Victor Conte: Ongoing testosterone fiasco will haunt UFC; Dave Meltzer says Bristol Marunde fought on Strikeforce show w/ TUE for testosterone
By Zach Arnold | March 5, 2012
A timely update for you given that Dave Meltzer says Bristol Marunde fought on the Strikeforce card this past Saturday while getting a Therapeutic Use Exemption for… wait… testosterone!
Last week when Rampage Jackson had his version of a Kinsleyian gaffe with the Fighters Only interview over his claims that a “UFC doctor” (paraphrasing here) advised him to go to an age-management doctor (which allegedly resulted in a prescription for testosterone), we figured that Fighters Only would get enormous blowback… which is why we promptly screen-captured the money quotes from said interview for historical preservation. Oh, yeah, we also continued arguing for a permanent ban on MMA fighters being allowed to get a Therapeutic Use Exemption for testosterone.
So when I hurt my knee this time it was fucked but it was really a blessing in disguise. I really wanted to fight for the Japanese fans and so I went to see the doctor and he told me not to fight. I was like ‘whoa.’ I bust out crying, because I had missed Japan and… you know, I don’t like to tell people that I cry but I am a human being, I cried. I woke up at like three o’clock in the morning and I cried. I couldn’t train and I didn’t know if it would be a career-ending injury.
I never had surgery in my life. But I hurt this knee back in college, I hurt it before I fought Rashad and so I knew it was the same injury… a lot of fights when I am injured I don’t tell anybody but the UFC knew this time because my doctor works for the UFC. Its good that the UFC knew because they look after you, they take care of you even if its just in training. Pride didn’t do that.
I told my doctor not to tell the UFC but he told them anyway. I don’t like the UFC to know sometimes because I think sometimes got big mouths and then sometimes my opponent knows.
I almost pulled out but then I went to see the doctor and he told me to talk to an age-management doctor. So I went and talked to them and they tested me and said my testosterone was low; they prescribed me testosterone, to bring my testosterone levels back up to levels where I can be like… so that I am the same as young people, like when I was 25, and it would help build my knee up. I hurt my knee like a month ago and I only did three shots of testosterone but it put a lot of weight on me, a lot of muscle on me but it healed me knee up good enough to where I could fight.
It was hard for me to train, it takes time to heal, I couldn’t do certain things, but this was my first time ever using testosterone. I took what the doctor prescribed to me and I went to the pharmacy… I gave myself small doses and that shit immediately changed me, that’s why I am saying now I am not going to retire. I am not gonna retire no time soon, its just unfortunate that I got this injury.
So I spoke to the UFC and they were like ‘yeah, a lot of fighters are probably doing it but not telling anyone.’ Me, I keep it real, I am not doing anything wrong. Its legal and I am not abusing it and I am not going over certain levels. From what I learned about it, when I got tested my levels my levels were really low and the doctor was telling me that athletes can burn testosterone.
A couple of days later, most MMA & general sports writers focused on Rampage using testosterone as opposed to the much more important claims that his doctor “works for the UFC” and allegedly tells UFC everything about his medical condition. That’s why we tried to refocus the debate on where it really should be.
Outside of Ben Fowlkes’ piece at MMA Fighting about banning testosterone use in the sport w/ Athletic Commissions & UFC itself, nobody really stepped up and said much on the actually-critical aspects of Rampage’s interview claims.
However, don’t confuse silence with obliviousness. The power brokers and media know the story is out there and are paying attention. The climate of fear in the fight media is much stronger than in the general sports media. The perfect example of this is the media’s reaction (here, here, here, and here) to the New Orleans Saints ‘bounty’ scandal, where many a writer are calling for heads to roll and for IRS investigations.
Regarding the problem of fighters getting testosterone prescriptions while actively fighting… the stakes are way too important at this point to gloss over the can of worms that Rampage opened here. As with all Kinsleyian gaffes, his ‘crime’ is that he said something in public as opposed to saying nothing at all.
If you don’t believe this is an issue that could severely impact the MMA industry down the road, listen to what Victor Conte had to say to Steve Cofield & Kevin Iole on ESPN 1100 radio in Las Vegas last week on the subject matter. The Godfather of modern doping told it like it is during his radio interview.
“This is a total fiasco for the UFC and I think a lot of people have seen this coming for quite some time, especially now this is coming out because of this overseas bout where the UFC’s attempting to regulate themselves, which I think is ridiculous.
