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Some thoughts on PED’s in MMA, Anderson Silva, GSP and the UFC




To say that it has been a crazy year so far would be a huge understatement. The Twitter universe has been all a flutter with fans expressing their opinions. They have run the gamut from do not test anybody and just let them fight to test them all. There have of course been all sorts of conspiracy theories. Some claiming that Dana White and the UFC are out to get Anderson Silva for his Nike comments. Then there are others saying that they are covering everything up to save their dying PPV revenues after 2014. With each new positive PED test it gives more credence to GSP’s claims that MMA and the UFC had a PED problem. I am here to try to bring a little clarity to the issue.

Wait, whoa, whoa, whoa. Which is it?

The UFC is either conspiring to bring down Silva or they are trying to protect him because he is one of their main cash cows. It cannot be both. Well, I guess they in theory could have protected him so he could fight on the UFC 183 card and then threw him under the bus after his Nike/Reebok comments. The problem is that is giving the UFC way too much credit and blame. I honestly think that Dana and the UFC are scrambling to get a grasp on this ever evolving PED situation.

I cannot say for sure that Silva is guilty or innocent but it is not looking good for him. The positive test on January 9th was for two banned substances and that is not good. For those claiming that the January 19th test clears him you are wrong and do not understand how PED’s work. I get that if Silva is your favorite fighter you do not want him to be guilty of using PED’s and cheating. That wish does not make him innocent anymore than a test ten days after the first one.

These substances all stay in a users system for a certain amount of time and then they are gone and undetectable. Each one is different as to the length of time and the people who administer them know this and have the athlete stop taking them at the appropriate time to pass a post-fight piss test. This is exactly the reason why unscheduled out of competition tests are needed if you truly want to clean up the sport and catch the fighters who are cheating.

The fact that the UFC start doing exactly this speaks to their desire to clean up the UFC. Now, I do not think that they expected Jon Jones to test positive for cocaine. Nor do I think that they thought Silva was going to piss hot for steroids. Especially coming off of his stance that fighters should be banned if they  are caught using PED’s. We will learn more about his fate on Tuesday February 17th when he meets with the NSAC. It is no coincidence that Dana and Lorenzo Fertitta have scheduled a press conference on February 18th. What happens in those two events will shape the UFC’s direction in regards to PED’s.

To clean or not to clean

There are some fans who do not want the fighters tested and would like the sport to return to its Pride days. Then there are others who want the sport to be pristine and crystal clean. Neither stance is realistic nor right in this case. It would be one thing if the fighters wanted no testing a Wild West sort of atmosphere. After all, they are ones that are risking themselves when they step in the cage. Sure, the ones that have been using will want to be able to continue, but more and more fighters are coming out calling for the sport to get cleaned up.

One of the first problems with allowing fighters to use steroids is that they are a controlled substance and are illegal without a doctor’s prescription. Generally doctor’s do not prescribe them because you want to be a bigger badass. Until that changes it would be ridiculous to allow them in the octagon.

The reasons that some fans do not want the fighters tested is the possibility of losing fights and fighters. We have seen that with the recent Hector Lombard situation when he was pulled from his fight with Rory MacDonald. This is hardly a tragedy. All we lost there was watching Lombard get jabbed relentlessly for three rounds. A juiced up Lombard had trouble dealing with the movement of a banged up Josh Burkman. If he had fought MacDonald it would have been an ugly win for MacDonald.

The fact that we might lose a few potential fights is not a good enough reason to not test the fighters. It is frankly a selfish stance by those fans who just want to watch good fights. I also want to watch good fights but I would like them to be fair and when one fighter is using and another is not then it is not a fair fight. It is not what the two fighters agreed upon when they signed their contracts and fight agreements.

I fall on the side on better and more frequent testing. There are also has to be tougher penalties in place if the UFC truly wants to clean up their sport. And make no mistake; the UFC is the leader of the sport and the stance they take will have a ripple effect throughout the other organizations. Right now the way the testing has been conducted and the penalties that are in place are not discouraging the fighters from using PED’s. It is only by adopting a more stringent testing policy with harsher penalties that the UFC will start to prevent fighters from trying to cheat. The press conference on February 18th should define their stance going forward and will set the tone for the sport.

