This is the conclusion of a long Q & A interview I conducted with Dr. Johnny Benjamin. It serves to get a respected, professional opinion on the problems with PED use in combat sports, as well as some assorted safety issues in MMA. If you missed the first segment, you can find it here:
Stephie Daniels: Guys that are older, that take TRT to compete on a younger level, Frank Mir is only 33. Is he really old enough to require TRT naturally?
Dr. Benjamin: Let's be honest here. How many people who never wrecked their bodies with past steroid use, naturally need TRT at 33? Less than one or two percent.
Stephie Daniels: What about a case like Chael Sonnen's, where he has stated that hypogonadism is the root of his need for a TUE?
Dr. Benjamin: Was Chael Sonnen a big time collegiate wrestler? Yes he was. I'm going to opine and say to you, there's no way in the world you get to the level of collegiate wrestling that Chael Sonnen was at, with hypogonadism. Let me explain to you why. Hypogonadism means that the testes did not produce enough testosterone for one to normally mature. He wasn't on TRT as a teenager. He became this big, muscled up monster and NCAA wrestler with hypogonadism? Hell no.
The truth of the matter is, you could never get to that level, because you're not going to have the muscle mass and strength to get you there. They're going to run you over. Your body will not allow you to develop enough muscle and strength to compete at your size. If he has hypogonadism, it's from one thing, and one thing only, because he treated himself with steroids in the past, and wrecked his testes. That's it.
Stephie Daniels: Once incurred, is that condition a permanent one?
Dr. Benjamin: That's the thing that people don't appreciate. If you use steroids, it can harm your testes in a fashion that's permanent. When these guys use steroids to compete, guess what? They're more than likely going to need steroids for the rest of their lives just to be normal, because now they've destroyed or significantly injured their hormone producing glands, your testes, and they're never going to work correctly again.
Stephie Daniels: Why do you think the incident rate is growing, not only in MMA but in boxing, as well?
Dr. Benjamin: Well, the problem is, it's growing pains in professional boxing, and you're going to have the same thing in MMA. For the longest time in boxing, it was all tradition. This is what you do in the gym, and your old, gritty trainer, he grew up in the gym. People used tradition forever. They use so many creams and salves that they rub these guys down with. You've got guys rubbing their entire body down with albolene, which is really a make-up remover, but it makes you sweat. The stuff can kill you, but we won't go into that today. When traditions run into real science and analytical chemistry, you're bound to have some problems.
People are used to just putting anything in their body. Now people are finding with analytical chemistry, with WADA, VADA, USADA and all the alphabet organizations, the real science that they use can find parts per trillion for some of these substances. That's the equivalent of a drop in an Olympic size swimming pool. You've got to be serious about what you're taking now, because they're using serious, Star Trek type science to find this stuff.
Stephie Daniels: You've made comments to the effect that the UFC shouldn't govern the testing of their own athletes. Elaborate on this.
Dr. Benjamin: It's a conflict of interest. If you're going to look like you're a fair organization that's trying to create a level playing field for everyone, then you can't do it yourself. The problem is, our big guys never test positive, but your fringe guys do, and get exposed.
If you know something that may wreck the biggest name in your sport, and you're the only one that knows, will you expose it? If the guys who are the very biggest draws test positive, would you report it? It's like if a tree falls in the woods, did it make a noise. It's a real gut check at that point. You're going to ruin a whole card if your main event guy tests positive? You can't put yourself in that position. You have to let somebody else do it, and if a test is positive, it's positive. You never touched it. You've got nothing to do with it. You're not protecting or shielding anyone.
Stephie Daniels: What testing would you recommend?
Dr. Benjamin: I would recommend VADA (Voluntary Anti Doping Association) testing for this reason, and this reason alone, it's cheaper than USADA U.S. Anti Doping Agency). Most people think you can get WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) testing. WADA doesn't test anyone. All they do is create the standard that everyone else uses.
Stephie Daniels: What would be the cost, since you said it was much cheaper than USADA?
Dr. Benjamin: I called Margaret Goodman, who is the head of VADA, and I asked her. She said $2500 - $5000 per fighter, per year. With the UFC having 375 fighters under contract, you're looking at 1.5- 2 million dollars. A lot of money for you or me, but for the UFC, not so much.
Stephie Daniels: What are your thoughts on Alistair Overeem?
Dr. Benjamin: The one thing that I always harp about, and it always ends up making me eat humble pie, is that you can't look at a person and tell if they're on steroids, but with him, you could look at him and say something funny. Put it like this, you can look at somebody and be highly suspicious, and he was one of those guys that you can look at and be highly suspicious.
Stephie Daniels: Do you feel that marijuana is a PED?
Dr. Benjamin: Not at all. I don't smoke, I don't grow, I don't sell, I don't do any of that, but it's clearly not a PED, unless you're in a pie eating contest.
Stephie Daniels: Do you feel that Nick Diaz' punishment was a little harsh?
Dr. Benjamin: Nick Diaz got thrown under the bus. I mean, his punishment was harsh, but his lawyers didn't do him any favors either. Between Nick and his lawyer, they did a terrible job [laughs]. If you try to go in there and try to show them up and show how their system is screwed up, yeah, that's not likely to go over very well. To me, it seemed like their whole argument was, "you people don't know what you're doing." How'd that work out for him?
Stephie Daniels: Did you ever get a chance to talk with Dana White or the UFC brass about improving their drug testing procedural guidelines?
Dr. Benjamin: No, I haven't had a chance to talk with him. We keep hitting each other back and forth on text, but at some point, we're going to have to get this love affair past the texting and actually do the deed. Until I get a chance to sit down with him and Lorenzo Fertitta, and show them that there is nothing to fear with enhanced randomized testing, we're not going to get where we need to be.
Follow Dr. Benjamin via his Twitter, @DrJCBenjamin