Nate Marquardt admitted Tuesday that his Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission suspension, which caused him to miss his scheduled main event with Rick Story on Sunday in Pittsburgh and led to his subsequent firing from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, stemmed from an issue with testosterone replacement therapy.
Marquardt appeared with manager Lex McMahon on "The MMA Hour" with Ariel Helwani and stated he had gone on therapy last August. He was on it for subsequent fights with Rousimar Palhares in Austin, Tex., Yushin Okami in Oberhausen, Germany, and Dan Miller in Newark, N.J.
"I told the UFC and the commissions and went through the whole process," said Marquardt. "I have to take responsibility. I was the one fighting. My doctor wasn't fighting. I messed up. There were things I should have done. For whatever reason, I have to take responsibility."
At issue is the use of testosterone replacement therapy by mixed martial artists. There are legitimate medical reasons this therapy would be needed if an athlete naturally produces a low level of testosterone.
But every TRT case for which UFC middleweight contender Chael Sonnen has also gotten into well-documented trouble brings questions about its abuse. Long-term usage of steroids in a sport where steroid accusations are plentiful often lead to low testosterone levels. The goal of such therapy is getting testosterone levels back to normal.
In theory, such therapy should not result in higher than normal testosterone levels which is what Marquardt was tested for because very high levels would indicate TRT usage for performance-enhancing reasons rather than restoring natural levels.
A tearful Marquardt answered all Helwani's questions, other than not giving actual numbers in the test results. He and McMahon said that Marquardt has tested within allowable levels in recent days, but it was too late to get cleared for the fight. They are hopeful this will allow his suspension to be overturned and perhaps get his job back with UFC.
UFC president Dana White could not be reached for comment Tuesday. On Sunday's Versus television broadcast, White was clearly agitated with how things went down, said Marquardt would never fight in UFC again and called upon Marquardt to come clean publicly about the situation.
White has a history of making absolute statements, such as somebody will never fight again with the promotion, only to later change his mind. Even in Sunday's interview, White said he believes in second chances because people are all human and everyone makes mistakes.
Marquardt was aboveboard with both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania commissions, and said he also had informed UFC of his usage prior to his fight with Okami. When UFC runs in Europe, because no athletic commissions there govern MMA, it uses Marc Ratner, the former head of the Nevada commission and currently the UFC's vice president of regulatory affairs, and he performs the role of a commission in regulation and drug-testing fighters.
Ratner could not be reached for comment. Nick Lembo, the legal counsel for the New Jersey Athletic Control Board, said he would not comment on the case.
"He's still on suspension, said Greg Sirb, the executive director of the PSAC."There is no hearing scheduled yet. His paperwork has been filed. I'm sure it'll take some time, with the July 4th holiday, I expect it will be after that. There's a lot of stuff to look at."
While nobody would give a specific time frame, what has been said publicly now by both Sirb and Marquardt is that Marquardt's testosterone levels were above the allowable number in a recent test, which would have been in the past three weeks, since that's when Marquardt said he started his latest round of therapy.
The commission ruled that he needed to get those numbers down to normal range or he would not be allowed to fight. Marquardt said that he began taking prescribed injectable testosterone three weeks before fight time, which would have been during the hardest part of his training cycle. If his levels were above the allowed limit, he was getting added performance-enhancing benefits during his toughest period of training. Even if he stopped treatment cold turkey, as he said he did, it would appear that he received a boost from the therapy that would have given him a competitive edge, which should not be allowed.
It also should be noted there are two different types of tests in this situation: The standard steroid test, which Marquardt never took before the fight, using a testosterone/epitestosterone ratio, checks for artificial testosterone in the body. If you have an exemption and use artificial testosterone, you should fail that test. But if you have an exemption, you would have to be measured with a different test, a blood testosterone test, showing that the artificial testosterone is not giving you unfair performance enhancing benefits either in training or fighting.
Keith Kizer, the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, where UFC has more fights than in any other state, has given three MMA fighters therapeutic-use exemptions over the last decade for what the commission believed was just medical cause.
But if someone in testing before the bout was shown to have unacceptable levels, he said they would not be allowed to fight, as opposed to giving them the opportunity to get to normal levels by the day of the fight.
"If you get approved for TRT, the numbers can't be sky high," said. Kizer "If you get an exemption, you have to use it as approved. You can't super-dose it. I don't know if he did or he didn't."
It should be incumbent upon commissions that allow artificial use of testosterone, a steroid, to monitor that athlete on a regular basis rather than simply testing for a certain level on the day of the fight as large doses during training allow fighters to gain an edge in better training recovery, leading to a competitive advantage.
"Everybody knew there was an issue," said Sirb. "Everyone assumed, and we shouldn't have, that he could meet the qualification, and it didn't happen. We gave him every chance to bring in a proper test result and with live TV, we couldn't wait any longer."
Sirb said that Marquardt's last test was taken either Thursday night or Friday morning before the show on Sunday. He said the commission got the result, with Marquardt still over allowable levels, on Saturday morning just a few hours before weigh-ins. When that test came in, they placed him on suspension.
Marquardt and McMahon admitted there had been issues before his March 19 fight with Miller in Newark. Marquardt received a letter six to eight weeks before the fight, saying they had received his application for therapeutic use of testosterone and the information submitted by his doctor was deemd incomplete by the New Jersey commission.
Marquardt then got off the treatment again, since he was told he needed his levels to drop to be able to fight.
"I felt even worse than the year before, I was so moody," said Marquardt. "Honestly, just taking the treatment, I'm happy. It possibly saved my marriage I was so moody."
He said the treatment had nothing to do with his weight cut. Marquardt, who had been fighting for years at middleweight (185 pounds), cut down to welterweight (170). Many were skeptical of the move because he was so physically large folks questioned if he could make weight. During the week, Marquardt said making weight would be no problem, and he was right on weight the day of weigh-ins. But he thought maybe by cutting so much water weight that his testosterone levels in his blood were not lowering as quickly as he expected and may have been the culprit in his high test levels.
"I've been on a roller coaster the whole week – it was one of the most stressful weeks of my life," he said. "I knew we were getting the test results back on Saturday morning a half hour before weigh-ins. At that point I was so confident because I knew it was going to go down more than it did. I thought no way it can't go down."
Another aspect of the Marquardt case is that he tested positive for the steroid Nandrolone in Nevada in 2005 and served a five-month suspension (originally six, but cut back a month on appeal) in the early days of MMA drug testing, when commissions were more lenient than they are today.
Kizer noted that athletes who apply for exemptions cannot use TRT if their natural production is low due to previous steroid use. He said Nevada just recently turned down a fighter requesting one based on the belief the circumstances sounded shady.
Kizer also said he requires an affidavit signed under oath that the athlete has never failed a drug test (which Marquardt would not have been able to do), had never taken performance-enhancing drugs and to take tests that measure hormone levels in the brain.
"If you're taking steroids and your body shuts down its natural [testosterone] production, those levels would be low," Kizer said. "When you test those things and it comes out low, that is some evidence it could be due to prior PED usage. If those levels are normal or high, that's a very strong indication there was no prior use of steroids."
- Nate Marquardt