New York, NY, United States (4E Sports) – The combat sport of mixed-martial arts has recorded the highest exemption for the use of testosterone, which is banned in sports as a performance enhancer.
The state athletic commissions routinely grants allowances based solely on low lab values and diagnoses of hypogonadism, according to a report by “Outside the Lines”. A major known cause of acquired hypogonadism: prior use of anabolic steroids.
In the past five years, at least 15 mixed martial artists have been issued exemptions to use testosterone, the vast majority revealed or confirmed through public records requests with the major state commissions or athletic bodies overseeing the sport.
According to a record keeper, the sport has had more than 20,000 pro fighters over the past five years although fewer than 1,800 MMA combatants are under contract to the sport’s dominant promoters — Zuffa (UFC) and Bellator, which account for 11 of the fighters on testosterone replacement therapy (TRT).
Vitor Belfort was 33 years old when an Ultimate Fighting Championship doctor in Las Vegas diagnosed low testosterone as the cause for his feeling “tired and lethargic.” The fix for the two-time champion was a TRT regimen that continues to this day.
Three years after, Belfort basks in a career rebirth that has him set for a spring UFC title fight and has emerged as the poster child for a practice seen as outright cheating and an unfair exploitation of a performance-enhancing-drug testing loophole: athletes competing while treated with synthetic testosterone.
“It’s a huge number,” said Dr. Don Catlin, the country’s leading anti-doping expert, of the MMA testosterone exemptions. “I am on the IOC committee that reviews requests. We essentially grant none. But in boxing and MMA there is no central control. There is no set of rules that everybody has to follow.
Along with exemptions, several MMA fighters and officials also described widespread use of performance-enhancing substances in the sport.
One top contender labeled PED use in the sport “rampant,” and a prominent state athletic commission chairman matter-of-factly acknowledged: “We got some doping going on in MMA.”
Drug testing in MMA is confined to postfight by the state athletic commissions that test for performance-enhancing substances, with Nevada believed to be the only commission attempting out-of-competition testing.
The UFC also does some of its own testing, although officials declined comment and little is known about the program.
In comparison, major pro leagues such as the NFL and MLB engage in far more rigorous programs that include testing at the start of camp or spring training as well as year-round, random testing.
Dr. Richard Auchus, a leading endocrinologist and University of Michigan professor of internal medicine, described the incidence of low testosterone or what is known as hypogonadism in healthy 30-year-olds as “vanishingly small” — or well less than 0.1 percent.
“What people have to understand is a [testosterone exemption] is granted for a disease, not for a [low] lab value,” said Auchus, a consultant to USADA. “If you say idiopathic hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, meaning ‘I don’t know why you have it, but you have low testosterone production and there is nothing wrong with your testes’ — well, that can happen because you are taking exogenous androgen [steroids]. That doesn’t cut it.”