UFC Fires Nate Marquardt for Testosterone Replacement Therapy Problems

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Mixed martial artist Nate Marquardt acknowledged using the anabolic steroid testosterone for medically-supervised testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) during an appearance on MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani on June 28, 2011. He was treated with testoterone injections after his primary care physician discovered that Marquardt’s serum blood testosterone levels were low. Ultimate Fight Championship’s Dana White fired Nate Marquardt due to what he considered a questionable need for TRT after he was suspended by the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission prior to a June 2011 fight with Rick Story.

“I’m no doctor but this whole testosterone replacement therapy I guess is basically for guys who get to a certain age, which is normally supposed to be in your 40s, or even 50s where your testosterone levels start to drop so they give you just a little bit to keep a young man’s level,” White said. “These guys who used steroids before have trouble producing testosterone so they have to bump their levels up. But when your levels get bumped above what it normally should be, that’s performance enhancing, as far as I’m concerned and I’m sure as far as many athletic commissions are concerned.

“It’s an ugly loophole. I think there [are] guys that need to do it because they have to, but then there [are] guys doing it because you can do it, because you can say ‘I’m in here for testosterone replacement.’ If you’re a professional athlete, you should be going to a credible doctor who says ‘yes you need this thing because your testosterone is low and we’re going to give you [a small amount] to boost you up to the right levels’ and when you do your blood tests your levels should be what a normal guy’s levels should be.

Testosterone replacement therapy is a medically accepted treatment for adult-onset hypogonadism (low testosterone levels).  The use of specific anabolic steroids (i.e. testosterone) is permitted by various commissions that sanction MMA if the athlete meet the criteria for a therapeutic use exemption (TUE).

Marquardt had fought in three bouts while on TRT. He was granted a TUE by the Texas State Athletic Commission for a fight against Rousimar Palhares in September 2010 and a conditional TUE by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board for a fight against Dan Miller in March 2011.

The New Jersey commission had very lax requirements for granting TUEs for testosterone use. The commission simply required that an athlete discontinue steroids for ten weeks so that serum levels of testosterone can be measured. Obviously, anabolic steroid-induced hypogonadism will be evident within the first ten weeks following cessation of anabolic steroids. This lax criteria only invites abuse of the TRT therapeutic use exemption. Chael Sonnen’s hearing, involving another case of a MMA fighter on TRT, with the California State Athletic Commission exposed many of the problems with testosterone therapeutic use exemptions.

Anyone familiar with steroid use knows that it is relatively easy for an individual to artificially suppress endogenous testosterone levels. In fact, unscrupulous bodybuilders have been doing this for years in order to ‘trick’ their physicians into prescribing testosterone. It is well-known within the bodybuilding community that anabolic steroid use itself can induce temporary hypogonadism.

Steroid cycles can be specifically designed and timed to suppress testosterone levels such that a blood test will return a low testosterone value. Many physicians, unaware of this subterfuge, will be willing to prescribe testosterone based on this reported value.

Unfortunately, there are probably some MMA fighters who legitimately need testosterone replacement therapy but the lax criteria currently used to receive therapeutic use exemptions makes it difficult to distinguish athletes with a genuine need for TRT and those who are taking advantage of loopholes for TRT.

The Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission suspended Marquardt after his testosterone levels were reportedly too high prior to a scheduled bout with Rick Story. Marquardt believes he will be reinstated once his levels are back within physiologic normal range. A decision by the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission is expected around July 13, 2011.

Nate Marquardt

Photo credit: Ben Kevan

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