Yesterday it came to light Chris Leben had failed a drug test for the second time as a member of the UFC roster and will face a year on the sidelines as punishment. Combined with his first suspension he will have thrown twenty-one months of his professional life away in what should be the prime of his career. He’s also been arrested on multiple occasions for driving while intoxicated.
This article isn’t aimed at channeling PRIDE rules to kick “The Crippler” while he’s down nor is it meant to attack his character. I like Leben a lot as a fighter and person, and I hope he gets his life back together during his downtime. Rather, my desire here is to see Leben’s situation serve as a catalyst that convinces the UFC to take their health care a step further and regularly screen for drug use beyond what various athletic commissions do.
If the UFC wants the mainstream recognition of MLB/NFL it’s time to recognize the importance of having clean athletes at all times, not just in the weeks directly before a fight takes place. They have the means to randomly test and a vested interest in portraying fighters as world class competitors; as true professionals. The antiquated notion of allow commissions to handle something so important needs to be severely reexamined when considering the same boards struggle to consistently put together competent judging panels. And, beyond that, athletic commissions’ hands are tied to an extent as is because they only have temporary influence on the well-being of UFC talent.
On the other hand, the UFC has access to their fighters at all times and is privy to certain rights based on the contractual nature of employment in the promotion. They also hold standing as the world’s premier MMA outlet meaning fighters understand the value of competing inside the Octagon. Those factors alone should make random drug testing doable in the immediate future.
Beyond the athletic transparency regular drug testing like that would create, it might also actually do some good and get help for guys who clearly have issues with addiction, like Leben, rather than make it easier for them to hide their drug use as the current system does. The MMA lifestyle is faster than a GSP-jab with after-parties to attend and fame/fortune for those lucky enough to call the UFC a regular home. Leben is not the first fighter to have problems with drugs/alcohol nor will he be the last. It’s time for the UFC to acknowledge that rather than bury their heads in the sand, then see what they can do about the issue. In addition to increasing testing, why not provide private counseling for fighters who might want help but be afraid to ask for it? How about bringing in guest speakers at the next symposium whose lives have been severely affected by drug/alcohol abuse to potentially provide a “scared straight” experience or at least remind guys to keep things in check?
The time to address the issue is now, especially with the FOX deal in place. Imagine a situation where a guy like Leben who has numerous strikes against him were to somehow be involved in a DWI-related accident injuring/killing someone or overdosed. I hate to think of either ever happening but then again are the scenarios listed so far-fetched given yesterday’s news and life’s unpredictability? MMA’s reputation cannot take a blow either situation would deliver and worst yet are the lives at stake including those of the fighters.
Let Leben be a poster-boy for how serious the UFC takes drug use, a point I thought Dana White eloquently addressed in his genuine desire to get the Ultimate Fighter O.G. whatever help he required. It’s time to be proactive and take the lead on testing/treatment rather than wait for something tragic to happen. It’s time to erase lingering notions that fighters use steroids or abuse recreational drugs and weed out any remaining competitors who fit that mold. Doing so may be a stiff challenge but with the stakes at hand it’s a test the *UFC* needs to pass.
What do you think about the subject on today’s “Opening Round”? Tell us on our Twitter account (@mmatraining)!