Opinion: Performance Enhancing Drugs and MMA
By Jesse Heitz
UFC 153 marked the final time fan favorite Stephan “The American Psycho” Bonnar stepped into the famed Octagon. He made his last stand against a man that few have ever found success against. He went out the way that the very nature of his career dictated, on his shield. While his crushing loss was undoubtedly hard to bear, his fearless performance was certainly enough to allow him to make his MMA exit with his head held high.
Then the drug testing results for UFC 153 came back. The hard-nosed brawler that fans have admired since the very first season of The Ultimate Fighter failed the second drug test of his UFC tenure, testing positive for an anabolic steroid. What could have been an honorable and gracious withdrawal from the world of professional fighting has effectively muddied such an occasion.
Yet, the positive test for Bonnar is merely a symptom of a disease that is currently running rampant in Mixed Martial Arts, and in virtually all competitive sports for that matter. While several of the mainstream sports have seemingly been able to cut down on their respective athletes’ use of PEDs through rigorous drug testing procedures, MMA as a whole has been woefully unable to curb the tide of steroid use.
We’ve seen a who’s who of prominent fighters test positive for steroids and HGH, including many former world champions. The likes of: Sean Sherk, Josh Barnett, Tim Sylvia, Vitor Belfort, all of which are former UFC champions. The list for title challengers and contenders is significantly longer. Perhaps what’s even more appalling is that several of the UFC originals, the men who built this sport, have indulged in the forbidden science, men such as: Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, and Kimo Leopoldo. How can a sport that is still viewed by many as “human cockfighting” and one step up from barroom brawling, obtain the legitimacy it deserves if it can’t squash the insidious use of PEDs.
Athletes feeling that they need an edge in order to win, this is nothing new. However, in combat sports the consequences of a fighter gaining an unnatural edge through pharmaceuticals can be particularly dangerous. As former UFC Lightweight Champion BJ Penn, an ardent enemy of PEDs, recently stated, “Steroids are in all sports, but we’re not hitting a ball over a fence… [The use of steroids in MMA] is like bringing a bat to a fight.”
Penn is absolutely correct. PEDs are not the equivalent of corked bats and Stickum; it’s an entirely different animal. In MMA, human beings absorb the punishment from opponents that, they’re on the receiving end of that increased strength, not a baseball. This naturally leads to one question, why, when the risks associated with PED use in MMA can be so great, don’t the larger MMA promotions make comprehensive pre-fight drug testing mandatory?