Chael Sonnen (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)Even Playing Field: A Look at the Impact of the TRT Ban on the UFC Roster Justin Fuller June 26, 2014 Spotlight Earlier this year, on Feb. 27, the world’s leader in combat sports regulation, the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC), unanimously voted to ban the continued licensing of fighters with a therapeutic-use exemption (TUE) for testosterone-replacement therapy (TRT). This move was shortly followed by other state commissions and the UFC, which has either self regulated or worked closely with local authorities when operating on foreign soil, to do the same. Despite a handful of the UFC’s biggest stars being affected by the new order, UFC President Dana White has been nothing but supportive of the rules change. He has been adamant about its limited impact on the roster. The UFC, and MMA as a whole, is always under fire for controversy involving performance-enhancing drugs (PED), but it is worth noting that MMA is a sport, just like boxing, that is regulated by the government, unlike baseball and the NFL. Although White is right in saying the impact is limited to only a few fighters. In the long term, the change will benefit the UFC and the sport as a whole. However, recent issues and controversies involving top stars like Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort can undoubtedly have an impact on the bottom line in the near term. One of the biggest questions that keeps coming up is the impact in Belfort’s performance. After rattling off three head-kick knockouts in a row, all in Brazil, there was little doubt in anyone’s mind that TRT at least had a share of the credit in the resurgence of “The Phenom.” Many rumors circulated with regard to Belfort and the NSAC’s decision to ban TRT, but it still didn’t stop the UFC from booking him as a late replacement for Wanderlei Silva to take on Sonnen at UFC 174. That bout would have not only pitted Belfort against his second opponent in a row who was a known TRT user, but it also would have been the first fight in the UFC where both contestants would be fighting without a TUE. Unfortunately, the bout was scrapped when Sonnen failed his random pre-fight drug test, which leads us to the next fighter impacted. To say the ban of TRT had no effect on Sonnen’s career would be like trying to argue gravity doesn’t exist. If Belfort was the poster child of how awesome TRT can be, then Sonnen was the lobbyist to ensuring its continued existence. Not many fighters can test positive for banned substances according the the NSAC’s parameters, get a reduced suspension, still be allowed to use TRT with a license in the United States and be considered one of the UFC’s top pay-per-view draws, all while never earning a UFC title. But Sonnen should also be a lesson to all fighters that time catches up with everyone, and his recent failure not only put a stain on his image, which he will likely recover from, but caused the famed orator to retire from MMA altogether. The biggest shame here is that we will never know what kind of an impact Sonnen could have had on the middleweight division after taking several fights at light heavyweight, but his return was not necessary to see that division flourish with Chris Weidman as champion and Lyoto Machida and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza chomping at his heels. The next biggest fighter to be affected is none other than fellow whatever-weight fighter Dan Henderson. Henderson has had mixed success in his return to the UFC, and while clearly being outsized for the division, especially in his last showing against Daniel Cormier, he has not fought at middleweight since his failed bid for the Strikeforce title against the much smaller Jake Shields in 2010. No one likes to cut weight, but when a fighter has trouble putting on weight to be competitive, then it’s probably time to rethink that position. Hendo has been the old guy in the game for a while now, but no one looks old until they look old, and he was definitely slow to the draw and outmatched in athleticism in every way against Cormier. No longer being able to rely on TRT will not make him any better or younger, and his likelihood of ever working his way to a title shot is all but gone. Hendo will go down as one of the greats in the sport, but, TRT or not, his long-term prospects in the UFC are limited. Belfort, Sonnen and Hendo weren’t the only guys to partake in the “juice loophole,” but they were three of the biggest. Forrest Griffin was a known user, but he has since retired. Frank Mir is another, but he has already been relegated to gatekeeper status in the division. In truth, the number of recognizable fighters who were knowingly taking TRT with a TUE is small, but in a sport which is still struggling to get a solid foothold in the mainstream, the effects of having even just one athlete scrutinized for PED use has an exponentially greater impact on the UFC than Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco ever did on baseball. And that’s the bottom line.