There’s another angle to the Chael Sonnen appeal hearing that I didn’t get to yesterday because I wanted to get the main story out.

While it’s true that Sonnen’s suspension was reduced by six months making him eligible to fight again on March 2, 2011, he still opened a can of worms with the controversial Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT). He managed to skate by it with the Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt fights, and he probably would have again with the Anderson Silva fight if his T/E ratio didn’t test so high, but now it’s out in the open and it’s something he’s going to have deal with from here on out.

According to Sonnen’s doctor, he cannot compete without this therapy, so he’ll need to obtain a therapeutic use exemption for testosterone from the commissions when he fights. However, it’s said that approval for such an exemption is rare due to it’s potential for abuse.

There seemed to be a bit of confusion among the commission members yesterday regarding the subject. One member noted they needed to be “very careful” with how they proceeded because it would set a “precedent” for future cases. By the way, this was the same commissioner who moments later seemed very uncertain and made the motion to reduce his suspension by six months. The only commissioner who seemed to be familiar with the treatment stressed how important it was that they develop the proper protocols and regulations for dealing with TRT. In other words, if a fighter requested an exemption tomorrow, I’m not confident the CSAC would know how to handle such a request.

Sonnen could also run into problems if he’s booked to fight in the UFC’s hometown of Las Vegas. It won’t be as easy as submitting the standard paperwork and running through the tests, according to NSAC executive director Keith Kizer. Yesterday, Sonnen testified that not only did Kizer personally give him approval for TRT, but told him not to disclose it again to anybody. When CageSideSeats asked Kizer about this alleged conversation, Kizer said he had never spoken to Sonnen “in his life.” Kizer said he was “very confused” by the comments and feels it’s best if Sonnen appears in front of the commission to explain himself before fighting in Nevada again.

With regards to Sonnen’s licensing in Nevada when the California suspension expires, he added that it would have to wait until after the California suspension expires, and then “if Mr. Sonnen wants to get a license here in Nevada, it’s probably best if he appears before our commission as opposed to me giving him one administratively.” As far as the comments during the hearing could be an issue: “Possibly. I mean anything’s a possible issue, but yeah, it’s probably best that he appears before the commission and explains what he meant by that. I’m very confused.”

There’s one other thing I want to touch on — the T/E ratio. After the hearing yesterday, I was confused as to why Sonnen’s elevated ratio wasn’t made out to be a bigger issue. He did test over four times the legal threshold after all. Well, here’s WKR’s S.C. Michaelson with the explanation.

Back in real fighting, you have a fighter who wants to get a prescription for testosterone. He simply has to undertake those same steps as the pro wrestler. Obtain that artificially low testosterone level, get a doctor to sign off on it and you’re good to go. You’ve got a prescription. Now you’ve got a cover in case you ever get popped for a bad urine test. I say urine test because no commission tests for blood. What’s the difference? Well, with a urine test, all you’re going to be able to test is the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone, whether the testosterone is endo- or exogenous, and the presence of steroid metabolites (to determine what type of steroid it is).

How is that significant? Essentially, you can get popped for a ratio of 20:1 which clearly indicates drug usage, but you can claim that you still test within the normal testosterone ranges. You see, there’s a difference between T/E ratio and total testosterone. The urine test can’t test for total testosterone (which is why we need blood testing).  So basically you can have two fighters.

  • Fighter A (legit need for TRT) – T/E ratio =15:1 (at time of test), total testosterone (at time of test, but not tested for) 800 ng/mL
  • Fighter B (guy who wants to cheat) – T/E ratio = 15.1 (at time of test, total testosterone (at time of test, but not tested fr) 5500ng/ML

Now to the commission, it looks like both fighters are the same with the same ratio, but that is not true. Without knowing the total testosterone, you have no idea that Fighter B produces the normal amount of testosterone as indicated by his normal amount of epitestosterone contained and his high testosterone level. Since no blood was actually taken at the time of the test and since drug tests come weeks after the fact, he can claim that he does have a high T:E ratio but that’s only because his natural testosterone production is so low and that his total testosterone levels are normal, supplementing it with tests taken by his own doctor. Of course, he knew when those tests were being taken and thus, could alter his testosterone level.

As you can see it can get real tricky really fast. The problem here though seems to be that the commissions are testing for the wrong thing. Sonnen’s camp argued that the T/E ratio is not an accurate indicator of how much testosterone is in the body. I chalked it up to bogus legal defense yesterday, but assuming Michaelson’s explanation is accurate, that appears to be the case.

Consider this as well, the potential for abuse is so high that the NFL, MLB, NBA and even the WWE (yes, the pro wrestling organization) have banned testosterone replacement therapy. If it’s not even allowed in fake fighting, why is it (sometimes) allowed in real fighting? Clearly, this is an issue needs to be explored much further.