“But… just in general regarding testosterone replacement therapy, I think in the overwhelming majority of cases it’s simply they’re using it to cheat, it’s not valid. As an example you specifically hear with Rampage when he’s talking about putting his levels back like they were in he was younger. First of all, he’s only 33 years old. Typically your levels begin to decline at about (age) 30 at about 1% per year. When you’re doing injections of testosterone, typically they use 200 mg per week. There’s a half-life of about 8 days which you would average from that, after absorption, probably 16 mg a day which is more than double what your body would produce at its peak as a young man.
“So, my opinion is, he was taking at least double what he would take to replace his levels and put them back where he was before. So, I don’t think that going to one of these aging-management or anti-aging longevity-type clinics and seeing one of these doctors who in my opinion is not qualified to even determine whether or not a fighter should be using testosterone. They need to go to a board-certified endocrinologist. This needs to be done over a period of months. They need to be measured multiple times.
“This is just nonsense to me the way these guys are getting these hormone replacement prescriptions and basically using testosterone, a very powerful hormone, to cheat.”
More than anything else, this goes to the heart of the matter on Rampage’s claims that his ‘doctor who works for the UFC’ told him to go see an age-management person after allegedly telling Rampage that he shouldn’t fight on the UFC Japan card. An age-management specialist, not a board-certified endocrinologist. As Victor points out, going to an endocrinologist would require months of examination as opposed to weeks. In other words, a legitimate endocrinologist isn’t going to write up a prescription for testosterone on the spot for a fighter who wants to compete in short order.
I bring this up because I am reminded of an epic debate that took place on this site in October of 2010 when radio host Larry Pepe criticized Josh Gross for his claims about PED usage in MMA on Jim Rome’s radio show. You can read the transcript of Larry said right here. What I wanted to highlight from Larry’s argument that drug testing is working in MMA is what he said about the claim that fighters can go to a doctor and get steroids with a simple prescription.
So, how does Josh think that they’re beating the test? And again, I’m going to quote, ‘I grew up with a buddy who ran high-level track internationally and he says, you know, if you want to do it, you hire an endocrinologist and you can do this stuff and it’s not an issue to get around until and unless they adopt WADA-quality testing.’ Now, to those of you that don’t know, an endocrinologist is a medical doctor, a specialist who deals with hormonal imbalances. So, let’s set the stage. Those other 249 fighters who passed the tests, if this is the way you do it, would have had to walk into a medical doctor’s office and explain that they are illegally taking drugs because it is illegal to take anabolic steroids without a prescription and that they like the doctor to basically put their medical license at risk by helping them defraud the Government because athletic commissions are Government bodies, on a drug test so they can get in a cage and potentially do harm to another human being. That’s the scenario. You’re going to get a medical doctor to help you manipulate these tests, that’s what the medical doctor has to buy into and potentially put their license at risk. I mean, seriously? Are these endocrinologists just out there waiting to help and I would venture to say that there isn’t an endocrinologist in the world who could get 249 out of 250 fighters to pass a drug test. It just… it defies any logic,
If you believe we have a problem and that all these guys are beating the tests, then you also have to believe that either UFC fighters are the most sophisticated group of human beings in the world at beating drug tests or they’re able to get an extraordinary number of doctors all over the country, endocrinologists, to help them manipulate drug tests being done by a Government body and put their medical licenses at risk…
Well, what we’re finding out, at least according to Rampage, is that it’s not necessarily endocrinologists who are writing up testosterone prescriptions for fighters. Rampage said that an ‘age-management doctor’ got him a testosterone prescription. Dr. Mark Czarnecki, who was with Chael Sonnen during his California State Athletic Commission testimony regarding testosterone usage, is a general practitioner in Oregon.
Rampage was the one who threw the proverbial cherry bomb by saying that his doctor ‘who works for the UFC’ was the one who allegedly advised him to go see an age-management doctor and that’s how he got the testosterone.
I mentioned Larry’s comments on the matter because Kevin Iole asked Victor Conte a very basic, salt-of-the-earth question that sounds so simple that most people probably wouldn’t think to ask it due to fear of embarrassment. Why is it that boxers and MMA fighters, people who are in great physical shape compared to the general population, needing to get testosterone prescriptions? Just how much of the adult male population legitimately suffers from low testosterone levels?
“Well, typically all these reference ranges are based upon two standard deviations. In simple terms, that means only 2% will be outside [levels]. So, it’s not something that you’re going to see very often.
