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Victor Conte: Time for commissions to use Carbon Isotope Ratio testing

By Zach Arnold | November 21, 2011

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After watching Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio Shogun at UFC 139 on Saturday night, I was reminded of this recent video where Rich Franklin & Bas Rutten are talking about all the injuries they’ve suffered in their fighting careers. The most basic of life tasks are painful for them now and it’s a wonder they’re still standing. The training is brutal and the punishment during fights can be quite traumatic.

There’s no way you can give enough praise to both Henderson and Shogun for the guts, heart, and iron will they displayed in San Jose. They paid a physical price, that’s for sure. Shogun’s knees are as bad as Keiji Mutoh’s & Kenta Kobashi’s. Despite the punishment both men endured in that fight, it’s clear that there is no stopping either man any time soon because the financial & competitive rewards are still great. In the case of Dan Henderson, however, one factor that we cannot dismiss in regards to his physical ability to still hang around in the sport is his reported usage of Testosterone Replacement Therapy. After Dan beat Fedor last Summer, I stated the following about the impact of TRT on the sport of MMA:

Whether you support the allowance of TRT by MMA fighters or not, the truth is that it has the capability of altering the MMA landscape in both good and bad ways. For fighters like Dan Henderson, TRT has a positive impact because it allows older fighters to not only hang around and not retire early but to also maintain physical strength that simply would not happen if someone was not on Testosterone. The longer someone is on TRT, the more experience they gain if they are able to fight more frequently. This will most certainly alter the way we look at veteran MMA fighters in the near future.

Dan Henderson is doing nothing out of the ordinary for top-level athletes. You give an athlete a loophole and they are going to exploit it for all that it’s worth. By the standards set forth of the current & various state athletic commissions, he’s not doing anything wrong.

It is interesting, however, that no one says much about the issue of TRT & doping in MMA when fighters aren’t getting caught. Fighters passing tests doesn’t mean that they aren’t using performance-enhancing drugs and, yet, MMA promotions run shows in states with toothless drug testing policies (Texas) and nobody says a word. It seems we only talk about the issue when someone gets caught and more people get angry at a fighter for actually getting caught due to a sloppy cover-up rather than the actual drug usage. Plus, it seems fans & media only relish talking about the issue of doping in the fight game when the person who gets caught is hated or despised as opposed to a person who is anointed as a babyface.

(How many people think less of Royce Gracie today after the nandrolone test situation in California? I hear crickets.)

Victor Conte, whose word on issues relating to PED usage in sports is always valuable to listen to, has done a couple of great interviews in the past that have largely gone under the radar. His interview with Eddie Goldman was outstanding. Victor advanced the debate about what athletic commissions should be looking for in regards to basic blood testing analysis. Remember his discussion about hematocrit levels?

“One thing I would like to say is that in the world of boxing, I would like to see like they have in cycling as well as in Nordic sporting events, if you have a hematocrit (which is the percentage of red blood cells total whole blood volume) that is 50% of over, they suspend you. Your blood is too thick and for what they call health & safety concerns they just do not let you compete. So, whether you’re dehydrated or you’re using EPO or old-fashioned blood doping, whatever reason you have a hematocrit of 50% or above, you probably shouldn’t be allowed to compete. So, whether they’re finding the drugs or not, I think if your red blood cell count is too high then, you know, you get in a fight and you become more dehydrated and there’s a chance of some serious adverse health effect. So, I would like to see {suspensions].”

Unfortunately, we have not seen athletic commissions take a pro-active stance and focus on these kinds of metrics for blood testing. What about improving the analysis of the current drug testing set-up involving urine testing? In a recent interview with Jack Encarnacao, Victor proposed a new metric for urine testing analysis that could done cheaply.

“The T/E ratio, testosterone to epitestosterone ratio, used to be 6:1 and now they have reduced it down to 4:1 but athletes can still very easily use fast-acting testosterone creams and gels and water-based testosterone and you do microdosing and keep it below the 4:1 ratio. So, it’s relatively easy for an MMA fighter or any other athlete to circumvent the testing if all they’re doing is the T/E ratio test.

