Steroids in MMA
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CagePotato Ban: Saying You Don’t Care If Your Opponents Are Using PEDs

(Bagautinov’s doping wasn’t enough to earn him a victory — but that’s no reason to let him off the hook. / Photo via MMAJunkie)

Now that random drug testing is nailing MMA fighters on a regular basis, the truth is inescapable: PEDs have become the sport’s most urgent and embarrassing problem. But not every fighter is an anti-drug crusader like Tim Kennedy and Georges St. Pierre. Before his star-making beatdown of Diego Brandao at UFC Fight Night 46 on Saturday, Conor McGregor told MMAJunkie how he really feels about performance-enhancing drugs:

“I don’t really care about that stupid s–t,” McGregor said. “I’m just doing my thing. I’m just performing and getting better. I don’t care what anyone else does….Take whatever you want, I’m still going to whoop your ass.”

His words were nearly identical to what former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson said about steroids last year, and also echoed those of UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, who expressed similar sentiments on The MMA Hour recently, after it came out that his last opponent Ali Bagutinov was using EPO going into the fight:

“I don’t care if my opponents are cheating or not,” Johnson said. “I train my butt off to fight the man who is put in front of me whether he’s on steroids or not. I want to play on a level playing field, but if they knew about it beforehand and didn’t stop it, at the same time, I took care of business. No big deal.”

Except it is a big deal, and saying otherwise makes MMA look like a joke.

Look, I get it. Claiming that you don’t care if your opponents are doping scores you badass points, and it can endear you to the segment of the MMA fanbase that really doesn’t care about the ongoing scourge of PEDs. (“I like Conor because he doesn’t bitch about drug-testing like these other pussies. Let ‘em take what they want!” — Darryl T. Justbleedguy)

But that “Do what thou wilt” stance towards cheating — especially when it’s expressed by champions and top contenders — is exactly the kind of thing that will keep mixed martial arts ghettoized as a small-time sideshow. At a time when MMA’s drug problem is reaching the ears of mainstream sports fans, we don’t need the UFC’s most public faces to play devil’s advocate and argue that doping is acceptable behavior.

To paraphrase the 24th Thesis: Do you half-wits realize that athletes of other sports do not behave this way? Is Yasiel Puig doing interviews claiming that A-Rod should be able to take as many steroids as he wants? Have you ever heard Peyton Manning say, “yeah, the Chargers can grab our face masks all game, we’re still gonna whoop ‘em on Sunday.” Of course not, because why in God’s name would a professional athlete support cheating? Why wouldn’t you care that your opponents are competing with an unfair advantage, if you’re trying to win?

By the estimates of every MMA fighter who has dared to speak out about it, at least half of MMA fighters use performance enhancing drugs. Some fighters, like Matt Serra and Krzysztof Soszynski, have stated that only a small percentage of professional fighters don’t do some form of illegal doping. (“I don’t give a [expletive] if it’s happening in baseball,” Serra said. “But when a guy can kick your head off, someone can get hurt. There’s a chance for serious bodily harm.”) But if you make a stink about it, you’re a troublemaker, and if you pretend that PEDs aren’t really a big deal, you’re a superhero. I mean, after all, it’s a fist fight, y’know? Chemicals don’t give you technique or heart, and those steroids aren’t gonna help you when I touch your chin. Ugh.

Random question: If Demetrious Johnson lost to Ali Bagautinov, would he feel the same way about PEDs — that doping is “no big deal”? And if he tried to defend Bagautinov’s EPO-usage after that loss, how ridiculous would he sound?

MMA fighters are a different breed — for better or worse — and the tough-guy culture of the sport leads generally-rational fighters to say some boneheaded shit. While I’m sure that many MMA fans would be fine with the sport returning to its barely regulated Golden Age (PRIDE NEVA DIE…OR TEST FOR STEROIDS!), anybody who wants to see this sport become universally respected as a legitimate enterprise should be publicly against cheating in all of its forms. Especially the athletes themselves, who this issue actually affects directly.

So we hereby drop the CagePotato Ban on MMA fighters saying they don’t care if their opponents are doping. Steroids and other performance enhancing drugs have become a potential sport-killer, and honestly, you’re not helping.

- Ben Goldstein

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