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It was about two or three years ago when Rich Franklin started being asked about retirement. At the time, the question took Franklin by surprise. He was still in his mid-30s -- not young but not old -- and still performing well, but the query started seeping into interviews until the point came when not a single one would go by without it coming up.
It is so prevalent in these kinds of conversations, he says, that it's conditioned him to understand that when it comes to his days in the octagon, he's down to his final ones. That realization often causes athletes to look for ways to extend their careers, and Franklin is no different.
In fact, on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour, the former UFC middleweight champion admitted that he has looked into the controversial testosterone replacement therapy (TRT).
(Editor's note: Rich Franklin interview starts around 1:03:44 mark.)
In response to a question by host Ariel Helwani about prolonging his fighting days with the help of TRT, Franklin offered this response:
"Yeah, I've kicked around that idea and everything, and actually I’ve talked to doctors that work with the UFC and the athletic commission in Nevada and all that kind of stuff," said Franklin, who takes on Wanderlei Silva at UFC 147 later this month. "And at 37, my count obviously is not what it was when I was 25, and I’m a candidate for that kind of stuff. I haven’t started yet.
"I'm not sure if that's something I want to do or how I want to approach that, because TRT is … once you start that process it’s a permanent fixture," he continued. "Once you start putting those hormones in your body -- those synthetic hormones -- then your body is not going to produce its own hormones any more, and so you really have to think carefully. My levels are still decently healthy for a male, but they're not high enough to continue a prolonged career at a top level for many more years."
According to the guidelines of various state athletic commissions that offer TRT therapeutic use exemptions, an athlete must be able to prove that his testosterone level is below normal. Franklin's statement seems to indicate his levels are normal for his age, just not quite as high as they used to be, so while his candidacy for TRT might be contradicted by his statement, it must be noted he has not used the treatment.
If this appears to be another case of an athlete considering gaming the system, given Franklin's voluntary candidness on the topic, it also might be an instance where he is simply gathering information on a treatment that has seeped into popular culture in the last two years.
Either way, the interest in TRT seems to be picking up steam in MMA circles, ramping up attention and setting the stage for those in regulatory positions to more forcefully execute their duties and enforce fair play. Until then, TRT and other treatments are an avenue that even Franklin admitted will continue to be explored by fighters looking for an edge.
"I'm sure that there are people that find ways around things, and cheating and all that kind of stuff but that’s just a natural thing," Franklin said. "The only way to really, really, really cure something like that is to have a 100 percent zero tolerance policy on these kinds of things, but it’s just impossible across the board, because this is how sports operate."
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