Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen and more have been caught using performance-enhancing drugs for recent fights, evidence of an escalating problem in the sport! 411ís Lorenzo Vasquez III looks at why the PED problem is here to stay!
Just like any other professional sport, and amateur for that matter, performance enhancing drugs often take the spotlight in mix martial arts. Today, not only can we expect the cancellation of fights due to injury, but as random drug testing continues, it is not out of the realm to fret a fight will be scrapped because of a failed test. For some fighters, it is so much an issue that it has become part of their reason for leaving mix martial arts on a competitive level. George St.-Pierre cited widespread PED use as part of the reason for wanting to step aside from competitive mix martial arts. Most recently, retired fighter, Mark Bocek, noted part of his basis for retiring from the fight game was in part due to the rampant use of PED's and the inability of the UFC and state commissions to grasp a hold of the problem.
So What's the Deal
The reality of the matter is regardless of how much performance enhancing drugs are frowned upon, they are engraved as part of the sport and usage will be a difficult problem to solve. The UFC along with athletic commissions, such as the Nevada State Athletic Commission, have worked somewhat to try to ease the problem. In February, the NSAC decided to ban the use of testosterone replacement therapy, a highly controversial treatment (in an athletic sense) for low testosterone. Other commissions and the UFC followed suit. Though, that along with an increase in random drug testing is a step forward, it is far from eliminating the usage of PED's. If the problem is to be solved, the UFC and NSAC will have to set the example as the UFC is the alpha male of the MMA community and the NSAC usually sets the precedent for other athletic commissions. However, despite this, both the UFC and NSAC seemingly fail to ramp up efforts to combat PED usage. Instead, they both seem to rely on the tired but not true post-fight test and suspension and fine to solve the problem. Thus far, suspension and fine have not put a dent into PED usage. Furthermore, both organizations seem to worry more about the "bottom line" than curving PED usage.
Vitor Belfort failed a random drug test in February, the second time he has failed a test, yet, instead of a punishment he was granted a conditional license and will be allowed to challenge for the UFC middleweight championship. I understand there is money to be made with a Belfort/Chris Weidman fight but what message are the UFC and NSAC sending here? There is also the issue of the expense for random drug testing. Because of the high cost it is an almost fruitless venture since the UFC and any athletic commission will at the moment by no means want to invest that kind of money to make random drug testing viable.
Plus, where random testing is concerned, it is logical as well to see why the UFC would hate an increase in random testing besides expense. More random testing potentially means more failed test and the possibility of canceled fights as happened with Sonnen vs. Silva and later Sonnen vs. Belfort. To make matters even more difficult, chemist, doctors, and whatever you want to call them work to develop PED's that are undetectable. It is a guarantee that as one undetectable PED becomes detectable a new one is soon to be available to athletes. Yet, I don't believe these are the root causes for the seemingly widespread PED problem in mix martial arts. Culture is the heart of the problem. Look at American culture, for example, and its drive for competitive, notoriety, and financial gain at all cost.
Born and Bred In America
Perhaps, it's human nature but to better understand this dilemma, let's briefly look at a portion of American culture as an example. As Americans we are brought up with such pastimes as baseball, football, and other competitive sports. We take that competitiveness very serious, to the point that for many, these pleasures are not so much pleasures anymore. Even more so, we take that competitiveness or nature beyond a sporting environment and drive it into our everyday lives into every aspect. We have to be better at this and better at that whether it's at work or on a business/corporate platform, at school, in the family, or in sports. There is no room for second place in our ultra-competitive society. In large part, because of this mentality, people are always looking for that competitive edge and cheating is no problem for many individuals not only to find competitive, notoriety, and financial success but in order to relieve the pressure and stress of such environment.
In essence, America has become a sort of breeding pool for cheaters. To prove the point, all we have to do is look at our modern business practices in the sports industry and how we promote cheating. Organizations like the MLB and UFC supply and promote and we buy memorabilia, tickets, and pay per views among other things to watch and support our favorite teams and athletes; this, is regardless of any cheating scandals. For example, in MMA many are fans of Chael Sonnen and the UFC had no problem promoting him despite a test failure for elevated testosterone levels and his legal conduct outside the UFC. It does not make things look better to add that Chael has recently admitted to using PED's to gain an advantage in efforts to get a piece of the "cake."
By the way, let us not forget about the aforementioned Belfort situation and other fighters who have failed drug tests yet are still beloved by us, the fans and promoted by the UFC. Cheating has become part of the American and in a sense World culture and that in and of it self is the root of the problem. Let's face it, for many individuals it's about taking the quickest and easiest route to the top regardless of manner. This cultural dilemma has left many athletes with the idea that PED usage has only minor consequences compared to the notoriety and financial growth of winning and therefore, is worth the risk. The only feasible solutions seem to be: allowing the usage of PED's (the verdict is still out on whether or not PED's help fighters win, after all, you many have all the strength and endurance in the world but if you lack technique and skill you will only get so far) or extensively stiffening the penalties for PED users. However, I don't see those solutions working as there will still be inherited problems, disagreements, and potential risk factors for a fighter's health. The PED issue just about seems unsolvable and will most likely be part of MMA for foreseeable future.