So it turns out that middleweight contender Chael Sonnen had some chemical help when he nearly toppled Anderson Silva in August, his post-fight pee test coming up positive for abnormally high levels of testosterone.
If that news disappoints you, it's natural. Two decades after the Ben Johnson scandal in Seoul blew the cover off steroid use in high-level pro sports we'd like to think our athletes know better than to flout anti-doping, and each time we come across one who hasn't learned that lesson it stings a little.
But if you're surprised when an athlete in any contact/collision/combat sport test positive you're naive.
If steroids help in baseball, they damn sure help in football, hockey, boxing and MMA.
So before we single out Sonnen as a maverick cheater lets remember that, as CagePotato.com points out, he's the latest in a long, long LONG line of MMA stars to flunk a doping test.
Yes I know technique is paramount and skills pay the bills, but supernatural strength and a heightened bloodlust can carry you a long way in the octagon.
A boost in testosterone fills both those needs nicely.
It's comforting to believe Sonnen is simply country strong and right-wing angry, but to learn that extra testosterone fueled his implacable rage and relentless ground-and-pound August 7 in San Jose makes perfect sense to me.
A great chin is one thing but Sonnen's absolute refusal to be hurt, or to slow down despite a busted nose that leaked like the Deepwater Horizon amazed me, and the doping revelation may help answer questions about how he pulled it off.
But it raises one more.
First, what does the UFC plan to do about drug cheats?
As for the first question, we know Sonnen faces a $2,500 fine 12-month suspension from the California State Athletic Commission but it's not clear whether the UFC plans to discipline him beyond that or to address the broader problem of doping in their sport.
Thanks to the UFC's incessant lobbying MMA is now legal and regulated in every major jurisdiction in North America besides New York State, but 17 years after the first UFC event the sport is working to dispel the notion that it's simply a human cockfight, still fighting to prove it deserves a place in the mainstream.
A soft stance on doping doesn't help that cause.
I reached out to UFC officials this morning and I'm still waiting to hear what they say, but looks to me like the current system is insufficient. Suspensions vary by commission, but a six or nine-month ban isn't much of a punishment for a fighter who only competes every four to six months anyway. It's more like a delay. You push back your next scheduled fight, serve your suspension, then move forward.
So I'm wondering if the UFC starts imposing doping penalties of its own, suspending fighters or even terminating contracts for flunking drug tests.
Earlier this week the UFC released lightweight Efrain Escudero, who earned a contract by winning Season eight of The Ultimate Fighter but who had lost two of his last three fights, and had failed to make weight for his most recent loss.
A harsh reaction, for sure, but understandable. The UFC paid Escudero to perform, and when he didn't they tossed him aside.
This is a business, after all.
And because it's a business the UFC just might leave Sonnen alone. His impromptu stand-up routines coupled with his near-conquest of Silva make him way more marketable and much less expendable than Escudero. But if the UFC wants to make another huge step toward mainstream legitimacy it'll drop any fighter who flunks a drug test. If being a boring fighter makes you unfit to stay on the organization's payroll, so should cheating.
After all, this is a sport, too.
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