It’s all about the money, money, money…

It all starts and ends with the money. The more money-getting paid to the fighters in win and performance bonuses the more incentive the fighters have to cheat. There is more money at the top of the sport so there is more incentive for some to cheat to get there. This is also the danger of tying the amount of Reebok money a fighter gets paid to their rankings. The money will always make some people cheat. Money is at the center of the problem and one of the issues with trying to clean the sport up.

The better the testing program the more it is going to cost. The more money being paid the more incentive the fighters have to cheat. The more money they have the better they can cheat. It does not mean that all successful fighters have cheated or will cheat. One the sports most successful and greatest fighters Georges St-Pierre essentially stepped away because of how many fighters were using PED’s.

At the time many fans and members of the media speculated that he was just using this as an excuse to get out before he lost the belt. Many of those people felt like he lost his last fight to Johny Hendricks. What is closer to the truth is that he wanted tougher testing for both he and Hendricks before that fight. St-Pierre want to use VADA which uses a much tougher testing procedure than any of the commissions right now. He was also willing to pay for it for both of the athletes. Hendricks had no interest in doing it and cited several reasons including St-Pierre’s “association” with VADA. Hendricks also used the fat guy defense saying that he does not have the body of a PED user.

The problem with that defense is using steroids does not magically transform your body into a ripped and cut one. What they do is allow you to workout longer and recover quicker in between workouts. If you still eat a bunch of crap food and large amounts of it at the same time then you will most likely have a gut. I give Hendricks credit his defense is good to fool a number of people who think that everybody PED user looks like Lombard. I am not saying Hendricks is guilty of using PED’s but his fat gut does not make him innocent.

The two biggest differences between VADA and the average athletic commission is the frequency of testing and blood versus urine. The athletic commissions use urine tests while VADA uses blood. The blood tests are harder to beat. They detect more of the masking substances and it is harder to fake. I knew several athletes in college who used steroids and did not get caught. They had several methods for beating the piss test that usually included someone else’s urine. One person used a small hot water bottle with someone else’s clean urine to pass the test. It is a lot harder to use someone else’s blood when someone sticks a needle in your arm and draws it out of you.

I swear to god Snake, I thought you were dead

Now there are those that think the UFC is in big trouble over their PED issue. Some fans are even saying that the UFC is on it’s dying legs. There is even a movement on Twitter to boycott UFC 184. This is all very premature. The UFC has not even had a chance to respond to the situation yet and the press conference with Dana and Lorenzo will answer a lot of these questions. How they respond will determine their future and the future of the sport.

To date, Dana has publicly been on the side of cleaning up the sport. The fact that they went ahead with unscheduled out of competition tests speaks to their seriousness about cleaning up the UFC. There will some fans who will turned off by the number of fighters who have tested positive recently and the fact that it has been some with a much higher profile. Silva’s test shocked many fans and left a bad taste in their mouth. Especially finding out after they had already paid for the PPV.

It is each individual fan’s choice to buy the PPV’s or not. It is no secret that 2014 was one of the UFC’s worst year when in came to PPV’s. There are many reasons for that including injuries, one of their biggest stars in St-Pierre stepping away and the amount of free MMA available to the average fan.

There use to be a time not that long ago when there where only a few free UFC events on TV a year to augment the PPV’s. There were not many other promotions presenting their product on TV. The PPV’s were special just because they were the best chance to watch MMA. Now, there are often multiple free events on TV. This weekend alone there is WSOF on Thursday, Legacy and Bellator on Friday and free UFC on Saturday. Not to mention Fight Pass and their ever-expanding library of fights.

The sport of MMA is not going to be brought down by PED’s. It may knock it down a little but it is strong enough to rise up. Cleaning up the sport will make MMA stronger. It may get a little messy for a while but in the end it will be a better sport for the fighters and the fans. Let us hope that is the direction the UFC chooses to go in.

An avid lifetime fight fan who loves to write about it. So kick back, get comfortable and let's have some fun! "Wants me to tell him something pretty." Al Sweargen "Going wrong is not the end of fucking things, Johnny. Fuck no! I have comeback from plenty of shit that looked like it was going wrong." Dan Dority "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it." Bill Munny