately, THAT is what hurts MMA's credibility more than the actual use of TRT.

Also annoying in this issue? The inconsistency of fans. Belfort vs. Henderson II was a great example of this, as so many fans are rabidly anti-Belfort because he uses TRT, completely ignoring the fact that Hendo does the exact same thing. Consistency people, consistency. If Vitor Belfort if a dirty, dirty rule-breaker, then so is Dan Henderson. You can't have it both ways.

KJ Gould: Dan Henderson didn't pop for a designer steroid like Belfort did after their first fight in Pride. 4 Hydroxytestosterone isn't the synthetic stuff that gets used in TRT, it's a straight up PED first designed in the 1950's. That's the issue with Belfort now 'needing' TRT. His past failure points to him wrecking his own natural production of testosterone.

When there are other people who genuinely need TRT for medical reasons, Belfort's case strikes me the same way a chronic alcoholic might get a liver transplant over someone else who didn't fuck his own organs up. Belfort's use of TRT isn't preventing those that genuinely need it, but it's a slap in the face to them at least considering he's parleyed that into a career resurgence that is netting him probably millions of dollars.

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