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MMA's Recent Epidemic of Bad Drug Tests: And What Zuffa is Not Doing About It

In light of the UFC's two most recent failed drug tests at UFC 149 (I know, Matt Riddle got popped for weed, not supposed to be a big deal but bear with me here) I began thinking back to some more recent piss tests gone bad and recently revealed piss tests gone bad: Allistair Overeem, Cris "Cyborg" Santos, Thiago Silva, Jake Sheilds, Nick Diaz, Nate Marquardt, Chris Leben, Chael Sonnen, Forrest Griffin, Tyson Griffin, I could probably go on for a while. I understand that as MMA evolves, athletes and their camps are going to invest more time, money, thought, and effort into improving their performances; and there are others that will invest the same things into beating the system. While I can empathize that Dana and company cannot sit in 24/7 on a fighter completing an eight to twelve week camp ahead of a fight, I cannot empathize why Dana's stance towards fighters pissing hot is to 1) leave testing in the hands of athletic commissions that have shaky reliability, 2) leave matters of discipline and corrective action in the hands of the athletic commissions, 3) release information of failed drug tests inconsistently 4) return fighters from suspension to pick up where they left off in the hierarchy and title hunt of their respective weight classes.

While some of the fighters I listed above were caught for almost negligible or morally understandable substances (Riddle and Diaz are card carrying medicianal marijuana recipients, Sonnen failing to disclose his TRT treatment leading into his first fight with Anderson Silva), the fact is that these guys know the rules going in. Diaz was suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) in 2007 after famously submitting Takanori Gomi when traces of marijuana metabolites were found in his urine. Five years later he is a repeat offender currently enjoying a year long suspension. The morality behind it, Diaz's medical requirements, and the second violation issue all became hot topics for debate within the MMA community; and then Matt Riddle turns in a cup of piss with weed in it citing the same defense that Diaz did, and seeing that it got him nowhere. I'm not sure what sympathy Riddle was expecting to receive, the press, fans, and UFC brass threw Diaz under the bus and all of his efforts to reduce the one year suspension have failed. Granted, Riddle's suspension expired this week, but tweeting a picture of his medical marijuana card is no excuse for failing his drug test. Both of Diaz's suspensions, in addition to Riddle's were issued by the athletic commissions, the UFC/Zuffa made no efforts to discipline the fighters. It is worth noting that Diaz's 2007 offense came under the Pride/FEG banner and his victory was overturned as a No Contest.

In the same vein as Diaz, Chris Leben pissed hot for pain killers following his losing effort against Mark Munoz in England. Ironically, this marked the second time that Chris Leben was featured in a main event, in England, and failed his drug test. Like Diaz, he was suspended for a year, with the lengthier sentence attributed to the fact that it was his second offense. While Leben has become notorious in a sense for his troubled past, again there was no measure made by the UFC to punish Leben any further.

Another recent headline regarding fighters doping within the UFC was Forrest Griffin's failed drug test ahead of his UFC 101 bout against Anderson Silva in August 2009. Griffin was popped for using Xanax, and we found out about it three years later. In November 2010, Tyson Griffin pissed hot for marijuana after his UFC 123 loss to Nick Lentz. Again, this was not revealed until 2012. While some arguement can be made that it might be fair to protect the privacy of fighters who are being suspended for minor infractions, what about the safety of the fighters they compete against? Is it fair to let Fighter A serve his suspension quietly before returning to the cage while Fighter B is later matched up against an opponent with a history of failed drug tests that he/she know nothing about?

While the fighters I have mentioned above were caught smoking weed, taking relaxers, and popping pain killers, what about the guys who are caught for serious PED's? Cris Cyborg pissed hot for steroids following her sixteen second decimation of Hiroko Yamakana in December 2011. Allistair Overeem was flagged for undisclosed (and most likely unwarranted) TRT usage at a pre-fight drug test preceding what would have been his title fight against Junior Dos Santos. They both received suspensions from the CSAC and NSAC respectively, and what are they up to these days? They are serving their suspensions while gearing up for multi-million dollar, main event, title fights. Overeem will most likely come back and face the winner of Dos Santos vs. Velasquez II for the UFC Heavyweight title, while all the talk surrounding Cyborg ends with what weight she will return to fight Ronda Rousey, the Strikforce Women's Bantamweight champion. What is lost in the mix is Overeem's TRT assisted thrashing of Brock Lesnar, and Cyborg's putting Yamakana out cold. Aside from the latter's fight being overturned to a No Contest, there has been no effort made to correct the injustice suffered by the two losing parties in taking on an opponent with unfair and unnatural physical advantages. Cyborg and Overeem got caught for steroids, and when their vacations are over they are going to come back to big money fights that will compensate them several times over for whatever they were fined by the athletic commissions. If we dig back to UFC 73 in July 2007, Sean Sherk, then the UFC Lightweight Champion, was popped for steroids following his fist successful title defense against Hermes Franca. While he was stripped of his title following an investigation, he returned to the UFC as a number one contender to face BJ Penn. His bout against Franca is still listed in his professional record as a victory. It is worth noting here that Chael Sonnen, who was scheduled for an immediate rematch against Anderson Silva before the results of his drug test surfaced, was punished by the UFC to some degree. Rather than come back to a title shot, he faced two middleweight contenders in Brian Stann and Michael Bisbing before rematching Silva. Whether this was a result of the UFC was forcing him to work his way back up the ranks or Silva being difficult in accepting the rematch is up for debate though. The same can be said for Leben, who was suspended following his bout against Munoz (then ranked the #3 middleweight in the world if I can recall correctly) to face Karlos Vemola (noticeably trailing Munoz in the rankings).

I watched an interview sometime ago where a journalist inquired Matt Serra about the growing number of fighters who are using PED's to compete and likened it to steroid usage in baseball. Serra shot down the analogy by stating what should have been the obvious: in baseball a competitor is hitting a ball, in MMA a competitor is hitting a human. At what point will Zuffa take on a more involved role in testing fighters and punishing offenders? What is to prevent a fighter from becoming the next Josh Barnett? For as much as Dana White and Scott Coker will harp about protecting their fighters and making their safety the top priority, what else needs to happen for them play their part in protecting them from fighters that dope?

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