After testing positive for steroids in their match at UFC 73, both UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk and his opponent Hermes Franca have been fined and suspended by the California State Athletic Commission. Since then, several prominent MMA writers decried that the sport is suffering from a steroid epidemic and adamantly suggested that UFC President Dana White take the following actions:
- Steve Sievert from the Houston Chronicle said Sherk should have his title stripped and fighters should be fined more money.
- Kevin Iole from Yahoo! Sports said there should be more testing.
- Josh Gross from Sherdog.com suggests that Dana White needs "to do something" along the lines of holding fighters more accountable for their actions and clean up mixed martial arts.
While each of the above writers undoubtedly cares a great deal about the well-being of the sport of MMA, all of the above suggestions are bit puzzling.
In regards to Mr. Sievert's suggestions, former heavyweight champions Josh Barnett and Tim Sylvia had their titles stripped after they tested positive for steroids (the latter was voluntary while the former wasn't). Yet this historical fact did little to deter Sean Sherk from doping if he did indeed do it (his appeal is pending). Increasing fines by incremental percentages doesn't really add that much more sting either. The penalty of not allowing a fighter to perform and earn is really where the damage to the wallet is done. I don't know about you, but if someone told me I wasn't allowed to earn any money for year, that would suck big time.
Mr. Iole's suggestion of more testing makes sense to a limited degree, but it's a lot like MP3 file sharing. Just because you make it harder doesn't mean that people will stop and just like file sharing, it's a constant technological race to stay one step ahead of system. There probably should be more testing regardless, but it won't clean up the sport and it needs to be done not by the UFC, but by an independent third-party.
As for Mr. Gross' suggestions, not only do I find them baffling, but I also am a bit disturbed by what he is proposing. What Mr. Gross is implying is that fighters are incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong, are incapable of following the law as dictated by our government and the UFC needs to act as their moral compass. Last time I checked, wasn't teaching someone right from wrong the responsibility of one's parents? Isn't punishment for breaking the law the job of police and our judicial system? What can Dana White do that is scarier than prison?
What also confuses me about Mr. Gross' comments is that don't we celebrate MMA fighters as being contrary to the thug stereotype. These are well-educated, well-spoken sportsmen who thrive in competition and can physically do things that most of us only dream of, but Mr. Gross is saying they need to be babysat by Dana White?
As for the testing system currently in place now, I know this will sound strange, but having fighters like Sherk and Franca getting busted is actually a good thing. If fighters at the highest levels are getting caught and punished, it lets us know that the system works and even champions like Tim Sylvia and Josh Barnett and legends like Royce Gracie aren't exempt. That is the strongest message you can send to the fighters that you are serious about trying to keep the sport as clean as possible.
The cold-hard reality is that there are no easy answers and it's a no-win situation for fighters. Just looking at Hermes Franca situation tells you the sort of enormously difficult life decisions he must make that not only affect his health, but also the financial well-being of his family. If he backs out of the fight, sure he can fight again another day with his reputation intact, but meanwhile he is still not making money and he can lose his valuable place in the pecking order. Just look at how long it took Georges St-Pierre and Karo Parisyan to get back into title contention. Unfortunately, it's a highly competitive and unforgiving business. It's unfair to the UFC to make guarantees because the show must go on, storylines continue to develop with or without the injured fighter and other fighters' livelihoods should not be put on hold to wait for another to heal.
I can understand that many writers and fans of the sport are upset and unnerved by the amount of failed steroid tests over the last year. But for anyone to suggest that there are easy solutions to this problem is disrespectful to the promoters, who embrace third-party testing by commissions to discourage doping, and to fighters who may need to make impossibly difficult decisions regarding the physical and financial health of their family that we should all pray that we never have to face.