“So, you know, these guys… I believe the reason they’re testing these single times and being found to be low is because they’ve been using anabolic steroids and this, you know, reduces your own production of testosterone and then that gives them the single blood test that’s been required to be low to get this prescription.
“So, I think, like I said before, I would never say all of them… but I think it’s certainly the overwhelming majority have either been using steroids or they figured out a way to manipulate the system where they can get these prescriptions to use it and it’s simply to gain an advantage and to cheat. It’s not about a real medically-indicated need.
“When you use steroids or exogenous testosterone, that shuts down your own endogenous production or your body’s natural production and then when you go to the doctor you got a low level and of course then you get the ’script and you use it accordingly and can obviously gain a competitive advantage.
“This is just… once again, like you say you got the best of the best (athletes). This is not about gaining an advantage to run faster than the guy in the lane next to you. This is the hurt game, this is about harming your opponent and I think that’s why it’s even more important to have effective testing in the UFC than even in an Olympic sport and I just really think the time has come. There are viable and effective options. VADA, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association run by Margaret Goodman, the doctor in Las Vegas. There’s reasonable cost testing, it’s available, they do very effective what’s called Carbon Isotope Ratio testing for synthetic testosterone. They could really be effective at reducing this abuse of testosterone in the UFC.”
With all of the hullabaloo surrounding athletic commissions and Testosterone Replacement Therapy, Kevin brought up Nate Marquardt’s situation with the New Jersey & Pennsylvania athletic commissions last year over getting to the right levels during usage. During his Fighters Only interview, Rampage said that using testosterone made him feel like he was ‘25 years old’ again.
So, we took a look at the transcript of the famous interview Nate did with Ariel Helwani last year. Here’s what he said on the matter:
NATE MARQUARDT: “So, again, three weeks out, um… I got the recommendation. My doctor decided to put me on a new treatment that was more aggressive because it was so close to my fight he said that it wouldn’t get basically it wouldn’t help me, it wouldn’t make me feel better by the time of my fight unless he did a more [aggressive treatment] and, uh, so I was on the treatment for two weeks and I took a blood test and, uh, which is normal throughout the treatment you had to take blood tests to make sure you’re within normal ranges and that test came back high and, at that point, my doctor said, well, you need to go off treatment and, uh, you know, let’s hope your down to normal levels by your fight. And, you know, obviously that was, you know, I was pretty much panicked at that point.”
As you might imagine, Victor wasn’t buying what was being sold.
“Once again, this goes back to how these guys get these prescriptions in the first place. I don’t believe the doctors that are writing these prescriptions are qualified to determine whether or not they even need testosterone replacement. That needs to be done by a board-certified endocrinologist and takes a number of months! You just don’t say, ‘well, the levels were coming down, down.’ Well, maybe he was tapering off so that when he showed up at the fight and they collected a urine sample that his T/E ratio would be under 6 to 1. That’s probably what he was talking about, they’re coming down and down. Well, of course that was likely, you know, a conscious effort to avoid testing positive.”
The bottom line is that we’re currently on a course where someone is going to have to end up getting crippled, paralyzed, or killed before a majority of media & fans generate any sort of public reaction of outrage to what is going on right now.
For the UFC, it’s easy to brush aside questions from writers about the uncomfortable claims Rampage made during his Fighters Only interview. Dana can go into his hyperbolic ‘we’re the most regulated sport on Earth’ routine and try to blast so much noise that you just give up caring.
Don’t fall for steroid fatigue syndrome. The stakes are much higher here in regards to drug usage in Mixed Martial Arts. As Victor said, there’s a big difference between hitting a baseball out of the park because you’re using growth hormone and concussing someone into oblivion during a cage fight because you have 15 extra pounds of muscle.
Right now, there are MMA fighters who are currently in the shadows in regards to their testosterone usage and they don’t think they will get outed. Recent history says that, eventually, loose lips sink ships and they will be outed. That’s the nature of today’s media cycle. No one is invincible.
UFC is the powerhouse in the sport right now and they are the ones that could dramatically clean up the doping mess in the sport if they wanted to do so. They also have a pretty good incentive to do so — Fox. UFC’s programming is all over Fox’s media properties. Zuffa wants to be mainstream and being mainstream comes with some responsibilities & roadblocks.
And if the doping problem isn’t cleaned up in Mixed Martial Arts? Eventually, as Dr. Margaret Goodman has predicted on the record, the Feds will step in. If UFC doesn’t think this is a possibility, then Dana should give his new friend Vince McMahon a phone call and ask him what happened when the Feds went after him over Dr. George Zahorian.