“Which, let me put this in perspective. There’s a complete panel of steroids that they do that includes the T/E ratio test and back in the BALCO days I used to pay $80 for this and I’m sure in volume that some of these organizations are paying as little $50 for it. But there’s another test called the CIR or Carbon Isotope Ratio test that can differentiate between a natural testosterone that’s produced in your body and synthetic testosterone and there are cases, Justin Gatlin who won the Olympic gold metal in the 100m in 2004 is a specific example. They got a tip that he was using testosterone, so they went and tested him at a meet and even though his epitestosterone was actually higher than his testosterone level and it came out that he had an injection about two weeks previous to when the sample was collected, they still found that he was positive for testosterone based upon this CIR test and they banned him!

“And, so, what I’m saying is [athletic commissions] need to incorporate this sort of test which is much more effective. My understanding is that even now in boxing with Floyd Mayweather in the last couple of fights against Mosley and Ortiz that they had Olympic-style testing which I don’t think that’s what it is because I believe Olympic-style testing is 24/7, 365, that’s simply random testing for a given period of time, 8 to 10 weeks or whatever it is before the fight. So, I think that, you know, they need to start utilizing this CIR testing and then they’ll be catching a lot more of these athletes that are using fast-acting gels and creams and water-based testosterone because, at the moment, it’s fairly easy to circumvent the testing.”

Victor also put into perspective why the current drug testing programs amongst the various state athletic commissions is so flawed and ineffective. Testosterone Replacement Therapy is one area is concern that he sees right now in terms of who should get a TUE (therapeutic use exemption) and who shouldn’t.

“What people don’t realize is that in terms of the letter of the law with these commissions, the way it reads is opposite of what goes on with WADA & USADA. It is unless you have clearance from us to use a drug, then it’s prohibited. So, unless you’ve submitted a request and then they’ve approved, then it’s considered to be something that they don’t allow and if they test and find for it, so it’s actually broader instead of having extensive lists like WADA does. The problem is they just don’t do the test. So, yes, once in a blue moon they’ll catch somebody two weeks out from a fight or they’ll do a random test and I think this is more, you know, propaganda and for public relations than it is a genuine effort to catch people. So, I think there needs to be change.

“If there is a genuine interest in reducing the use of drugs and I think in MMA it’s the hurt game, it’s the harm game, that’s what it is and it’s not like the advantages are running faster than the guy in the lane next to you as it is in track & field. It’s to hurt this guy. At some point, they’re going to have to take a more serious look at what they can do to level the playing field because now it has everything to do with who’s got the smart chemists and the people that understand how to get around this and, you know, this whole idea of using Testosterone Replacement Therapy and I think, for the most part, what these MMA fighters have been doing is they use steroids, it suppresses their own production of testosterone, they go to a doctor and show the test that they have low testosterone and then they get a prediction and then they’re using i in a way that enhances performance.

“So, I think it’s something that certainly deserves to be debated and discussed and I’m glad the issue is out there and on the table. I just don’t know if there’s going to be any real genuine change in terms of the reduction of the use of drugs…”

Going back to where we started at the top of this post talking about the various rigors of training that top-level MMA fighters go through, Mr. Conte addressed the idea of training specifically at high altitude in order to improve endurance. He says the technique is counterproductive.

“In my opinion specifically regarding MMA fighters and boxers is that this is just a horrible idea. I know that Tito Ortiz and others like Shane Mosley and Oscar De La Hoya have trained at Big Bear. The reason I think this is bad is because you don’t get a deep and restful sleep, your heart rate will be 10, 15, 20 beats a minute higher sleeping at elevation because of the low oxygen. This is really when you really heal, recover, regenerate, repair, and grow is when you sleep. This is when the anabolic hormones are produced, about 90 minutes after you go to sleep in a single burst over 70% of your daily output of growth hormone is produced in a single mass. The second four hours of sleep is when testosterone is produced. So, I just think it’s a bad idea. It may be okay for endurance athletes and that’s the benefit that MMA fighters and boxers are trying to achieve is to enhance oxygen uptake and utilization capacity, but at the same time you sacrifice size and speed and power.”

Want to know how meticulous and measured fighters can be when it comes to figuring out what they ingest and how calculating they are to try to get maximum benefit?

