This year during South By Southwest (SXSW), I had the opportunity to speak with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) commentator Joe Rogan following the Onnit party. Rogan was in town to do a live podcast with the folks from Rooster Teeth, and I was able to secure an invite to the exclusive party.
Following the podcast, I asked him if he'd be willing to do an interview. At first he said "no," which wasn't particularly surprising. He rarely speaks with mixed martial arts (MMA) media and his busy schedule means that any available time he does have, is spent living his own life.
However, when I explained that it wasn't some rinky dink operation and actually for MMAmania.com, he said he'd speak with me. So I waited for him as he took photos and shook hands. And I waited some more as he went upstairs to the green room to unwind.
I'll be honest, when he was in the green room, I thought the interview wasn't going to happen. I actually left the party, kind of dejected. But, he chased me down as I was walking to my car in the parking lot to give me the interview on the eve of the UFC 171 weigh ins.
While we would eventually discuss the UFC 171 main event, I wanted to hear his thoughts the recent ban of Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) by Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC). The ban came at a complete shock to most in the MMA community.
Though wildly celebrated at the time, once it set in that the therapy wouldn't be available at all, people began to question the commission's decision.
"It's interesting and I think that it's a good thing for MMA and a good thing for athletics period. There's too many ways to get around it. There's too many ways that people can say that they have an issue," Rogan said. "There's too many ways to lower your testosterone and then be an unscrupulous person and go in and get an exemption and then take it all throughout your training camp and have an unfair advantage in your recovery time."
He continued, "I think that there's most certainly people abusing it. It sucks because people who aren't abusing it and actually need it, like Bigfoot (Antonio Silva). You want to talk about a guy who absolutely probably needs it, how about a guy who had a tumor in his pituitary gland and has a real health issue. So if you want to think about guys who really need it, they're being punished. There are a few guys who I'm sure really do need it."
What made TRT controversial is that it became viewed as a legal way to take performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). TRT is usually targeted toward males in their 40s and 50s whose bodies are no longer producing enough testosterone.
So when an athlete claims a need, it sets off red flags.
Adding to the controversy is that it's very easy to naturally lower a body's testosterone levels temporarily. If a fighter does have low testosterone, it could be caused by two issues as Rogan explained.
"But, in my conversations that I've had with doctors who prescribe testosterone to people with brain injuries, there's two types of people that need testosterone because of contact sports. There's most certainly people that get hit in the head too much and their bodies stop producing testosterone correctly."
"The other is weight cutting. Weight cutting affects it as well. It kills your whole fucking system, man, and if you do it a lot over a long period of time, it can wreak havoc on your entire body," he said. "But, there's also people who have legit diseases."
"The question is: Should those people who have legit problems and not producing enough testosterone -- should they be allowed to receive a use exemption? Was it a hasty thing to completely ban it or should they have cut way back and said to people 'you're 33 years old, why do you need testosterone?'"
The conversation shifts to the individuals who have used TRT in the past. Names such as Dan Henderson and Todd Duffee are brought up. Duffee in particular is an intriguing case. At 28 years old and a physique out of the pages of a comic book, Duffee shouldn't ever qualify for a use exemption.
Rogan responded, saying that we don't know Duffee's medical history. That is correct, he could very well be a rare case of a person who needs TRT to function. After all, Duffee has never tested positive for a banned substance in his short MMA career.
However, a fighter whose past that is public is Vitor Belfort -- who tested positive for a banned substance following Pride 32. Despite this shady past, Belfort has been receiving TRT and stated that it allows him to live. With the ban, he was forced to withdraw from his scheduled bout with Chris Weidman at UFC 173.
"Vitor Belfort is the best example," Rogan said. "Vitor has had one and he's made a big deal about how he has a disease. But, the other problem with Vitor -- the elephant in the room -- is that he tested positive for steroids before. I don't know if that was a one time thing."
"No one knows a person's actual medical history, other than that person and his doctor who he confides in. So I'm not going to speculate about what is or isn't going on with Vitor, but I will say in general, I know that people abuse it."
The biggest problem for the state athletic commissions is that it's almost impossible to keep up with the scientists who continue to create and develop new PEDs. In a sense, what the commissions do is very reactionary -- testing methods are only advanced based on need.
The cost of testing also increases as they become more comprehensive, which is why most states won't do more than the bare minimum of urine testing pre and post-fight. Unless the fighter mistimes a cycle or the commission lucks out, it's incredibly rare to catch a PED user.
"If you talk to people who really understand it, they'll tell you that there's a bunch of different ways to move around on it," Rogan said. "One of the ways to get around it is short-lasting oral steroids. They have a very short half-life. That's apparently one of the things that Alex Rodriguez was allegedly taking."
"He was apparently taking a testosterone gummy bear. I've heard of pot gummy bears, but apparently they have testosterone gummy bears, too. I know that there's a company that's working on a liposomal version of testosterone and I know there's testosterone tabs that dissolve under your tongue. They don't stay in your system as long."
Former UFC Welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre claims that part of the reason he walked away from the sport is because the promotion didn't support his efforts with additional drug testing.
Publicly, it started at UFC 167, when "Rush" proposed additional testing for his main event bout with Johny Hendricks. Discussions fell apart when neither side could agree on which third-party would be handling the samples.
"I don't know why Georges said that, maybe he has other reasons," Rogan said. "I love Georges, I don't know what was going on with that. UFC doesn't have any power over athletic commissions. None. Zero. That's really important. So as far as what they dictate and what they don't dictate, the only time the UFC tests anyone is when they're dealing with an overseas country without an athletic commission."
"If you were getting tested, all you would have to do is be inside that window, whatever that window is. You'd be playing some weird game and the VADA testing -- that's one of the good ideas about VADA or WADA or USADA -- they show up unannounced and say, 'Hey, we gotta test you.' That's the only way to catch people."