PEDs in MMA: The Saga Continues
Thiago Silva. Cris “Cyborg” Santos. “King Mo” Lawal. Alistair Overeem.
A little over a year ago, the above four fighters were at or near the top of their respective weight classes. Santos and Overeem were world champions. Lawal was a former world champion and Silva was climbing his way up to a title shot. A lot has changed since March 2011. In April 2012, the above are four mixed martial artists that have tested positive for Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) in the past year.
As the sport gains more mainstream attention, it seems as if we can’t go more than a couple of months without a new positive test nowadays. The announcement that Alistair Overeem, the number one contender for the UFC Heavyweight Championship, tested for elevated levels of testosterone during a random drug test was perhaps the biggest news about PED test results thus far. MMA fans were undoubtedly going to see the world’s top 2 heavyweights if Overeem and UFC Heavyweight Champion, Junior Dos Santos, met as scheduled at UFC 146 in May. However, that match is now in limbo and the questions that have surrounded much of Overeem’s success over the past few years regarding his physical frame have surfaced once again.
Aside from the fighters themselves, there are other issues that allow PED use to continue in MMA.
The Current Problem
For the most part, promoters in MMA have taken themselves out of PED regulation. Their answer is that it is up to each state’s athletic commission to test and regulate the substances that fighters can use. The problem with this process is the belief that fighters who use PEDs know how to “cycle down” their use of the banned substance so that it doesn’t show up on the commission’s test. Until the Nevada State Athletic Commission announced out of competition testing last summer, fighters would be tested prior to their fight and on fight night so they could, in theory, know when to stop using the PED. The out of competition testing will hopefully either dissuade PED users from continued use or publicly reveal them, as it did with Overeem. At least it’s a step in the right direction.
However, the larger issue lies with the promotions themselves. The fact that MMA promotions, including the UFC, do not take a hard line stance on PEDs is problematic. It sends a message to fighters that if they are using PEDs, it will only be a problem if they are caught by the commission. And even in those cases, the punishment seems to be dependent on the offender. For example, Thiago Silva was suspended by the NSAC for 1 year and is now main eventing the UFC on Fuel card next week. Meanwhile, King Mo Lawal was released by Zuffa for his positive test, although his words for the athletic commissioner after the results were revealed probably played a role in that. If you step into the controversial world of Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT), you will find other discrepancies in how the UFC handles those who have faced restrictions from athletic commissions. Just look at the cases of Nate Marquardt and Chael Sonnen and you’ll see what I mean. The UFC recently announced that they would test newly signed fighters when they first enter the promotion. Once again, this still gives fighters notice of receiving a test and allowing them to “cheat the system.” Again, it’s a good start, but the premiere organization in MMA should be further ahead of the game given the problems that a positive PED test cause, such as the loss of a big money main event. Also, with the UFC now on a national stage on Fox, there are more eyes on them. It doesn’t look good if they don’t do more to combat PED use. It’s just more ammunition for detractors.
One of the biggest problems resulting from PED use is for the fighters themselves. Someone taking a Performance Enhancing Drug is, by definition, enhancing their performance. They’re stronger, quicker and heal faster; all advantages that they would have over their opponents. The object of a fight is to hurt your opponent. Someone using a PED is going to have a better chance of doing that and it’s unfair to those who get into fight shape through diet and exercise.
A Solution to the Problem
So, how should MMA combat the use of PEDs? For starters, organizations need to make their own regulations. They should be specific on substances that they don’t want their fighters using, even when they do not have fights scheduled. Fighters should be randomly tested throughout the year, regardless of upcoming fights. The commissions will continue to administer their tests according to their own schedules. A positive test at any point should result in some form of discipline from the organization. Major League Baseball currently suspends their players for 50 games after the first positive test, 100 games after the second and a lifetime ban after a third positive test. While Major League Baseball is hardly the best model of a PED program, it gives the MMA organizations some leeway and they can tailor their own program. Also, Olympic-style testing should be used in order to detect Human Growth Hormone.
I know that there are mixed opinions on TRT, but when Quinton “Rampage” Jackson says that he feels 10 years younger as a result of the treatment, how could it not be considered a PED? Organizations should also make their own rules about TRT. Dana White recently said that since TRT is allowed by the commissions, he can’t do anything about it. He actually could. He could not employ anyone who does it. Why suffer through the headaches of another Nate Marquardt or Chael Sonnen situation if you can just say that nobody in the UFC can have TRT?
Above all else, it is each organization’s responsibility to protect their fighters. Not only are the fighters that are facing PED users at a disadvantage, but the fighters using PEDs are going to keep doing so as long as they get away with it and are doing harm to their own bodies in the process. Sure, fans love seeing violence. But at the end of the day, we want a fair fight.