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PA Sportsticker, July 24, 2007

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Steroids In MMA—An Epidemic?



It appears that the use of performance enhancing drugs is simply endemic to professional sports. This is the “Roid Era,” one in which Barry Bonds’ imminent all-time MLB home run mark will be accompanied by an asterisk. Sadly, all of today’s grand achievements in everything from football to cycling to track & field are now met with a warranted skepticism.

When golf great Gary Player recently said about the tour—“Whether it’s HGH, whether it’s Creatine or whether it’s steroids, I know for a fact that some golfers are doing it”—it’s time for the sports-entertainment complex to collectively admit they’ve got issues. I mean, the jury is still out on whether golfers are even athletes!

But no knowledgeable sports fan with a basic understanding of combat sports would question that mixed martial artists are among the most dynamic, well-conditioned athletes around. And thus, we now we must add this young, booming industry to the notorious list of Sports Gone Wild.

All summer, urine samples of myriad MMA stars are turning up dirtier than Lindsay Lohan’s. Granted, the young diva’s drugs of choice are decidedly not performance enhancing—see Herbie Fully Loaded. So while she’s breaking the law and damaging her health, at least she’s not “cheating.”

When a fighter enters the ring or cage on steroids, human growth hormone, what have you, some say it goes beyond cheating and being illegal. Eddie Goldman, a longtime MMA journalist who hosts a weekly podcast called “No Holds Barred,” believes it’s tantamount to “fixing a fight”: the athlete is engineering a performance as fake as anything in Vince McMahon’s WWE; his artificial advantages in strength, speed, and size, his ability to train harder than his opponent due to an enhanced ability to recover from rigorous workouts, can produce predetermined outcomes.

Ethical issues aside, if both fighters are on steroids, it doesn’t make for a level playing field because the public is still being cheated. One imagines they paid their hard-earned money to see fellow human beings do battle—not futuristic Transformers out of a Michael Bay movie.

MMA legend Royce Gracie tested positive for the steroid Nandrolone after his June 2 bout against Kazushi Sakuraba. Phil Baroni tested positive for two types of steroids, Boldenone and Stanozolol Metabolites, after his June 22 tussle with Frank Shamrock. The most recent, devastating wound to MMA and the UFC organization in particular occurred when both their lightweight champion, Sean Sherk, and his July 7th opponent from UFC 73, Hermers Franca, tested positive. Nandro showed up in Sherk’s urine, and Franca had Drostanolene in his system. (The above names are just a small sampling of fighters who have gotten caught over the last few years.)

Both Sherk and Franka, who fought at the ARCO Arena in Sacramento, CA, have filed appeals with the California State Athletic Commission. Franca has admitted to taking steroids prior to the bout, but said it was in order to recover from an injury. Sherk, however, claims that he is clean and that the test had to be a false positive.

False positives do occur and this proud champion deserves to have his day in court, where he can clear his name if he is telling the truth. The penalties handed out by the CSAC to both fighters are a $2,500 fine and a one-year suspension, respectively.

Is it really a shocker that MMA has a steroid problem?  Not unless you stopped watching sports shortly after Jesse Owens competed in the 1936 Olympics. The real issue is how the powers that be in MMA intend to address this pervasive epidemic that’s tainted nearly every professional sport.

No one questions that UFC President Dana White has done a remarkable job marketing and branding the organization since he and Zuffa LLC. (UFC’s parent company) bought the company in 2001. But his response to this current crisis suggests that he is perhaps naïve about the consequences and potential P.R. fallout that could result from the drug scandals.

Josh Gross, a writer for, a popular MMA site, wrote an open letter to Mr. White on July 20 (
). Gross accused White of “passing the buck” and demonstrating poor leadership in addressing the matter of steroids in MMA. Among other things, the writer pointed out that that the UFC has—and continues to—put on shows in Texas and parts of the UK where there is no testing for performance enhancers. In Belfast, where UFC 72 took place and where drug testing apparently took place, the results of said tests were oddly never made public.

White responded to Gross with a vitriolic note of his own—subject heading: “My Response To Idiot Gross”—which has spread like wildfire though MMA forums (
). While he made some valid points, such as the fact their testing is conducting by the government, which is more than can be said of the NFL, NBA or MLB, one senses that White needs to refrain from slinging mud at journalists—and not rest on his laurels but ask what more can be done. This behavior is beneath that of a person running a purported multi-billion dollar company. The reputation and future of a sport may hinge on how he chooses to handle this very serious problem.

Since MMA is such a modern sport geared towards a young fan-base, it should look to set a new standard and example for all the rest to follow.  There’s still time to do the right thing. 




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