“A study came out in Europe in 2010 where they looked at about 100 elite sportsmen, 43% had low [iron]. So, training causes significant bodily losses of micronutrients and you don’t want to put these backs in megadoses because you have competitive and antagonistic interactions. So, in other words, you can’t take zinc and copper together or zinc & iron together or calcium together with zinc because they significantly reduce the absorption of each other. So, certain ones, let’s just say chromium and copper, you take in the morning. Those both enhance and regulate energy and metabolism, you take those in the morning. Others like zinc and magnesium, which help with healing and relaxation and sleep, you take at night before you go to bed and then others that have competitive interactions then you would take those at a different time in the afternoon.”

The more we learn about the nutritional & supplemental aspects of athletes who compete in this sport, the less likely we are to make excuses when someone tests positive for a drug and uses the “I didn’t know what was going on” explanation for public forgiveness. If athletic commissions can use inexpensive tests to measure correct metrics such as hematocrit levels & carbon isotope ratios, then I don’t see what kind of political cover there is to not use these testing methods.

Then again, is the issue of drug testing for MMA fans treated the same way sports fans want to eat ballpark hot food but not know what the actual ingredients & ongoing contamination may be because it’s happier to be ignorant about the health consequences of everyone involved?

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 20 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

20 Responses to “Victor Conte: Time for commissions to use Carbon Isotope Ratio testing”

  1. BuddyRowe says:

    Hey Zach, did you see reports of Mark Hunt vs. Cheick Kongo for UFC Japan? How’s that for a Japanese-centric match up? I think it’s a good addition.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      It’s certainly better than Hatsu Hioki vs. Bart P as far as name value goes.

      That said, Hunt vs. Mirko is the fight that draws in old K-1 and PRIDE fans. UFC is treating the matchmaking for this show no different than any other card.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        Which is what they should.

        If they tried to bend their matchmaking to each market, it would be a nightmare.

        Bring your product to the country, see if it sticks, and continue if it does.

        So far it has stuck very well in USA, Canada, Brazil, & Australia.

        • edub says:

          They didn’t any of the such any Canada or Brazil. Practically every Canada card is filled with Hominick and GSP, and the first two Brazilian cards (the one that happened already and the one coming up) are stacked with Brazilians.

          They most certainly are bending their matchmaking to the market they go to already.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          It’s still the same style of matchmaking. They just put more of that countries fighters that they have on the card.

          But what Arnold is basically suggesting, is to change up their matchmaking style in order to attract a certain segment of the Japanese audience. And that is just not going to happen… ever.

  2. Jonathan says:

    I do not think that anyone cares.

  3. edub says:

    There are definitely some people out there that care. Unfortunately, there are a lot more people that want to lood past it (especially for guys like Henderson).

  4. Sundog says:

    I care more about fairness than drugs vs no drugs.

  5. Darkmader says:

    Zach: if you have the time, and if you’re still able to transcribe Dave Meltzer/Alverez’s radio show (as you haven’t for a while) listen to the recap of the UFC event and how he went on a rant about the guys using drugs and even threw in the name Mason Ryan into the mix.

    I’ve never heard a reporter or a website so blatantly say that these guys are on drugs (Steroids/HGH/TRT my words etc..) as of course you can’t say that because you don’t have proof but Dave is plugged in more than 99% of MMA fans and would make a good talking point if you could copy/paste his words.

  6. edub says:

    Is there any way to figure out the exact time Hendo started his TRT usage, because the general thought I’ve heard is he’s been on it longer than most in the sport. Anybody know.

    • Darkmader says:

      Of course he’s been on it longer than most. My god, yes he gassed, but we’re talking a 41 year old man, who wrestled his whole life and even went to the Olympics. His body is beat the F up just by wrestling and cutting weight for half his life but not only that he’s been in MMA fights and went through wars as he was blessed with a chin and has taken so many shots to the head it’s not even funny, add up all the sparing sessions he’s gone through in the past 15 years too and it’s sad because he struggles for words and is almost like an old boxer who is punk drunk. He can’t cut a promo to save his life.

      That doesn’t matter though, he draws money and that is what it’s all about. I think I can make a perfect example about how people/companies turn a blind eye and don’t care if they dope.

