Nate Marquardt Incident Highlights Need for Comprehensive HRT Policy in MMA

If you have to do a live interview where you answer questions about the testosterone injections that cost you your job -- and, ideally, you'd probably rather avoid that situation altogether if possible -- the way Nate Marquardt did it is probably the best way.

In his interview with Ariel Helwani on Tuesday's edition of The MMA Hour, Marquardt was open and direct about his hormone replacement therapy (HRT, if you're down with the lingo). He explained what he did, when he did it, and why. He appeared emotional, vulnerable, and -- as far as we could tell -- honest.

Even the people who wanted to string him up the moment they heard UFC president Dana White say he was "disgusted" with Marquardt must have at least considered putting down the torches and pitchforks when they heard his side of it.

But even with all the questions Marquardt answered in the hour-long interview, the one that still bugs me is the one we may never be able to pin down: does any of this make Marquardt a cheater, or does it simply make him unlucky?

At least in the eyes of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, receiving testosterone injections is not, in and of itself, cheating. If you can prove (to the satisfaction of the commission) that you need it, and if you can make sure your hormone levels fall within a pre-determined range by the day before the fight, it's really no problem at all.

In fact, if Marquardt had managed to hit that range -- and by all accounts, he just missed it -- the fight would have gone on, he'd still have a job, and none of us would have ever known that he was getting a little hormonal help on the side.

If that's the case, then the difference between illegally using performance-enhancing drugs and competing entirely on the up-and-up is a matter of degrees. It's a difference of a few nanograms per deciliter. It's less about what you're doing, and more about how much of it you're doing.

Marquardt knew those were the rules when he decided to play this particular game, and now he's suffering the consequences of failing to abide by them. But maybe what we should really be asking is if these rules are all that fair to begin with.

There's a reason you can't compete with too much testosterone in your system. It's a performance-enhancing drug. It's one that the body produces naturally, but it's also a powerful substance than can change your whole personality in the right (or, depending on the personality you started with, wrong) doses.

In fact, that's one of the reasons Marquardt said he needed it. He was tired and grumpy all the time, to the point where his wife didn't want to be around him, he said. So he went to the doctor, got a prescription for testosterone, and presto chango, he's a changed man. No more fatigue. No more irritability. Just full speed ahead.

That, by definition, makes it a performance-enhancer. But it doesn't make it cheating, apparently. Not unless you do just a tad too much of it, and then it's scorched earth for you, my friend. Then you're pulled from the main event, fired from your job, and verbally blasted on national TV by your boss, who will claim to be "disgusted" by you for engaging in a practice that he was totally fine with just a few months ago, and would have been totally fine with again if only your hormone levels had dropped just a wee bit faster.

Am I the only who feels like this makes absolutely no sense?

The problem with hormone replacement therapy for pro fighters is that athletic commissions haven't really made up their minds about it yet. That much was clear when Chael Sonnen went before the California State Athletic Commission to make his case for an after-the-fact therapeutic-use exemption for testosterone.

The commission agreed that firmer, more coherent policies on HRT were absolutely necessary, then it took no clear action to make any of that happen. Instead, it decided that Sonnen had failed to give proper notice to the right people at the right times. It nailed him on a paperwork issue, more or less. As for whether he should have been mainlining testosterone to begin with? That one they weren't about to touch.

The fact that Sonnen was still being offered an Ultimate Fighter coaching job after that incident while Marquardt and his camp got to find out via Twitter that he'd been fired from the UFC altogether, that tells us where the UFC's concern really lies in this discussion.

If you get in trouble after an event -- that is, after the UFC has already made its money off you -- then your hormones are your problem. The fines, the suspensions, that's between you and the athletic commission once the fight's over.

But if those same exact hormones get you pulled from a main event the day before it's supposed to go down -- that is, after the UFC has done the work of promoting the fight but before it has reaped the lion's share of the profits -- then brother, look out. Then it won't matter that you told the UFC about it months beforehand, or that you tried to go about it in the most transparent possible way.

If that's how the UFC wants to play it, that's the UFC's choice. Whenever the issue of drug testing comes up, it can -- and usually will -- step back and let the commissions take the flack. It will also make its hiring and firing decisions based on financial considerations first, and everything else a distant second.

But while the UFC's main concern is profit, the commissions are supposed to be the ones ensuring fairness. Right now the commissions seem to think that letting one fighter artificially raise his natural testosterone levels is fair -- as long as he gets a doctor's note first, and as long as he keeps those levels below at a certain point.

Whether that's a version of fair play we agree with, or one we truly want to hold our athletes to, that's something this sport has yet to decide.

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