By Zach Arnold
First, Kalib Starnes comments on marijuana and steroids.
For a perfect summation of my feelings about MMA’s drug culture, read Fightlinker’s entry today. My argument has never been one about morality (athletes are athletes — they are always looking for an edge), but rather about the health of the fighters. Time in and time in, too many wrestlers have died due to a lethal combination of steroids or growth hormone and prescription pills. It’s a nasty cocktail that has killed a lot of professional wrestlers.
Dana White today responded to charges by various MMA writers that UFC is not doing enough to combat the drug problem in MMA. Dana always manages something interesting to say and usually leaves himself open to questioning with at least one comment per interview.
Like this comment:
ESPN The Magazine: But what is the punishment? What are you going to do?
White: They’re not going to get paid. I take care of all of my guys. If you fight your ass off for me, you’ll get paid. But what I’m going to do is: I’m going to wait and see if they pass their drug tests. If they don’t, you’re going to get paid what’s in your contract and that’s it.
ESPN The Magazine: So you’re going to pay the guaranteed money but any fight bonuses would be withheld? That’s not a slap on the wrist.
White: No, that’s a kick in the nuts, and they know that.
First, we’ve had fighters like Josh Barnett publicly claim that UFC pays fighters more than the salaries stated by the various athletic commissions. I’m sure the IRS (web site) loves to hear this information. Second, White is basically sending a message to the public that the fighters are underpaid and hence must depend on bonuses or else it’s “a kick in the nuts.” People who I talk with in boxing all the time are in shock at how little the purses are for many of the MMA fighters who fight on UFC PPVs. Economics aside, it’s a losing PR message that UFC is sending to the public.
Next, Dana White touches upon a point that Luke Thomas has been making about fighters feeling pressured into taking steroids to heal up quicker from injuries because a promoter tells them to fight on a certain date or else risk losing a title shot. Karo Parisyan never got his title shot in UFC, so naturally other UFC fighters look at that and see what the political landscape might be. Or so goes the argument that Luke makes. Dana responds to that line of thinking this way:
ESPN The Magazine: One of the things Hermes Franca hinted at was that he was forced to take steroids because he had an injury but he had to fight.
White: That’s one of the dumbest things ever said. He said he twisted his ankle. It happens all the time. He called us and said he was hurt. Two days later, he said he could fight. Nobody is ever forced to fight. I can go down the list and tell you 50 guys who’ve pulled out of fights because of an injury.
White is technically right. Nobody is ever forced to fight. However, the precedent in UFC was unofficially set when Parisyan got injured and never got his title shot against Matt Hughes. Parisyan continues to be an exciting, crowd-pleasing fighter but is unlikely to get a title shot any time soon. Now, put these two factors together for Hermes Franca - the 7/7 match against Sean Sherk was his one and only title shot and he was not getting paid very much money to fight (the CSAC reported his salary at $14,000 USD).
When asked by ESPN if UFC can do more than what the athletic commissions are currently doing for punishment of fighters who fail drug tests, White’s response sounds very Gary Shaw-esque:
ESPN The Magazine: And the biggest thing the UFC plans to do is withhold any extra contract money?
White: What else am I going to do? Kick these guys’ asses? You want to drag these guys and their families into the center of town and stone them? What else can you do?
In other words, put the onus on the athletic commissions to dole out 100% of the punishment (time of suspension, fine). As a promoter, that makes sense — except for the fact that the promoter also has the option of taking further action, which would certainly be a major deterrent against cheating.
Like stripping the title from a champion if he fails a drug test.
Finally, the UFC President finishes off with quite the amazing comment to ESPN:
ESPN The Magazine: How would you rate the UFC’s steroid testing?
White: Combat sports — MMA and boxing — really have the best steroids testing in sports. Every time we compete, we’re tested by the government. You can’t get more serious about it than that.
Before I comment on White’s statement, let me first state that I respect the job that the drug testers associated with the CSAC are doing. They are catching a lot of guys, but one of the factors in catching so many guys is that there are so many MMA shows happening in the state.
With that stated, the T/E ratio for a CSAC test is 6:1 (and if they’re using the same lab as the NSAC, then it will be the same T/E ratio standard). Meaning, a fighter can have six times the level of testosterone compared to epitestosterone in his body. The average human has a 1:1 ratio. 6:1 is a pretty incredibly high number for an athlete to have and not fail a drug test.
Now, compare that 6:1 ratio to other drug testing in sports. WADA uses a 4:1 T/E ratio standard. If you fail a drug the first time, you’re suspended for two years. Fail the second time, you’re banned for life. The NFL, NBA, and MLB also use a 4:1 T/E ratio for their testing.
Despite the CSAC (and perhaps NSAC’s) generous 6:1 T/E ratio, four of the nine fighters who failed a CSAC drug test in Q2 2007 due to steroids were also over the 6:1 T/E ratio.
Therefore, to make the statement that the athletic commissions are using the most stringest drug testing in sports is laughable. This is not a knock per se on the commissions, but rather on White’s claim. The Tour de France has had numerous cyclists busted with their aggressive drug testing and they’ve caught many cheaters. The lazy media, however, has somehow managed to turn around the TDF’s successful drug testing policy into a negative by proclaiming the ‘end’ of the TDF. In fact, it should be the opposite. People should have more confidence in the drug testers associated with the TDF because they’re catching so many guys.
The athletic commissions in America test fighters before and after a fight at the shows. They do not stalk the various team gyms and conduct police raids. They do not stalk fighters when they go on vacation. There is no such anti-doping law in the States like there is in Italy in which an athlete can go to jail for doping violations.
One thing that I do want to make personally clear to everyone is that many of the MMA writers who are vocal about the steroids situation often come from different sports that have enormous drug testing problems. Steve Sievert of The Houston Chronicle covered both track & field and cycling for many years. I spent my life covering a king of all modern sports drug cultures, professional wrestling. Just because some of the MMA writers are vocal about MMA’s drug culture does not mean that the criticism is a cheap ploy by said writers to garner reader feedback. There are plenty of people covering MMA who understand the negative impacts of a rampant drug culture on a sport.
I’ll repeat what I’ve said in the past — I am bullish that in the long-term, the sport will clean itself up. It’s a young industry and there’s a lot of history to be written. However, promoters cannot simply pass the back onto athletic commissions and let the commissions single-handedly deal with the problem. Any sort of multi-tiered solution to the drug culture must involve the participation of everyone in the industry - the commissions, the promoters, the fighters, and the fans who pay to watch the shows.