      Ray Lewis from the Ravens in the NFL is almost 37. He’s built like no other, but at age 36 are you supposed to play at a high level like he does? That’s almost impossible. It would be a HUGE story if he got busted roiding, but they don’t want to say it because they know how MLB got hit with the steroid scandal and they don’t need that as the NFL is the biggest it’s ever been in the history of the world. He actually got a 2nd break from the league too as they never bring it up but wow:

      Following a Super Bowl XXXIV party in Atlanta on January 31, 2000, a fight broke out between Lewis and another group of people, resulting in the stabbing deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. Lewis and two companions, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, were questioned by Atlanta police, and eleven days later the three men were indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges.

      [Ed. — Recall that Lewis was named in off-season reports earlier this year about deer antler spray used with HGH-type effects.]

      If there is legit testing, same with the UFC. Dana doesn’t tell them but they let them know months in advance of when their fight is, then the strength and conditioning coach, who knows about drugs for sure as most probably came from a boxing background and now that boxing isn’t that big as it was 20 years ago came to MMA and can tell them when they can cycle off and on and have it down to a science so if they get tested they won’t get busted.

      Hell. Today Californa released the pay days of the fighters. If you are a mid card guy and get let’s say 10k to show but if you win you get another 10k. What’s $1,000 on roids/HGH if you can get the edge over the guy and your clean, not only that if you get fight of the night, sub, KO, they pay nowdays 50k+ on top of that. That’s a nice chunk of change, especially since the sport has evolved and 90% of the guys in the UFC do it full time and don’t have jobs on the side like earlier. There’s $$$$$$$$$ to be made in the sport now that it’s hot and if they can get “ANY” edge and get away with it, sure as fuck they will do it.

      Sorry for the long rant.

  7. Nottheface says:

    Why is it that every time I listen to Victor Conte I start to think that I should be taking PEDs?

  8. Darkmader says:

    I was just about to go to bed, but wow I just saw this and it’s a big story. Rampage tweeted:

    It don’t look like I’m fighting n Japan which I’m not happy about at all,I think its a big mistake by the UFC… F**k

    I don’t what time he tweeted it, but he did stupid shit on twitter being frustrated and went off like soooooooo many sports stars do and then they get in trouble and the PR person tells them what to say the next day to apologize.

    That, or his contract is up, and they are negotiating on how much he makes. I suspect that he used to (well, a fact) got a cut out of the PPV and they won’t give him that anymore. Dana probably told him take it or leave it, there were 2 stars who went to superstars with the Rua/Hendo fight. I can make $$$ with them now.

    The rumor the past 2 days on the websites is that Griffin wants to fight Rampage next. What a pointless fight that is.


    “(Rampage Jackson is) my dream fight,” Bonnar told HeavyMMA. “He’s good, he’s a big puncher, he’s tough. But he does have holes in his game…Forrest (Griffin) got a close win over him, (Keith) Jardine fought a good fight with him. I feel like I could fight him good.”

    The timing is perfect for Rampage and Bonnar to meet in Japan on February 26, 2012. Dana White is intrigued at the possibility. For Bonnar, it would be a chance to get his career on track, follow the path Griffin cleared, if five years after the fact. For Rampage, it’s likely viewed as a tuneup fight. That could be a major mistake.

    Jackson took Griffin lightly as well – the result was a loss that changed both men’s lives forever. Stephan Bonnar will be fighting for his reputation, to reach the goals he’s always known were in his reach. A desperate man is a dangerous man. It’s possible “Rampage” Jackson will learn that lesson the hard way in Japan.

  9. […] Victor Conte Calls for Intensive Steroid Testing in MMA ( […]

  10. […] On this site, we’ve focused on the issue of doping in MMA and what kind of tests athletic commissions could implement if they really wanted to catch more guys in the act of doping. Suffice to say, we don’t buy what Keith Kizer is selling in regards to the claim that urine drug testing is more effective than blood testing. It may be effective for catching idiots who are using horse drugs like boldenone which have a long half-life, but you’re not going to catch any sort of substantive/sophisticated testosterone usage unless you use a Carbon Isotope Ratio test. […]

  11. […] should be no allowance for TRT usage under any circumstances. This is fight sport, not tennis. As Victor Conte appropriately stated last year during an interview with Eddie Goldman, MMA is the hurt game. Using testosterone in a hurt game […]


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