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MMA Analysis: Will UFC Handle Alistair Overeem's Failed Drug Test the Right Way?

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Alistair Overeem shocked very few people when his testosterone level came back at a rate over double the limit allowed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. The fighter, who attributed his massive spike in size to a horse meat diet, was often given the “wink, wink” or read between the lines comments when it came to steroid use by other fighters and members of the MMA media.

What is shocking is that despite the result of the test, which logically speaking can have no other explanation than use of performance enhancing drugs (PED’s), may not even have to forfeit his upcoming opportunity to fight for the UFC heavyweight championship against Junior dos Santos. HDNet’s Bas Rutten has indicated that he’s heard the fight will remain on, Overeem in his few public statements has indicated the same, and Overeem’s manager Glenn Robinson has stated that his client will have “a reasonable explanation” for the test result when he goes before the NSAC on April 24th.

Rumours are indicating that Overeem may apply for a TUE (therapeutic use exemption) the same smokescreen for cheating that has been attempted to be employed by Chael Sonnen in the past. But if there is a legitimate therapeutic use necessary for Alistair, he has kept it so secret that not even his brother, fellow MMA fighter Valentijn Overeem knows. Valentijn told MMAJunkie “Because I know him so well that I think I should be aware of something like that. If that was the case, I think I would know. I would be surprised.”

If Overeem somehow skirts punishment from the NSAC (due to a technicality as some have speculated), it will be left to Zuffa, namely Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White to meter out punishment for the sake of credibility of the sport. Unfortunately, White’s recent comments on the PED issue paint a picture of a man who is more intent on insisting everything is just hunky-dory and that his company couldn’t possibly be doing any more to combat the problem, which has seen fighters peg the percentage of them using PED’s at 50% or more.

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White addressed the topic at the post-fight press conference for this past weekend’s “UFC on Fuel TV 2″ event in Sweden, launching into a tirade that was riddled with profanity even by his standards. The rant produced this gem:

“We don’t do random testing. First of all, all the guys who come into the UFC, now we changed the policy. You sign a deal with us, you get tested. You go into ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ you get tested. We test. We don’t even have to [expletive] test. That’s not what we do. That’s what the athletic commission does. Then the athletic commission now is doing random tests before, leading up to the fight, after the fight. They’re being tested like crazy. The [expletive] testing in this sport is insane. It is literally the gold standard in all of sports.”

White seems to want to download at least part of the responsibility on the athletic commissions. While he does have a point, he also neglects that many of these athletic commissions are on the brink of financial insolvency and that his own company is expediting that process by lobbying to pay them lower fees. The way the UFC is set up is also not like boxing, where an individual promoter deals with the athletic commissions and sanctioning bodies. The UFC has set itself up in such a way that in many cases it is both the promoter and the default sanctioning body, not having to deal with outside sanctioning bodies such as boxing’s “alphabet soup” of the WBA, WBC, IBF et al.

The testing upon signing a UFC contract and to gain entry as a contestant for ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ has been blasted by former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency Dick Pound as “illusory”. Pound is an advocate of 365 day a year random testing, to ensure that no athlete can prepare.

“The minute you know when you’ll be tested, it’s very easy to make sure you don’t test positive. They’re just trying to do enough to keep the Congress off their backs.”

White’s remarks at the Sweden press conference also produced this gem:

“For people to say, ‘UFC should randomly test,’ do you have any [expletive] idea how much [expletive] I do in a week? You know what I mean? And how many guys we’re trying to keep a rein of and this and that and the other thing? You’re grown men. You’re [expletive] adults. You’re professional athletes. How many [expletive] times do you have to be told not to do this? To the point where you just completely blow your entire [expletive] career?”

Outside the obvious laugh-ability of White and his UFC team being just too darn busy for random testing, more troubling is his assertion that his fighters will “blow their entire career” by testing positive. He said this completely without irony, having just witnessed Thiago Silva compete in the main event of a major televised fight card in his first fight back after his suspension for using synthetic urine to cheat on his PED test. If the punishment is to be welcomed back into a main event, why would fighters not attempt to cheat the system?

White didn’t even stop there:

The general public and the media need to grasp some [expletive] concept of reality. The reality of us doing all the [expletive] things that we’re doing when we already have the gold standard in drug testing, and then [expletive] try to chase 375 guys all over the world to randomly test them, too? It’s impossible.

Bellator welterweight champion and former US Olympian Ben Askren took issue with White’s comments and replied with the following on his twitter account: “The USOC random tests Olympic athletes in all sports. Dana saying testing his fighters would be impossible is a bold faced lie.” Askren then went into further detail in an interview with FCFighter:

Dana could have said a lot of things, but what he said was a lie. He could have said it’s going to be a very expensive system, we just don’t have the excess capital for it right now which would have been totally true and reasonable. The UFC isn’t obliged by any means to do that testing. If they did it, would it be awesome? Yes. Is it impossible? No. Say the UFC has 400 fighters, say they test five percent of their fighters every quarter…testing 20 people every three months is probably not that expensive. Now fighters would have to look at it and say I have a five percent chance of getting tested for performance enhancing drugs. It’s not a very good chance that you’re going to get tested, but when you don’t know when the drug tester is going to come knocking on their door and make you pee in a cup, are you going to take that chance? That’s a risky proposition.

Instead of debating the merits of Askren’s contentions, White chose to instead take a smarmier route, calling Askren “the most boring fighter in MMA history” and insinuating he would rather watch flies fornicate. That doesn’t seem like the demeanor of a person who has a winning argument anywhere within reach.

If the UFC wants to be recognized and accepted as a mainstream major league sport, it will have to adopt random testing the way the other major league sports have, albeit not without their fair share of heel-dragging on the matter. The Toronto Star ran an article back in January where star Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista revealed that he had been tested sixteen times over the course of two seasons. MLB will also include blood testing in the 2012 season, and require that players submit to no fewer than two random tests over the course of the season, with the additional possibility of more.

There is a spectre of hope on the horizon for MMA testing. Former NSAC ringside physician Dr. Margaret Goodman has pioneered the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, or VADA, which incorporates participating in a stringent urine and blood drug-testing program in the eight weeks leading up to the fight. VADA also advocates the use of carbon isotope ratio testing, which detects synthetic testosterone that was produced outside the body. Boxers Andre Berto and Victor Ortiz were the first fighters to elect to participate in Goodman’s program, which is estimated to cost between five and ten thousand dollars per fighter.

MMAJunkie medical columnist Dr. Johnny Benjamin has also announced on Mauro Ranallo’s “The MMA Show” that Dana White has invited him to a meeting at UFC 145 in Atlanta, ostensibly to discuss the issue of PED’s and promote the VADA template. That may indicate that for all of White’s bluster, he recognizes that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with in a serious fashion if the sport is to continue to grow.

One thing is certain, if UFC willfully turns a blind eye to Overeem’s test result and allows him to compete in a heavyweight title fight anyway, they will be opening themselves to scorn from every media outlet and every fighter that competes naturally. The UFC will be forever painted with the brush of an organization that will allow athletes to skirt the rules in order to make an extra dollar on pay-per-view buys. Stay tuned.

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Follow @carlinbardsley on Twitter and keep up with the latest news by following @MMASucka on Twitter and on Facebook

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