COUGHLIN: On PEDs in MMA (because no one has ever written about it before)

The Half-Guarded Truth

By: Mike Coughlin

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A column in which Mike rambles about PEDs in MMA


I like baseball.  I grew up with the sport and it was (and always will be) one of those lasting bonds that I’ll have with my late-father, and something I’ll hope to pass down to my children (that will have enough problems being the children of a father that over-uses parentheticals).  I’ll bet many of you like baseball too.  I’ll even bet many of you heard the news that not one man was elected to the baseball hall of fame this time around.  This was the case in spite of the fact that the class featured arguably the greatest pitcher and hitter of this generation, if not all time.  The reason was clear and simple: a lot of guys up for election used, or were strongly suspected of using, steroids.  The voters felt this wasn’t copacetic.  You use steroids, you’ve cheated, you don’t get to be enshrined, was the message. (For now.)


MMA does not have a hall of fame.  Dave Meltzer tried to create one, but it didn’t really take.  The UFC has one, but it’s a UFC hall of fame, and it doesn’t include some guys who it obviously should include, so no one looks at it as anything more than a glorified honor bestowed upon a few friends of the promotion.  So, no hall of fame really exists for the sport.  But, I get bored easily, and often live in a fantasy world of my own creation, so I was imagining that there was such a hall for the sport.  It was in Las Vegas and had a big casino built around it.  It was really nice.  It was voted on by a bunch of really smart people, and me.


And no one was kept out because of steroid use.


Now, I don’t know if this is a reflection on MMA or baseball, or both, or neither, but it occurred to me that I can’t really fathom any top level fighter being punished for PED/steroid/TRT/whatever use.  It’s such an accepted part of the sport.  Sure, some guys get crapped on for usage - Chael Sonnen comes to mind - but I think a lot of that is folks just don’t like them for other reasons and use PEDs as a sanctimonious sledgehammer.  Most guys use, get caught, and we don’t bat an eyelash.  Recently, Rousimar Palhares was caught using PEDs (by the UFC no less) and suspended for nine months.  He’s a pretty good fighter, probably a top 10 middleweight in most people’s eyes.  If this was baseball, a player of his caliber being caught using PEDs would be a major story.  In MMA: it gets a passing report and we all move on.  Maybe MMA writers and fans are more sophisticated than our baseball counterparts (obviously).  Maybe we’re just used to it.  I’m not sure.


Look at MMA’s equivalent to Babe Ruth: Royce Gracie.  Easily as historically important to MMA as anyone, Royce has a bunch of wins and titles; all that jazz.  And in the last fight of his career, Gracie tested positive for PEDs.  Like, he tested so positive that it was record settingly positive (or close to it).  Today, when his legacy is discussed, I rarely hear the PED usage brought up.  It certainly isn’t brought up to disqualify his legacy.


If tomorrow it came out that Georges St. Pierre was using the world’s most amazing PED, would it hurt his legacy?  I’m sure it would a little bit, but I doubt it would keep him out of any future MMA hall of fame.  Same goes for Anderson Silva, Ben Henderson, et al.  Alistair Overeem was, is, and probably always will be (‘sup, Bret Hart) a walking poster-child for PED use.  He magically gained like 40 lbs of pure muscle, which coincided with his move up to heavyweight and reemergence as a top level fighter.  Everyone knew he was using.  And the first time he’s randomly tested for PEDs, he fails.  The first freaking time.  Sure, he’d passed a bunch of other tests, but he knew the exact date those would be administered. (And, when he didn’t know, he somehow was able to run away, take a plane out of the country, visit his mother, and send tests from his own personal doctor as “proof he was clean” – and that was good enough!)  If he wins his next fight, he’ll very likely fight for the heavyweight world title.  Some will be up in arms, but for the most part, the PPV will probably draw very well because your average fan won’t know, or if they know, won’t care.  If he wins the belt, and defends it a bunch, life will move on and we’ll all just focus on him as a fighter, not as an incubator for whatever the Dutch equivalent of BALCO can create.


MMA has a unique position of having and eating cake.  Fighters are tested, but in a way that only morons fail, and if they do fail, they usually serve a suspension that is barely longer than the time between their fights would be (imagine if a baseball player’s suspension was two at bats).  Fans get to tell themselves, “The sport is clean” while getting to enjoy a sport that really isn’t.  And the fighters have more very public positive examples of not failing than do other athletes.  And if someone does fail, it probably only helps them, because they get more attention, and attention=interest=money!  Do fans not care?  Or is it that they’re smart enough to know that “everyone” is using so they don’t get outraged when someone is caught?  I know that I certainly don’t hold usage against fighters (unless I don’t like them).  Heck, I’m guilty of even thinking that guys who don’t use are almost not trying hard enough.  I want to say, “You’re not on the gas?  Why not?”  If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying … and all that.  No one is hurt, everyone benefits.


Well, except for the poor guy who really is clean, but at a disadvantage because he’s clean, who never gets to show his full potential because he’s a man fighting supermen.  On the other hand: when he’s 60, his liver will probably be OK, his heart won’t be enlarged, and his quality of life will be better.


He won’t be in the hall of fame though.


Mike Coughlin uses PEDs to write.

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