Between irresponsible TRT use and baseless speculation concerning the recent injury epidemic, the use of performance enhancing drugs in MMA has cast the sport in a rather negative light of late. So it’s a breath of fresh air to have a fighter not only come out against PED use, but to express a willingness to take part in more comprehensive drug tests. And it’s even better when that fighter is the current UFC heavyweight champion. In a recent press conference, Junior Dos Santos stated that he advocated random blood testing for his future fights for both himself and his opponents.
“I am champion and never have used anything, and I am proud to say that. It is unfair to use substances. With or without authorization, it makes a difference. A fighter who can do this kind of treatment is not himself in the octagon and using tricks to improve [his] performance.”
This is significant for three reasons. First, because Junior Dos Santos said it. It’s unlikely that Dana White will read this and retort “I would rather watch flys [sic] fuck,” as he did when Ben Askren accused White of not doing enough to prevent the use of PEDs. If your heavyweight champion wants something, especially when that something will contribute to the legitimacy of your sport, you’d do well to accommodate him.
What is also significant is the type of testing that Dos Santos is advocating; random blood testing. Blood testing in and of itself is a significant improvement, but isn’t an end all solution; it can still be beat. The more important aspect of the proposed testing would be the random factor. Most fighters who use PEDs cycle off around two weeks prior to their fights, not only to avoid testing positive but to be at peak performance. Testosterone may help athletes recover and build strength, but it also causes their muscles to tense, which restricts fluid movement in a fight, and their bodies to retain water. Part of the reason Rampage missed weight so badly against Ryan Bader was because he mistimed his testosterone cycle and was unable to lose the water weight he needed.
As a result, most fighters won’t test positive when the tests are administered before or after a fight. But getting tested in the middle of training camp is a different story. The question is who would do the testing? Ideally, it would be an independent entity like the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA), which ex-BALCO owner Victor Conte has been recommending for some time. But if it’s the UFC, there will inevitably be some skepticism. I’m not saying the UFC would withhold information pertaining to a positive test for one of its fighters that could derail a highly anticipated matchup between two of their most marketable commodities which could make them lots and lots of money. I’m just saying that they have every incentive to do so.
Finally, it’s important that Dos Santos doesn’t distinguish between fighters who use “with or without authorization.” Dana White has recently hinted that the UFC will take a more proactive approach to drug testing, but I can’t help but find it convenient that this newfound initiative comes at a time when acquiring and using performance enhancing drugs is merely a matter of getting a doctor-approved prescription. Would the UFC agree with Dos Santos that there is no distinction between authorized testosterone and non-authorized steroids? Perhaps not. But if Dos Santos has his way, fighters using TRT will at least be forced to manage their testosterone levels during their camps, which is something they’re currently not required to do.
Of course, so far this is all just talk. I don’t doubt Dos Santos’ sincerity – the man is probably fairly pissed considering his original opponent was supposedly injected with testosterone by the man responsible for the world’s worst Brazilian butt lift (yes, that is a thing), and his replacement simply did the same thing but was smart enough to ask permission from the government first. However, it’s too early to say if the UFC or any of its fighters will agree to the stipulations. If they do choose to undergo heightened testing though, this could mark the beginning of a new era in combat sports. It could even elevate the sport’s drug standards far beyond those of the major four sports. Though some collateral damage should be expected – there’s no way Nick Diaz is coming out of retirement if he has to deal with more drug tests.
- George Shunick