(Can we go back to those innocent, joyful days when you didn’t give a damn about your favorite fighter’s T/E ratio? / Photo via MMAWeekly)
By Jon Mariani
Drugs are bad, m’kay? At least that’s the conventional wisdom regarding the use of performance enhancing drugs in mixed martial arts. For the past 12 years, state athletic commissions as well as the UFC have tried to combat steroid use (and hormone therapy abuse) through pre- and post-fight testing, and punitive measures like suspensions and fines.
Some would argue that commissions and promoters should go even further with their anti-PED efforts, enacting more stringent testing for athletes. We say, what’s the point? Why burn so much money and man-hours trying to eradicate a problem that can never be eradicated? Ultimately, it might be better for the sport if all MMA fighters were allowed to use PEDs. Seriously. Here’s why that might not be the worst idea in the world…
It Would Level the Playing Field
When asked what percentage of fighters in MMA currently use PEDs, the most conservative response is usually around 50% of fighters; on the other side of the spectrum, estimates from fighters themselves go as as high as 90%. If those numbers are to be trusted, that would mean the majority of fighters currently use PEDs. It makes sense that so many fighters are using considering how poor the current testing is.
The fighters who don’t use PEDs face a clear disadvantage when they step into the cage against opponents who do. There’s also the murky waters of testosterone replacement therapy hall passes, which are being given away like candy. Legalizing PEDs would mean that all fighters could use, which would mean fighters who would like to use but currently don’t because it’s illegal would get on the gear. For the first time since athletic commissions began drug-testing MMA fighters, competition would be truly fair.
Prohibition Does Not Work
First we can look at the alcohol prohibition enacted in the 1920s and discern what an utter failure it was. Then we can look the current ‘War on drugs’ and see how well that is going. Drug prohibition has never worked and may never work, so wouldn’t a better option be to turn to regulation?
Alex Rodriguez was recently busted in the Biogenesis scandal. But was it because he failed a drug test? No. Despite enhancing their testing methods, the MLB was unable to catch A-Rod cheating. The situation came to light only because Dr. Pedro Bosch, the medical director of Biogenesis of America, agreed to work with MLB investigators.
The occasional high-profile steroid busts in MMA only scratch the surface of what’s happening in terms of PED usage among fighters, and athletic commissions simply don’t have the firepower to do anything about it. Let’s stop pretending that it’s a problem we can fix, and start facing reality.
Fans Simply Do Not Care
The revitalization of Vitor Belfort‘s career was one of the best stories of 2013. With three consecutive head-kick knockouts of increasingly decorated opponents, The Phenom truly lived up to his nickname. Whether or not he receives a therapeutic use exemption for his fight with Chris Weidman in July, the event will likely sell out and produce a significant amount of pay-per-view buys. The reason the numbers will not be affected by Belfort’s testosterone use, is because most casual fans don’t care if fighters are on PEDs. In fact, in this day and age most people expect fighters to be on something.
If you frequent any MMA forum, you will likely find members who either defend PED usage, or are simply indifferent to the issue. Most people want their favorite fighters to fight often and produce spectacular violence. If using PEDs allows athletes to train longer, recover faster, and increase their power, isn’t that exactly what we want? Don’t we want our favorite fighters to have long careers, so they can compete at an advanced age with all their skills and experience intact? If a relatively few amount of observers have an issue with PED use and fans are able to reap the benefits of athletes using them, where exactly is the problem?