The infamous Victor Conte, the man behind one of the biggest steroid abuse scandals in US sports history, was on Ariel Helwani's MMA Hour last night charging the vast majority of UFC fighters of using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and accusing Dana Whiteof turning a blind eye.
"Do I believe that 90%… are using some sort of performance enhancing drug in the UFC? I do," said Conte. "But there are those that do not and I think that number's going to grow over time. They realize that the testing is weak. The Nevada Commission's testing is weak."
Conte was the man behind the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) which supplied athletes with undetectable PEDs until the whole operation came crashing down following a federal investigation in 2003. After serving several months in prison for his role at BALCO, Conte has come out as a crusader pointing the finger at the absurdity of drug testing in sport.
Conte says that both the UFC and state athletics commissions, such as the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC), should be doing more.
"And listen, Dana White's a very smart man. [NSAC executive director] Keith Kizer's a very smart man, and he's an attorney. But the logic for argument that they present in this particular situation just does not fly," Conte told Helwani. "There are options available. Is it ever going to be perfect, is it ever going to be foolproof? The answer is no. But can it be much more effective, and can the use of [testosterone-replacement therapy] and other anabolic steroids and performance-enhancing drugs, can the rampant use be significantly reduced? I believe it can and I believe there's some simple answers."
Such accusations, that the majority of fighters are on PEDs, aren't new either. Last year, UFC light-heavyweight Krzysztof Soszynski also laid a similar charge during Helwani's MMA Hour.
"I would definitely say somewhere in the percentage of 85% of guys are definitely using, especially the guys who can afford it are definitely using” said Krzysztof. “I would even go as high as 95-96% of the top level athletes that are definitely using it. You can clearly see it."
These numbers may sound wildly outlandish, especially coming from an athlete who admitted to having used PEDs in the past himself, but considering theÂ scandals that engulfed Major League Baseball and cycling in recent years, such systemic and widespread use of PEDs has many precedents in sport.
Take for example the whole issue surrounding testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). This topic blew up after Chael Sonnen failed a drugs test following his fight against Anderson Silva in 2010. No synthetic substance was found in his body, however, his ratio of testosterone-epitestosterone revealed he had been using.
At the time, the NSAC accepted his TRT excuse, despite accusing him of failing to follow procedures in order to get his use approved. Since then, a whole series of MMA fighters have been revealed to have obtained testosterone-use exemptions (TUEs) on medical grounds.
"[If] it was similar in structure to testosterone, a testosterone derivative or a modified testosterone molecule… These derivatives always show on mass-spectrometry tests and so athletes are gravitating towards using pure testosterone. This is why you see so many athletes are doing TRT, because the testing has taken away designer steroids, and now what's left is this huge loophole involving micro-dosing of testosterone."
"I don't think you go with an outright ban, I think you have a very strict protocol in being granted a TRT… But do I think that 99.9% of cases where they're granting these [TUEs] is complete BS? I do."
TRT use is a convenient loophole for any would-be cheat. It effectively allows athletes to use as much steroids as they want, as long as they are within the normal range of testosterone come fight time. This problem was exposed by the case of Nate Marquardt last year.
Marquardt had a TUE under the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board. This meant that he would automatically pass the T/E ratio test, because any use of the synthetic test would skew those numbers.
What he was not allowed, under his exemption, was to have higher than normal test levels. Nate's levels, though trending down over the last week before the fight, still failed to fall to within the range required in time for him to be cleared to fight.
What does this say about the TRT loophole? Well, a fighter with a TUE could use extreme amounts of testosterone during training, as long as he times it so that come fight night his levels fall back within the normal range. That's a loophole you can drive a tank through.