My usual morning routine involves coffee and reading the latest articles on MMA websites, including MMAJunkie. This morning when I fired up the browser I involuntarily snorted up some hot coffee as I read the headline “Is Jon Jones fighting the greatest fighter of all-time in Dan Henderson?”
As I cleaned up the coffee I got to wondering why I have such an aggressive reaction every time I read something praising Dan Henderson, and whether it is justified. This article is the result of that contemplation.
In my opinion Dan Henderson is a self-confessed cheat drug user, and his drug of choice (testosterone) is well documented in providing an unfair advantage in sports that require muscle strength and fast recuperation, i.e. MMA. Therefore ALL of his fights are tainted with that “what-if” question. “What-if” Dan hadn’t boosted his testosterone to a level only experienced by 1% of the population? “What-if” his opponent had been allowed to boost his testosterone to the same sky-scraper heights as Dan? Greatest of All Time (GOAT)? Ouch – damn! I snorted coffee again.
“But hang-on” I hear the Dan Henderson ball-lickers whine, “Dan has a TUE (Theraputic Use Exemption) issued by a Doctor which shows he has low-testosterone (hypogonadism) and therefore is legally allowed to inject in order to get back to ‘normal’” Ok, I hear you. So to all the ball-lickers just put the dummy back in and give it a good suck while we examine the logic of this argument.
Firstly “Dan has a TUE issued by a Doctor which shows he has low-testosterone”. I don’t have any issue with Dan being diagnosed with hypogonadism, however I would be very interested to see Dan’s medical history. Why is that? Well the causes of hypogonadism are very well documented – you can read a great list here. In a nutshell hypogonadism may be caused through an inherited disease, birth defect, damage to (usually both) testes, cancer treatment, HIV / AIDs, or illegal use of anabolic steroids. Hmmmmm. Which one would mostly likely be the cause of Dan’s hypogonadism….? Ok, ok, I did really lead you into that conclusion, and I hear the screams “what about the Turkey study, what about the Turkey study!” Before we get to that Turkey study, let me reprint here how many cynics believe that TUEs are obtained by MMA fighters:
- MMA fighter takes illegal PEDs (i.e. synthetic testosterone).
- PEDs inhibit your body’s natural generation of testosterone (sometimes permanently)
- Fighter stops at the end of the cycle, and natural levels of testosterone lower.
- Fighter goes to a sympathetic MD and complains of fatigue, poor sleep, etc.
- Doctor diagnoses low testosterone, and prescribes Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT).
- Fighter goes to Athletic Commission and gets Therapuetic Use Exemption (TUE)
So, in case someone reading this still doesn’t get it, the offending MMA fighter initially boosts his testosterone through injections and fights in organizations that don’t test (or cycles off to ensure his testosterone is within “normal” limits). Then when he stops injections and his testosterone plummets to well below normal, he goes to his MD and gets the TUE.
Now the Turkey study. Well in 2006 a study was published by an endocrinologist at a Turkish University that suggested kick-boxers suffering repeated concussions damaged their pituitary gland, which in turn caused hypogonadism. Following this study a US doctor started his own study using professional football players, and the results are due out at the end of 2012. Now, suddenly all these MMA fighters with TUEs are jumping up and down with a hand in the air like an excited schoolboy, exclaiming “see, see, my pitary is broken, my pitary is broken”. And all the Dan Henderson ball-lickers are also relaxing back into their chairs with a smile “yeah, his pitary’s broken!”
Well, fortunately the US does produce some fairly smart doctors. You see, when I read about this study I thought, damn virtually all the MMA fighters can jump on the TUE bandwagon with the excuse of a damaged pituitary gland. But the docs are smarter. Take the case of George Hartman.
Hartman was a judo player who was struggling to make it at the international level. His doctor (who also happened to be his coach) diagnosed him (from one blood test!) that he had hypogonadism, and started him on testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). Within two years Hartman was number 2 in the US and went on to win a gold medal at the Pan American games. You can read all about it here. However at one of the meets Hartman got tested, and came back positive for synthetic testosterone. At his subsequent hearing he pleaded “my pitary is broken” with big teary eyes. The panel said “Really? Well we have some good news for you then”, and:
“pointed out that his pituitary gland, which malfunctions in someone who is hypogonadal, was properly secreting all hormones — such as growth, cortisol and Prolactin — with the exception of those that would be stunted by synthetic testosterone use”
So – no problem with the pituitary then! Hartman was ruled ineligible for a period of two years, and all of his competition results and awards since August 2003 were retroactively canceled (note to self: look up all the fights that Dan has had since he started on TRT).
