Testosterone is God's wonder drug. When He pottered into his celestial laboratory to concoct it, His eyes were aflame with the excitement of possibility. His finest creation was about to become even more of a marvel of intelligent design.
His masterpiece, man, would be made magnificent by this new hormone. His muscles would be bigger and stronger. His courage and aggression in battle would produce gory spectacles for the amusement of the angels. His enhanced virility would see him storm the chaste barricades of his womenfolk and sire many offspring. He would be the ultimate warrior. MMA fighters, predictably, took note.
As many of them dived enthusiastically through the regulatory loopholes that allow them to top up their natural store of this wonder drug, they reaped wondrous benefits in the gym. Their injuries healed more quickly. Their heightened aggression meant they were more motivated to train and to spar. Their taut muscles coiled like iron cables, boosting the lethal potency of their techniques. And when they went home in the evening, their breathless life partners were overwhelmed by their voracious carnal lust. But did it actually help them to win fights?
Perhaps not as much as some would suppose. When a fighter steps into the cage to fight, he is a complete package comprising three aspects that bear upon his chances of victory:
1. Technical Skill. This is the quality and quantity of the weapons he carries into battle. It is the precision, fluidity, accuracy, effectiveness, speed and versatility of his fighting techniques. The primary determinant of a fighter's technical skill is the quality of his instruction, the range of skills he drills, and his experience applying them in combat. Testosterone has little influence on this beyond improving his motivation to train and injury recovery time. It allows him to put in more reps, but this means little if he's training the wrong things, or not enough of the right ones.
2. Physical Prowess. This refers to a fighter's size, strength, stamina, flexibility and conditioning. Range and depth of technical skill is useless to a fighter who is exhausted after one minute of combat, or is simply overpowered by a larger, stronger foe. Once again however, testosterone is not the primary determinant of these.
Size and somatic structure are immutable. Stamina is the result of pushing the body to exhaustion many times over time. Flexibility is the result of interminable stretching over time. Toughness and conditioning comes from repeated impact and regeneration. Strength is definitely boosted by testosterone, but for an elite fighter, intense training and not hormonal load is what begets superior muscle functionality.
3. Psychological Fortitude. It is a popular fighting aphorism that technique beats strength, and heart beats technique. The psychologically stronger fighter will often beat the technically superior one. The mental aspects of a fighter- his courage, persistence, motivation, confidence and fortitude- are largely congenital. Some people are just born tough. They are the Jake LaMottas, Frankie Edgars, Miesha Tates, and Gil Melendezes of this world. They know no fear and don't know how to quit. Testosterone definitely boosts aggression which is a function of motivation, but it doesn't give the heart and fighting spirit of a champion.
All of which ultimately doesn't say too much. Supplemental testosterone clearly enhances a fighter's performance, but due to the complex and multifaceted nature of fighting, it does so nowhere near as much as might be supposed. To further explore the question of just how much (or how little) testosterone helps a fighter's chances of winning, let us fall back on that objective banisher of bias and obfuscation: statistics.
As an unbiased and representative sample, here is a brief look at the last two fights of five high-profile UFC fighters topping up the honey of their gonads with Testosterone Replacement Therapy:
Before that, it was a hard-won war of attrition against Mauricio Rua:
Before that, he fell to the mighty fists of Junior Dos Santos:
3. Rampage Jackson. His last fight involved being gamely battered into defeat by Glover Teixeira:
Before that, he was ponderously outclassed by Ryan Bader:
4. Chael Sonnen. His last fight was an almost pitiable beating suffered at the merciless hands of J Jones:
His immediate fight before that was an almost pitiable beating suffered at the merciless hands of Anderson Silva:
His fight before that involved brutally kicking Michael Bisping into the nether realms of cosmic consciousness:
In Conclusion: Presented like this, the facts reveal a refreshing statistical clarity. Their elegant consistency is pleasing to any analyst. As a random sample, the TRT-enhanced warriors lost a definitive seven of their last ten fights. Three out of five lost both of their last two fights. Only one fighter won both fights, and he did so in decisive and consistent fashion.
Since all the fighters were on TRT, the factors differentiating Vitor's violent victories from the middling to poor results of the rest of the sample group must be substantially unrelated to TRT. And indeed, they were the factors manifest in his high-kicking virtuosity: overwhelming technical skill, versatility, risk-taking and timing.
Science doesn't lie: supplemental testosterone boosts athletic performance. However, statistics don't lie either: TRT's influence on a fighter's performance is far from decisive. TRT or not, Losers gonna lose, and Winners gonna win. As for just precisely how much influence TRT has on a fighter's chances of victory, well, only God knows. And He apparently isn't telling.