March, 22, 2013
By Chuck Mindenhall
The UFC wants to pare down its roster, and right now fighters are helping in the quest. Over the past couple of weeks, three more drug tests have come back hot. Alex Caceres for marijuana metabolites. Riki Fukuda for a cocktail of stimulants. Lavar Johnson for elevated testosterone.
It’s always something. Sometimes that something feels like nothing. Sometimes it feels like something.
In these cases, Caceres, a first-time offender, was suspended for six months. Fukuda was cut, not because of the failed drug test, the UFC says, but because he’s on a losing streak. And Johnson was cut due to an unfortunate mixture of both. Before them in recent months were Matt Riddle (marijuana again, cut), Thiago Silva (marijuana, suspended), Stephan Bonnar (steroids again, now retired), Rousimar Palhares (elevated testosterone, suspended), Joey Beltran (steroids, cut), Jake Shields (mystery, suspended) and Thiago Tavares (anabolic steroid, suspended).
Before them were Alistair Overeem, Cristiane Santos, Muhammed Lawal, Rafael Cavalcante and a long ellipses more.
As for Nick Diaz? Let’s just say the colors on the roulette wheel go round and round. He’s a perpetual state of pending.
With all the hype leading up to a fight, drug tests have become the kind of drama that lives on far afterward. And what a word “drugs” has become. If we’re being real, marijuana gets stashed in a fun folder called “recreational,” while steroids and spiked testosterone levels are filed away under “dirty rotten cheats.” One is a form of silly, the other manipulates.
Everybody knows that, right?
Hmm. Problem is that the suspensions (from the commissions) and the general fallout (from the UFC) don’t necessarily discriminate. Illegal is illegal with both parties, though most commissions are consistent (and non-differentiating) with punishment for failed drug tests and the UFC is inconsistent (differentiating but moodily) for them.
The bridge? Maybe UFC vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner, who has begun to point out the folly in sentencing marijuana and PED violators as equals. He spoke up about it at a Nevada State Athletic Commission hearing this week, saying that he “cannot believe a PED and marijuana are treated the same. It does not make sense to the world.”
Ratner is dialed in.
The world has common sense. The world has a loose and general understanding that pot isn’t taken to achieve competitive advantage (and taken seems like such a strange word to use -- who takes pot?), while the other is harmful, dangerous and taken precisely to gain an advantage. Steroid cycles go about outsmarting surveillance systems.
Pot? No way, dude. I’m not a doctor, but pot is an afternoon of video games. It hardly carries the stigma it once did, and it's being legalized in certain states. Not to be facetious, but where testosterone helps 34-year old men perform like 24-year old men, your appetite is the only thing that performs like it’s 19 years old on pot. Is it a painkiller? Maybe. Then again, a six-pack of Molson could be, too. More importantly, is it anything like a painkiller come fight night? Most pot cases are all about those long-lingering metabolites, which have little (or nothing) to do with the event itself.
Susumu Nagao for ESPNAlex Caceres, right, was suspended for testing positive for marijuana metabolites.
Should they be treated the same? These things aren’t equal. It’s time that the NSAC and other commissions recognize the difference. Same goes for the UFC, which has recently vowed to crack down on PEDs. Granted, so long as marijuana is tested for, fighters should know better than to jeopardize their careers by smoking it. It’s still a dumb move. Should it even be tested for? That’s a different can of worms, and it’s easy to argue no. Right now, though, it is.
And since it is, it’d be nice if the punishment fit the crime for violators. It’s not hard math. PEDs show up for the express purpose of making an impact on fight night. Pot, on the other hand, is incidental. They share the taboo of being banned, but they have extremely different motives.
Those motives are the heart of the matter.