Yesterday marked yet another example of a high-level fighter testing positive for performance enhancing drugs in the form of Muhammed Lawal, a Strikeforce light heavyweight on the verge of reclaiming his divisional title after taking out previously unbeaten prospect Lorenz Larkin earlier this month. While Zuffa has come out to say both Strikeforce and the UFC will screen fighters prior to signing them from now on that is little more than lip service as far as I’m concerned. It looks good on paper and sounds good in media appearances but ultimately does little to curb actual steroid use since competitors are fully aware of the circumstances.
After all, the last three notable offenders where drugs are concerned – Lawal, Cristiane Santos, and Chris Leben – were all under contract for multiple years prior to their transgressions. You’re talking headliners and champions (or former), not newcomers, and fighters preparing to transition from outside the organizations’ ranks onto their rosters now know to make sure they’re clean prior to signing a deal while having a little more leeway after inking a deal.
Rather, I’d like to see Zuffa implement the following three things in order to truly address the issue before steroids mar MMA to the point of no return:
A Comprehensive List of Safe/Banned Supplements
Follow the lead of numerous other athletic organizations by compiling a list of supplements/substances that are safe to use as well as one of those fighters should avoid. With enough research in place there’s no reason a Mixed Martial Artist should ever need to risk his/her future in the sport by taking something they aren’t fully familiar with. Likewise, there’s no reason Zuffa can’t research the subject to the point a detailed rundown can be provided. As such, with that information in place, all-too familiar pleas of innocence by ignorance will no longer fly. Also, if a fighter is advised to take something not listed as being prohibited/permissible, all he/she would need to do is inform the UFC/Strikeforce and allow Zuffa to do a background check first before giving an official thumbs up or thumbs down.
It’s nice that athletic commissions occasionally do “out of competition” testing but it’s time for Zuffa to do their own as well. Other major sports do so why not MMA? It’s not like there’s a union in place to argue against the violation of rights. Frankly, if thousands upon thousands of small businesses do random drug tests there’s no reason a billion-dollar corporation like Zuffa can’t. While I could be wrong, Google tells me Station Casinos (which the Fertitta brothers own) does it. Why not the UFC too?
There’s no question a year-long suspension and fine do damage to a fighter’s bank account as well as to his/her reputation where sponsorship is concerned. However, it’s equally clear those things aren’t enough to keep certain Mixed Martial Artists from taking the risk. Why not implement an internal policy stating those who test positive for PED use on more than one occasion will be cut from the roster, no questions asked, or have to pay a massive fine? Would it have truly hurt the UFC’s bottom-line to release Leben rather than enabling him by providing a cushy job for him to return to once he serves his sentence? On the flipside, isn’t it plausible that fighters might think twice if they know for a fact their jobs are in jeopardy or that they may have to pay an amount on par with the 2-3 fights they’ll cost the UFC by missing a year of competition?
It’s time for Zuffa to bring an iron fist down on steroid use. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Now, before it’s too late.
What do you think about the subject on today’s “Opening Round”? Tell us on our Twitter account (@mmatraining)!