Jackson comments deepen TRT debate

UFC 144 might be in the books, but Quinton Jackson's bout with the media has just begun. Susumu Nagao for ESPN.com

Credit Quinton Jackson for his honesty, I guess.

Whether he meant to or not, Jackson cast himself smack dab into the center of MMA’s biggest brewing controversy this week when he admitted as part of a wide-ranging interview with Fighters Only Magazine that he used testosterone leading up to his UFC 144 loss to Ryan Bader.

To anyone who’s been paying attention over the last year or so, this revelation is probably not overly shocking. Jackson, after all, merely joins a growing crop of 30-and-40-something fighters like Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen and Nate Marquardt who've all gone on the record saying they have, or continue to undergo, testosterone replacement therapy.

Fact is, as long as any fighter has been granted a medical exemption by state regulators, gets a note from his doctor and keeps his hormone levels within legal limits come test time, it’s not against the rules.

But by talking so openly, at length and seemingly sincerely about the boosts he felt from using testosterone -- and by otherwise appearing to be a perfectly healthy 33-year-old male -- Jackson revived and perhaps even deepened questions about the use of TRT in MMA.

Since he also sucked his employer into the conversation by commenting that his doctor “works for the UFC” and alleging that the fight company was aware of his use leading up to last weekend’s show in Japan, it’s bound to raise some eyebrows about situations where the organization acts as its own regulatory body at overseas events.

“I went to see the doctor and he told me to talk to an age-management doctor,” said Jackson, explaining that he sought medical help after injuring his knee before the Bader fight. “So I went and talked to them and they tested me and said my testosterone was low; they prescribed me testosterone, to bring my testosterone levels back up ... so that I am the same as young people, like when I was 25, and it would help build my knee up. I hurt my knee like a month ago and I only did three shots of testosterone but it put a lot of weight on me, a lot of muscle on me but it healed my knee up good enough to where I could fight.”

Again, it's perfectly legal for Jackson to do this and there is no problem with the UFC knowing about it. When done correctly, when the proper paperwork is filled out, TRT remains technically legal. On the other hand, many observers scoff at the notion that fighters could have legitimate medical reasons for seeking such treatment and continue to see it as a sort of approved cheating; a loophole being exploited by opportunistic guys looking for a leg up on the competition.

Most of Jackson’s comments will only bolster that opinion, as the symptoms he described don’t sound at all out of the ordinary for an aging athlete. Jackson says he gets hurt more now than he used to, that he has a tougher time healing from injuries and can’t train like he could a few years ago.

He seems to think of that as a medical problem. The rest of us would probably just call it getting older.

Therein lie the trickiest questions regarding TRT.

Should a 33-year-old man like Jackson really have the testosterone levels of a 25-year-old?

Should he be able to compete at the same level he could as a younger man?

Should he (or any fighter verging on middle age) be able to go to a doctor and essentially say, “Make me young again”?

After all, if Jackson’s only real symptom is that he’s not as good as he was eight years ago, that probably shouldn't warrant medical intervention.

So far, however, state regulatory bodies (and, according to Jackson, the UFC, when it is regulating itself) say that it does, as long as a fighter can find a doctor to sign off on it. Clearly, though, this issue will be debated at length moving forward and where the rules and regulations ultimately come down remains to be seen.

Right now, one of the only things we know for sure about testosterone replacement therapy is that Quinton Jackson seems to like it.

He seems to like it a lot.

“This was my first time ever using testosterone,” Jackson said. “I took what the doctor prescribed to me and I went to the pharmacy ... I gave myself small doses and that s--- immediately changed me, that’s why I am saying now I am not going to retire. I am not gonna retire no time soon ...

“I feel young again. I’m happy I did the testosterone; I wish I had known about it sooner.”