It’s pretty out of character for the UFC’s happy-go-lucky heavyweight champion to start making demands.
I guess when even Junior dos Santos stops smiling, you know you've got a problem.
To date, dos Santos’ public image has been built on his blistering boxing skills and the childlike sense of wonder that seems to have stuck with the 27-year-old Brazilian nicknamed “Cigano” (or “gypsy,” in his native Portuguese) through nine straight wins inside the Octagon.
As a child, when other kids in his neighborhood were turning to gangs and drugs, dos Santos sold ice cream on the street to earn extra money for his family, we were told in the first “UFC Primetime” TV special to spotlight him. When he learned how many millions of people in his home country reportedly watched him knock out Cain Velasquez to win the UFC title last November, dos Santos’ responded like a grade schooler whose winning science project had just landed him in the local paper.
“Whoa,” he exclaimed. “I’m famous!”
If dos Santos didn’t seem like his optimistic, lighthearted self this week while suggesting to ESPN Brazil that MMA needs ongoing and widespread blood testing to stamp out the scourge of performance enhancing drugs, you couldn’t blame him.
Dos Santos has unwittingly been cast into the middle of two of the UFC’s most recent drug scandals. His proposed title defense against Alistair Overeem fell apart in April when a surprise drug test caught Overeem with off-the-charts levels of testosterone. Instead, dos Santos fought and easily defeated Frank Mir at UFC 146, only to later learn that Mir too was taking testosterone, after receiving a therapeutic use exemption for hormone replacement therapy from the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
It bears mention that two fights before that, dos Santos defeated Shane Carwin, who in 2010 saw his name included on a list released by federal prosecutors of athletes who allegedly patronized an online pharmacy indicted for selling mail order steroids.
If you were Junior dos Santos, you might feel like the only clean fighter in the heavyweight division right now.
This week he took action, implying he won't sign to face Overeem in the future unless the former Strikeforce champion agrees to increased screening, including blood tests leading up to the fight.
"I think we both need to do that,” dos Santos said. “I want a clean fight and he needs to prove he is not under any kind of substances ... When you have a fight with two 'clean' fighters, you will know after the fight who is the real champion. A guy who uses doping is a fake fighter."
Good for dos Santos for taking this step. No, better yet, great for him.
Fighters are putting their lives on the line each time they step into the Octagon to square off with the world’s best trained and most successful unarmed combatants. Dos Santos routinely faces the biggest and strongest of those opponents, and he has a right to know beyond a reasonable doubt that the men he’s fighting with his bare (or barely covered) hands aren’t souped-up on chemical enhancements.
For the rest of us, PEDs in MMA may be be a complicated issue fraught with moral and ethical conundrums, but for JDS it’s a cut and dried personal safety issue. If he doesn’t feel the current testing is adequate, then he’s well within his bounds to call for more. He is, after all, the industry’s salable product. Without him, there is no show.
Frankly, more high-profile fighters ought to follow dos Santos’ lead and go on record with similar requests. It’d be great, in fact, to see a significant collection of the sport’s top stars all sign up for testing through the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, and say they weren’t going to fight anybody who didn’t.
Short of comprehensive, company-wide testing from the UFC itself, it might be the best (read: only?) way to truly clean up this sport.