The Inevitable Occasion When I Write About Steroids In MMA

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On February 27th, 2014, the Nevada State Athletic Commission issued a ban on testosterone replacement therapy. The UFC followed suit, issuing this statement:

"We believe our athletes should compete based on their natural abilities and on an even playing field. We also intend to honor this ruling in international markets where, due to a lack of governing bodies, the UFC oversees regulatory efforts for our live events. We encourage all athletic commissions to adopt this ruling."

Mere hours later, TRT proponent Vitor Belfort pulled out of his scheduled title fight with Chris Weidman for reasons that seem fairly obvious.


I’ve been sporadically sitting here for the past few months, staring at my blank computer screen, in the hopes that a way to start an article about the most polarizing, loaded topic in organized sports will pop into my head. Since it obviously hasn’t, I’m just going to start writing and see what happens. I have to write about this subject, and no matter how ignorant, lazy, or predictably contrarian my opinion might seem, the idea of getting it out there is more important to me than if I had never mentioned it at all, backlash be damned. In short, I have a big mouth.

Writing about performance enhancing drugs seems like a terrible idea. If you get on your high horse and start piously whining about cheating and uneven playing fields and the sanctity of the sport, congratulations. You’re uninteresting and predictable.

But, if you take the other path, and begin outlining a stance that seems like it’s supportive of PED use in sports, alot of people will just stop reading past the first paragraph. First people are annoyed at your perceived trolling, then they get even madder when they realize you aren’t.

The hell with it.

Let’s assume that using illegal steroids and other things to elevate your testosterone level will irrefutably help you win fights. Do the numbers back up this assumption?

Not really. Cage Potato has an ongoing article that documents MMA’s history with steroid busts, and if you go by just the guys who tested positive after a fight, the overall record is 15-22. That’s 15 wins, and 22 losses. Now, granted, this list contains names like Ken Shamrock, Johnnie Morton, and Kit Cope. This is true. But it also contains names like Thiago Tavares, Stephan Bonnar, and even Vitor Belfort, who tested positive after losing a nanimous decision to Dan Henderson at PRIDE 32 in Vegas (a listless and soul crushing performance, even for him. More on him in a minute).

When you look at the documented busts for elevated testosterone levels after a fight, the results aren’t any better for dudes who pee’d hot. The fight record for the men who tested positive for elevated testosterone after a fight is a meager 1-4-1, and the one win can be explained away easily. All you have to do is realize that the guy who tested high was fighting Brandon Vera. No further explanation necessary.

I realize that these are just figures, and I also realize that reporting them as I’m doing doesn’t prove that these fighters were actually impeded by steroid use. They also don’t take into account the fact that these were people who were actually tested. Who knows how many people have committed violent crimes inside the octagon and somehow or another eluded testing. But still, the numbers are compelling, and I’m going to guess that they aren’t what most people would have expected.

Okay, genius. What about Vitor Belfort? He’s getting therapeutic use exemptions for TRT, savagely murdering people inside the octagon, and looking like a gakked up police horse. How do you explain THAT?

Any time I try to flesh out my take on an issue, there’s always the obligatory monkey wrench that makes me reconsider. In this case, Vitor Belfort isn’t just a monkey wrench, he’s half a Goddamn tool kit.

(Did that work? Probably not.)

Vitor Belfort’s highlight laden run hasn’t just been due the return of the legendary "Old Vitor". Old Vitor wasn’t doing stuff like he’s doing now. Old Vitor possessed blinding hand speed, and would catch you with 20 punches in 4 seconds. That’s how he would finish. It was so quick, sometimes you didn’t even realize what happened.

Now, there’s no debate about what is happening. He’s getting homicidal with excellent fighters, and he’s doing so with techniques that he simply hasn’t shown a capacity to perform before. Hmmmmmm.

But wait a second. He’s Vitor Belfort, a sensational athlete with genuine talent. Why are people surprised at what he’s been able to do? Why are people throwing their hands in the air and crying foul because VITOR BELFORT has been knocking people out? It’s not like Matt Lindland started knocking guys out with flying knees. It’s not as though Rob Broughton started throwing acrobatic capoeira kicks. Danny Downes isn’t suddenly coming out of the gate with Tyson-like punching power. If the changes were that drastic, my view might change a bit. But people look at what Vitor is doing and assume that it must be due to testosterone. That’s most likely a part of it, but exactly where TRT ends and a sensational talent like Vitor Belfort begins can’t be proven. And what bothers me is that everyone seems to think that it can, just based on the eyeball test.

How ’bout those PRIDE Fighting Championships?

Yeah, I know. Guys were juiced to the gills over in Japan, and the serious drawback was … um …

Nothing! It was awesome!

There was certainly a notable difference in many fighters’ physiques when they made the transition over to the UFC. I wont name names, but a few that stand out rhyme with Shmanderlei Milva, Shmauricio Mua, and maybe even Shmirko Mo Mop. Lots of folks assume that these types were over in Japan crushing people because they were on steroids. However, they were most likely killing people because they were largely getting matched up with tomato cans and neighborhood dads. Wanderlei, Mauricio, and Mirko all had amazing runs in PRIDE, but fighting the Tatsuya Iwasaki’s and the Yasuhito Namekawa’s of the world in between their marquee matchups certainly helped the perception that they were more indestructible then they actually were. I’m certainly not the first person to make this point, but it’s a fact. There were no Yoshihisa Yamamoto’s for Mirko to fight in the UFC.

Steroids are illegal for a reason. People wouldn’t be taking them if they didn’t help. So why can’t you stop being a douche and advocate their elimination?

Can’t do it. On one hand, anabolic steroid use increases muscle mass. On the other hand, having increased muscle mass means that properly getting oxygen to all of those muscles is more difficult, leading to decreased stamina and a vibe that might remind you of a young Brad Kohler. Let’s see the aforementioned Vitor Belfort go deep into the championship rounds with the winner of Weidman-Machida with the same ferocity and vigor as he’s historically displayed in the first round throughout his career. However, let’s also see him lose that fight and make his return by knocking out Francis Carmont in 14 seconds with everything but jet fuel and red matter coursing through his veins. You want to roll the dice by putting crazy synthetic shit into your body? That’s a risk I believe you should have the right to take.

People whine about an "uneven playing field", but there’s no even playing field out there, with or without the option to use steroids. MMA matchmaking is getting better and better at the highest levels, but alot of fights are decided by the fact that one fighter is simply better than the other fighter. There’s no universal physical starting point. Steroids may be a temporary solution in some cases (with juicing to heal an injury faster being the most obvious example), but in my troglodyte brain, they are nothing more than a product of science. And science never stops progressing, perpetually weeding out the negative aspects of advancements, until they’re whittled down to their purest, most positive form.

We should never exclude literal science in favor of figurative religion.

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