Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort has been on a tear in the UFC lately. He is 9-2 in his last 11 fights, with notable wins over two top middleweight fighters in Luke Rockhold and Michael Bisping. His only two losses were to Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones and then Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva. With a win over Dan Henderson this fall in Brazil, Belfort might be next in line for another title shot after Silva has his rematch with Chris Weidman. Belfort always delivers exciting fights for fans. He likes to stand up and fight, and has delivered brutal head kicks in his last two matches. The catch is, however, that he has beaten them both in his native Brazil, where drug testing may not be as trustworthy as in the United States.
Why am I bringing up drug use? It is because Belfort is now 36 years old; He has fought for the UFC since 1997. He is beating guys much younger than him, and he looks ridiculously ripped. He had also failed a drug test back in 2006. I am not denying that he trains for these fights, but his physique looks unnatural for a guy that old.
Just before his fight against Bisping, Belfort was asked if he ever used testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), or ever considered it. Belfort gave a vague answer. The UFC was first to confirm he was given therapeutic-use exemption (TUE) in both the Bisping and Rockhold fights; Belfort had an opportunity to disclose it, yet he failed to do so. Even after the Rockhold fight, he was not open to talk about it. Only after tremendous media pressure did he finally admit he uses TRT.
What is TRT? Good question. TRT is used to treat low testosterone levels, which is caused by primary and secondary hypogonadism. Primary hypogonadism refers to any issue which causes the testicles (gonads) to reproduce less than normal amounts of testosterone for the person to function normally. Secondary hypogonadism refers to low testosterone production in which testicles are not the primary factor. Some causes of the primary version include trauma (hits to the nuts), steroid abuse, aging and genetic disorders. Some causes of the secondary kind include trauma (hits to back of the head), rapid weight loss, certain medications, surgery and infections.
Three causes that may make mixed martial artists more susceptible to hypogonadism are rapid weight cuts, medication and head trauma. MMA fighters regularly do extreme dieting and weight cutting, often without medical supervision. They are also often injured and in pain, so the common painkiller of choice is opiate-based. Finally, accidental blows to the head, head injury from a takedown, knockdown or during training sessions can all lead to damage to the pituitary gland.
Belfort explains his failure to open up about it was an embarrassment. He shares a story about how as a child he was treated medically for attention deficit disorder (ADD), and his family taught him not to reveal that he was different from other children; TRT use is the same thing for his low testosterone output. He admits he tests himself. He did seven blood tests in the weeks prior to his Rockhold bout, and that in both fights with Bisping and Rockhold his testosterone levels were deemed acceptable by the Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission.
It is one thing to say it in Brazil compared to in the U.S., where drug testing is more stringent. When Chael Sonnen first fought against Silva and nearly unseated the champion, post-blood tests revealed his testosterone levels were higher than normal. I am glad Belfort finally admitted to using TRT; it would have reduced some of his legitimacy to another title shot if he was the first to reveal it rather than the UFC. I still believe if he does get a title shot, it has to be in the U.S.