UFC Middleweight Vitor Belfort demolished former Strikeforce champ Luke Rockhold in the first round of their UFC on FX 8 bout last night with a beautiful spinning wheel kick. Unfortunately for Belfort, what people want to talk about instead of his technique is his use of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT).
MMA Junkie's John Morgan asked Belfort about TRT use at the post-fight press conference. Belfort wouldn't respond. Here's how he wrote up the exchange:
Belfort declined to discuss his testosterone use following his win.
"Can somebody beat him up for me, please?" Belfort requested when asked by MMAjunkie.com about his situation. "Can somebody beat him up?
"You're boring man, you're boring. Get out of here. ... I'm not going to talk to you. Talk to my hand."
Belfort took a similar approach when pressed again on the issue by a Brazilian journalist.
"Are you joking?" Belfort asked. "You're joking, aren't you?"
This is classic terrible PR. Instead of answering the question, Belfort throws fuel on the fire with (hopefully joking) threats to reporters.
Of course ignoring questions and threatening reporters does not make the very real issues go away. Instead it inspires full op-eds like this one from MMA Fighting's Mike Chiappetta:
There is a drug problem in sports, and in MMA. No doubt about it. Belfort has repeatedly said that he is not breaking any rules, and that is very true, but that may just be because the rules are outdated, much like they were in McGwire's case. Belfort may not be deserving of any more criticism than a random steroid user who does it under the cloak of anonymity, but his stature is so great and his story is so wildly compelling that it's going to come his way anyway.
One day in the near future, Belfort may fight for a belt again. He is likely going to need to be cleared by a state commission at some point, and some are on the record saying they might have a problem offering him a therapeutic use exemption due to his past PED bust. We are heading for some kind of collision course. We're already there from a public relationship perspective.
Fight Opinion's Zach Arnold is even more blunt:
For those who wanted MMA to be accepted as a mainstream sport, well... the one sport whose drug testing policy most resembles combat sports right now is horse racing. A baseball player gets busted for testosterone and all hell breaks loose. A testosterone user in UFC gets a promotional push.
The fruits of UFC's drug policy (marijuana = bad, testosterone = OK) is bizarrely Japanese-like. It all starts from the top. In WWE, Vince McMahon wants a certain look and if you want to work for him, you have to provide that look. He is very image-conscious himself. Same deal with UFC management. They want muscular guys to market to the masses. They want a certain look. It's why Roy Nelson stands out so much from the rest of the pack. The fighters take their cues from the top. They know that the lifespan of a fighting career in MMA is very short. If testosterone usage was simply a placebo effect, fighters would have stopped using it by now. Instead, the usage continues to increase. If it didn't have some sort if impact, nobody would be using it now.
Just don't say that I didn't warn you ahead of time. I strongly believe that the fans deserve the truth and that you shouldn't treat your readers as idiots. Sometimes, it means talking about uncomfortable topics or topics that you may be disinterested in. Bottom line? The masses (and the media) are coming around on the testosterone (anabolic steroids) topic. It doesn't mean that fans still won't show up to watch fights but it does indicate that the facade being produced for television is being understood for what it is.
The UFC has long insisted that it's up to the various state commissions regulation the sport to put a stop to drug abuse. ESPN's Brett Okamoto points out how that strategy is failing in this instance and how the UFC's various execs are contradicting each other over the issue:
The only way the UFC can ensure Belfort's next performance isn't questioned is to force him to go through the process of acquiring a therapeutic use exemption for TRT in its home base of Nevada. That really shouldn't be a problem for UFC president Dana White, who took a harsh stance on TRT this year. White has even said he'd like to see athletic commissions ban it entirely -- a ban he doesn't feel the UFC should have to implement itself.
White publicly promised the UFC would "brutally" test any fighter who receives an exemption in order to prevent abuse. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened. UFC vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner told ESPN.com last week the UFC did not test Belfort during his recent training camp, deferring that responsibility to the Brazilian commission.
"The Brazilian commission is handling this fight and all subsequent fights in Brazil," Ratner said. "They have tested Vitor, who is within legal limits, and will be testing him at the fights."
Turning Belfort's TRT exemption completely over to a Brazilian commission handling its second UFC event is a far cry from "testing the living s---" out of him -- which is what White promised to do, verbatim, earlier this year.
Clearly that approach is being tested to the limits and it's just a matter of time before the rampant use of steroids, both with the approval of commissions and without, becomes a scandal that negatively impacts the whole sport.