Of all the fighters forced to walk the testosterone replacement therapy tightrope during the last several years, Dan Henderson always managed to pull it off with the greatest of ease.
While we vilified Vitor Belfort, snickered at Chael Sonnen and scoffed at Todd Duffee, Hendo largely got a pass. He was arguably just as culpable as the rest—all boxed into the paradoxical corner of claiming they needed TRT to compete while simultaneously denying it had anything to do with their success in the cage—but mostly we let him slide.
Maybe because MMA’s testosterone debate didn’t really reach its fever pitch until he was into his 40s, we cut Henderson some slack. Maybe because he never tested positive for anything and because he always came off as more open and honest about TRT than some other people we could mention, we were more inclined to believe his explanations.
Or maybe we just liked the guy.
Maybe we all admired his legendary career, lackadaisical cowboy attitude and swing-for-the-fences style and didn’t want to corrupt them with allegations of cheating.
Whatever the reason, it’s probably lucky for all involved that it’s Henderson who is getting a one-night-only extension on TRT when he fights Mauricio Rua on Sunday at UFC Fight Night 38.
If it were anybody else, people would be making a bigger deal of it.
In the 21 days since the Nevada Athletic Commission abruptly banned the controversial treatment, ramifications have been swift and sweeping. The UFC quickly followed the NAC’s lead, as did regulators who will oversee this weekend’s event in Natal, Brazil.
Belfort lost his planned middleweight title shot, Sonnen has hinted at retirement, and Henderson says he’s taking a wait-and-see approach on his own future.
"I'm pretty much going to get this fight handled and then worry about the changes later," he told Fox Sports' Damon Martin. "That's my mindset and I don't need to make any decisions now. I'm going to have to do some research and see what's out there."
Because he'd already been approved for a TRT exemption for this fight by the time the NAC's decision came down, Hendo was granted a temporary stay. We’re left to assume it was deemed unsafe or impossible for him to transition off the stuff and still make the date. He’ll be allowed to use TRT this one last time, but at the conclusion of the bout, it will no longer be allowed in the Octagon.
Fans and media types seem mostly OK with Hendo getting some leeway, though it remains the kind of thing you don’t want to think about too long, lest you start to confront some heavy philosophical questions about the legitimacy of competition, the seemingly arbitrary nature of rules and the differences in how we treat people.
You can imagine, for example, the public furor if it had been Belfort who was granted an extra month to ingest synthetic testosterone, instead of Henderson. You can imagine the stories we’d write if it was Sonnen who said he was going to “worry about the changes later.”
Assuming he’s been properly vetted, tested and cleared, we’ll be asked to take Hendo's performance at face value against Rua. Then, on Monday, the thing we watched on Sunday will be outlawed. From here to eternity, it will be punishable by fine and suspension, as well as possible forfeiture of wins, bonus money and all the other good things that can result from having a supercharged performance in the Octagon.
You have to admit, it puts this fight on pretty strange footing. If, after three-plus years of debate, we’ve decided to mentally hang an asterisk on the accomplishments of guys like Belfort and Sonnen during the TRT era, we have to do that for Henderson, too.
That includes this fight, as well as his classic first bout against Rua.
Testosterone therapy had not yet become a full-fledged scandal in November 2011, when Hendo and "Shogun" met at UFC 139 in what was arguably the greatest fight in the company’s history.
At the time, it had been a bit more than a year since we learned Sonnen popped positive for elevated testosterone levels at UFC 117 and just shy of five months since Nate Marquardt added the initials TRT to the popular lexicon. That July, Henderson had admitted to ESPN.com's Brett Okamoto that he was the first athlete ever to receive a therapeutic use exemption for testosterone in Nevada, but many of us were still trying to wrap our minds around what it all meant.
Much has changed since that night, when Hendo won a unanimous decision over Shogun after a five-round donnybrook that went straight from pay-per-view to the history books.
MMA's most powerful policymakers have collectively decided that TRT is not worth the headache. As part of its February decision, the NAC acknowledged it can’t properly police testosterone usage and therefore believes it constitutes too big an opportunity for maleficence. UFC president Dana White has cheered the move, saying he “couldn’t wait for that garbage to go away,” via MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani.
Now we’ve all got just one more night to wait.
At least when this fight is over, we can get on with the business of MMA without asterisks.
And maybe we can stop playing favorites, too.