Not a word you want associated with you or your sport. Just ask Major League Baseball. The MLB had such a huge problem with steroids that many people have deemed the years between 1992-2006 “The Steroid Era.” And that’s exactly what’s happening in the world of Mixed Martial Arts.
In yet another failed steroid test in the UFC, Thiago Silva was found to have submitted a drug-testing sample that was “inconsistent with human urine,” which indicated that he “submitted an adulterated and/or substituted specimen for testing for the urinalysis.” Silva owned up to the failed test, citing a back injury that would have cost him to withdraw from his fight with Brandon Vera at UFC 125. A fight which he eventually won. But that decision to take those injections will now cost him the win (outcome changed to No Contest), a fine, and at least a 6 month suspension. A penalty one would think would be enough to deter fighters from taking performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).
But that’s not the case.
Chael Sonnen failed his steroid test after his title fight with Anderson Silva, James Irvin failed his test before his scheduled fight with Houston Alexander, and Vinicius Quieroz was released from the UFC altogether after testing positive for Stanozolol. If you take it back a little further you can add Strikeforce Heavyweight competitors Antonio Silva and Josh Barnett to that list. (Barnett has failed three exams.)
Those are just some of the more recent offenders, which begs the question: Are the State Athletic Commissions and MMA organizations doing enough to discourage fighters from taking illegal substances and preventing steroid abuse?
The answer is unequivocally, no.
You won’t find a bigger advocate against steroid use than me. I have no time for excuses. You know it’s wrong when you are injecting yourself, and the excuse of, “I didn’t know what was in it,” doesn’t fly. You are a professional athlete. You know, or should know, exactly what you’re taking. Another popular excuse, “I did it to recover from an injury,” is also played way too often. Rehab your injury like any normal non-cheating person would: with hard work. It concerns me that the message the current policy is sending to fighters is that it is okay to use illegal substances because after the slap on the wrists, you’ll be back in the cage in a reasonable amount of time if you get caught. In effect, the reward is greater than the risk.
That being said, the commissions are starting to do more. Some are even blood testing fighters now instead of doing a urinalysis. A vast improvement in the fight against PED use. But the problem with blood tests is that they are quite expensive when compared to a urine analysis exam. However, Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer may have a remedy to this situation. After the discovery of the bogus urine sample submitted Thiago Silva, Kizer believes that the commission inspectors “might have to take it a step further” and “it might be a situation where inspectors have to go really close and look.”
A little awkward to be sure, and a job I wouldn’t rush to do, but if fighters are continually beating the system with “Whizzinator” devices and other apparatuses, this might have to become the next step.
While that’s a start, I don’t think that’s enough. Cheaters will always find a way to cheat. It’s in their blood, no pun intended. Simply visually confirming urine samples isn’t enough to discourage PED use. Neither are the current lengths of suspensions or the amounts of fines. If they were, you would see less fighters getting red-flagged. But the opposite is occurring, and something needs to be done now before it gets out of hand.
While every sport has its scandals, Mixed Marital Arts is still in a toddler-like stage when it comes to mainstream media coverage and acceptance. What’s even worse is that many people still believe it’s a no-holds-barred bar fight between two barbarians that happens to take place in a cage. Any black mark of this sport will be magnified ten-fold. A steroids “wildfire” would burn it up before it reaches mainstream status, and it will only fuel the beliefs of the ignorant.
That cannot happen if MMA is to breakthrough and be on common ground with the NFL and the NBA. The powers that be need to get together and come up with stricter guidelines and harsher penalties for fighters found to have used perfomance enchancing drugs. If it were up to me I would show no quarter. You use, you’re done. That’s probably too extreme to get adopted, so I’ll provide a more lenient proposition: The ol’ “Three Strikes, You’re Out” rule.
Fine them their fight purse or $50,000 (whichever is greater) and suspend them for a year on their first offense. Fine them their fight purse or $100,000 (whichever is greater) and suspend them for two years for their second. If there is a third positive test, you’re done. And instead of randomly testing fighters, test all of them. That’s how you curb this potential epidemic. Whatever gains that come from using steroids must pale in comparison to the punishment they’ll receive when caught. The risk must be greater than the reward.
While MMA hasn’t gone the way of the MLB just yet, the more popular the sport gets, the greater chance fighters will feel the need to get an edge over their competition. I would hate to look back 10 years from now and describe this as the beginning of the steroid era of MMA.