Today it was announced that Muhammed Lawal, a.k.a. “King Mo”, tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug Drostanolone, stemming from his recent bout at Strikeforce: “Rockhold vs. Jardine”. That, coupled with former Strikeforce female 145-pound champ Cris “Cyborg” Santos’ recent “hot” test, and the press release Zuffa circulated this afternoon re: screening fighters for PEDs before they’re even formally offered a contract, might lead one to believe that there’s a steroid problem in mixed martial arts. Well, duh. Of course there is. The raison d’être of this sport is the physical conflict between two human beings paid to defeat each other in unarmed combat – why wouldn’t competitors want an edge in that endeavor? The truth is, all the random and pre- and post-fight screenings in the world aren’t going to completely cease the flow of Drostanolone, Stanozolol, Boldenone, injectable testosterone and homemade super-soldier serum being used. Steroids are an unavoidable ill.
Zuffa’s release can be read here, but the most telling paragraph is this one:
“The health and safety of our athletes is our top priority,” UFC President Dana White said. “We’ve seen the issues performance-enhancing drugs have caused in other sports and we’re going to do everything we can to keep them out of the UFC and STRIKEFORCE. Our athletes are already held to the highest testing standards in all sports by athletic commissions. Our new testing policy for performance-enhancing drugs only further shows how important it is to us to have our athletes competing on a level playing field.”
Note the “level playing field” part. For sure the health and safety of all is important, including those injecting chemicals into their bodies. But the “level playing field” phrase is a nod to the notion that competition should fair, and the words also serve as an acknowledgment that, given the chance, someone – for whatever reason – might be desperate enough to risk getting popped. Remember Hermes Franca’s admission of guilt after his UFC 73 championship jaunt with Sean Sherk? He spoke of recovering from injuries, and the pressure of being able to fight as scheduled. How many others out there are tempted to acquire an advantage, or even just overcome an injury to make it level?
As per New Jersey State Athletic Control Board chief consigliere Nick Lembo, there were 199 pro MMA bouts in the Garden State last year, as well as 151 amateur bouts and 77 Muay Thai bouts, of which five competitors tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. To add more perspective to those five failed screenings, some facts: UFC 128 was the only Zuffa event the state hosted; a pre-Zuffa Strikeforce had one event; Bellator had four events in Atlantic City; and top regional promotions Ring of Combat and Cage Fury Fighting Championships, which are considered stepping stones to the “big leagues”, had a dozen events between them. How stringent is New Jersey in its testing? Urine from all fighters is collected on fight night, plus there are random blood tests done anywhere from when the bout is signed up to the weigh-in. That’s some pretty intense screening right there, and fighters are (presumably) aware that it’s going to be that rigid when they sign on the dotted line and agree to their fight. Still, playing the PED game is something some will risk, even when competing under the auspices of one of the most “on point and alert” athletic commissions in the nation. That right there is very telling of the resilience of the problem.
What then should be done? Should steroid use be opened to anyone? Hell no! While that would certainly move towards leveling the playing field, it would run contrary to the sporting aspect of MMA, as no legitimate sport out there condones the usage (and before you say it, no, I don’t consider bodybuilding a sport). No, what needs to be done is being done, and that’s the constant monitoring of athletes. Can PED screening be made more uniform in its application? Definitely. But at the end of the day, there will always be those seeking an edge, or those seeking to level the playing field. It’s that whole unavoidable ill thing, and there’s really nothing to be done about it. There will always be champs stripped of their belts and heroes and performances tarnished. As fans, we just have to accept that.