Sticky situation is sticky ... and fishy.
Nate Marquardt and Chael Sonnen will forever be linked by three words -- testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). That and the wildly different paths they've taken since the mixed martial arts world learned they were on it.
And while the two former middleweight title contenders share a couple of common bonds, they're polar opposites in a myriad of ways.
Sonnen is the brash, cocky trash talking politician that doesn't know how to bite his tongue, even if it gets him into situations he seemingly can't talk himself out of but somehow always finds a way to anyway.
Marquardt, meanwhile, is a soft-spoken man, who is, by most accounts, almost excessively polite. His ripped physique betrays the softer side his demeanor conveys. When listening to him speak, it's difficult to imagine his profession involves violence.
Both men used TRT and we've now got both stories to draw our conclusions from.
Sonnen used without disclosing it in the lead-up to his fight against Anderson Silva and subsequently failed his drug test, which prompted a full scale blowout. He was suspended, appealed said suspension, lied when he went in front of the commission and to this day has a laundry list of issues that have arisen from his wrongdoings that have kept him out of the cage.
Marquardt, on the other hand, unbeknownst to nearly everyone except those who matter, began his treatment in Aug. 2010 and fully disclosed said treatment throughout four different fight bookings. He, apparently, took all the necessary steps to ensure legitimacy and avoid any issues with his condition. While there are certainly concerns with his story and some points that need clearing up, he was very open and responsive to questioning.
Now which one of these two men would you assume, if you did not already know, still has a job with UFC?
Unless you're being an ornery smart ass, you would quite obviously say the former. But you would be wrong. Isn't there a problem with that? Or should there be?
When looking at each situation for exactly what it is, the various conclusions drawn in greater mixed martial arts circles are hard to argue against.
Sonnen very quickly went from "that wrestler guy who can't defend a triangle" to "that awesome top contender who spits hot fire" when he discovered the art of fight promotion.
Whether he learned it from former pro wrestling genius Roddy Piper or not is irrelevant. He was money when there was a microphone in front of him and his brand of take no prisoners trash talk was refreshing.
It also served a very important purpose, at least as far as UFC was concerned. It was the ultimate marketing tool. It almost didn't matter what type of garbage was spewing from Sonnen's mouth; as long as people were listening to it and ready to shell out some coin to watch him fight, it was all justifiable.
And that's what happened.
He relentlessly ran his mouth about Anderson Silva, the middleweight champion, until he was given a fight against him. And then he ran his mouth some more. No one gave him much of a chance to win the bout, but that's what made his schtick so successful; everyone knew he would lose and they bought the pay-per-view anyway.
His performance that night, at UFC 117 on Aug. 7, 2010, in Oakland, California, was nothing short of spectacular. He dominated four and a half rounds until he was snared in a triangle and forced to tap.
He talked a lot of shit, vilified himself and completely killed all of his credibility but he sold a helluva lot of pay-per-views and made his employers boatloads of cash flow.
Then he got popped and made it even worse by lying about the circumstances surrounding his usage of testosterone. When he finally gave his tell-all interview, the majority of fans watching felt it was contrived and done in the name of saving face.
The entire time this was happening, UFC President Dana White was supportive. Sure, he put him on suspension, but that was also seen as a publicity stunt more than a legitimate punishment.
Marquardt was not afforded the same leeway ... at all.
Of course, the circumstances are a lot different. Even though Nate took all the proper measures to ensure everything was on the level, at least according to himself and by all accounts of those in the know, when his matters became clear to White, he was immediately fired.
And he found out through Twitter, no less.
So why is it that Sonnen, a near universally hated and completely fabricated personality, was allowed to keep his job while Marquardt, a widely accepted "sweetheart" and decent human being, was not?
This is where the line blurs from sport to entertainment. Well, that and money.
When Sonnen was busted, he had already delivered hundreds of thousands of pay-per-view buys and one of the greatest fights in the history of the organization.
Marquardt's problems prevented him from competing in the main event of a card that had already been more of a headache than it was likely worth.
Not only did he not make the company any money, he actually cost them money thanks to his removal from the show. His heavily publicized suspension and firing stole all the attention away from the event.
In fact, Spike TV, which was counter programming UFC on Versus 4 with UFC Fight Night 22, a card headlined by Marquardt, ended up winning the ratings battle.
Hi, Dana, here's some salt for that wound of yours.
Here's the thing, though: once cooler heads prevail, how exactly will this turn out to be anything but a problem for Dana White and company? How does he justify keeping Sonnen on board and releasing Marquardt?
To my eyes, there is no justification and I'm not the only one who feels this way.
"All this testosterone replacement therapy stuff is total BS ... A true martial artist would never consider cheating! ... Fighters on roids=blue collar crime. Coaches of fighters on roids=white collar crime ... Everyone has to come together and get this "ped" cancer out of our sport!"
That's a pretty blatant call out of both Marquardt and Trevor Wittman, who also presides over Shane Carwin, whose name has been linked to steroids as recently as last year.
The interesting thing to note here is the reaction Penn got from his own followers was largely negative. He was called a hack and told to do his research, to which he responded that he's got "15 years of research under my belt."
Most fans, quite clearly, couldn't care less.
At this point, that's the sentiment they seem to share about steroids, or TRT, in the sport. Entertainment takes precedence over petty things like illegal usage of substances, no matter the potential consequences.
That's why Chael Sonnen, despite his continuing battle with multiple commissions, is still gainfully employed with UFC and Nate Marquardt is not. Because if Sonnen was booked to fight Anderson Silva in a rematch tomorrow, the pay-per-view would sell around the same as last time, if not more.
That means more than 600,000 buys.
And Marquardt in the same situation? He would be lucky to pull in anything close to 300,000. And that's probably being generous.
That's where the contradiction in direction comes in. Sometimes the decision makers do what's best for business instead of what's accepted as being right and true.
But if one man can get away with it simply because he's a polarizing figure that sells tickets, what does that say to everybody else?
The road ahead is rocky, to say the least.