So back to Dan. As I mentioned I would loooove to see a copy of Dan’s medical history. When did he apply for a TUE? I’ve searched and can’t find that answer anywhere. What was the reason given for his need for TRT? Is it a congenital dysfunction? Missing testicles? Or is it just a recent thing and he is claiming “my pitary is broken”? If he is claiming that his pituitary is malfunctioning, what medical testing was done for proof? Did they test to see if the other hormones secreted by his pituitary are also affected, as per the Hartman case? If Dan really wants to get anywhere near being considered the GOAT then he has to front up the evidence and be totally transparent with this whole issue.
But wait! There is more! Just when the ball-lickers were wiping the sweat off their brows (and probably licking it off the back of their hands while collectively sighing ‘Dan…’), I’m afraid it isn’t over. You see the most damning evidence against the claim of Dan Henderson being the GOAT is in the definition by the state athletic commissions in what is considered a “normal” level of testosterone. You see, when “normal” people such as you and I hear the words “normal level” then we immediately assume that Dan is allowed to inject himself with synthetic testosterone to get to the same level as you and I. Nope, Nah, Nada. My apologies, you see I should have clarified that state athletic commissions allow TRT to a “normal” level, as experienced by the cusp of the top 5% of the population! Unless you are competing in Nevada of course, where the “normal” level is the cusp of the top 1% of the population!
The great Andrew Dice Clay on review of this situation would probably eruditely proffer the comment “unfuckingbelievable”. You see, the normal population (that is you and I) have a T/E ratio of 1:1. The doc at MMA Junkie has a great article explaining the T/E thing here.
“Most men have a ratio of T to E of 1:1, which means normal men have equal amounts of T and E in their blood. There is some normal ethnic and time of day variation in the normal T/E ratio (as low as 0.7:1 and as high as 1.3:1).”
Many athletic commissions around the country allow a T to E ratio of 4:1, unless you are competing in a state such as Nevada where the limit is 6:1! Read the doc’s article at MMA Junkie – he really does have a lot of great information there. At this point too, I’d like to state that I got a lot of excellent information from an article here. So if you want further great reading material on the subject please check it out. In that article Dick Pound, the World Anti-Doping Agency founder stated “you want to fight juiced? Come to Nevada”. He explains:
“Don’t forget that the normal ratio is 1:1. So you’re looking at 4:1, this is four times the normal amount of testosterone,” explained Pound. “If you look at all the tests results where it is all 4:1, [the athletes] are all playing around 3.6, 3.8. In the old days [or still in Nevada], it used to be 5.8. They just manage their dosage so that they stay underneath the threshold.”
So this is the crux of the whole Dan Henderson GOAT thing. Dan Henderson, armed with his TUE, can legally inject himself with synthetic testosterone so long as come testing day he ‘only’ has a T/E ratio four times higher than normal (or six times if in Nevada!). Note that someone with a TUE only has to be under the (unbelievably high) limit on testing day. They can cycle much higher than that as long as they time it to come in under. The doc in the MMA Junkie article has great information on the half-life of testosterone.
Is there a way for Dan to remove this taint? I believe there is. If Dan and the state commissions where he has fought since starting TRT releases all his medical records for every fight, and those records show that he was fighting at a “real” normal T/E ratio of 1:1 (or close to it), and he has a legitimate reason for the TRT therapy, then I will gladly eat these words. Until then I will always consider him as “Dirty” Dan Henderson.
Note: I did read in some articles that any MMA fighter could effectively cheat by boosting their testosterone to just under the 4x “normal” limit (6x in Nevada). However I am not convinced that this is possible. Why? I believe that the tests done by the commissions test not only for T/E levels but also for synthetic testosterone. Unless a fighter has a TUE then they cannot show positive to any synthetic testosterone. I may be in error in my interpretation but haven’t found any evidence to contradict this yet. What does this mean? Unless fighters have found some natural way to effectively boost their testosterone (and if they did then could market it and make millions), then they are most likely fighting with a level close to 1:1. Is that fair fighting against someone who is allowed to jack their testosterone to 4x normal? In most any situation someone would brand that type of person a cheat.
Note 2: Nate Marquardt, Chael Sonnen and possibly Rampage Jackson also have TUEs, and therefore it can be safely assumed that they fight just under the 4x normal limit (unless they are in Nevada 6x). With respect to Chael Sonnen, his fight with Anderson Silva just got moved to UFC 148 in Las Vegas so it may be a 6x event for Chael.