The Ultimate Fighting Championship, in hopes that it might shift the culture of competitive mixed martial arts away from a widely adopted philosophy that rationalizes the use of illegal drugs to enhance performance -- i.e. everyone does it, people will always cheat when opportunity or money is on the line -- should immediately and forcefully declare it no longer wants to be in the business of promoting steroid users.
Dana White can use his bully pulpit today and tell the MMA world that fighters caught with steroids in their system won't have a place in the UFC. It certainly won't stop everyone, but it may force enough to pause, think and question if it's really worth the risk. That's doubly true for the young ones who've seen stars in the UFC and through the whole of MMA repeatedly connected to steroids since commissions in the United States began testing in earnest in 2002.
If the world's preeminent MMA promoter doesn't want to begin with Chael Sonnen, the middleweight who outed himself as a PED user to the California State Athletic Commission before testing positive for inflated levels of testosterone, White can wait until the next one. There will be a next one. The money's too big and consequences aren't big enough -- that much is clear because it keeps happening.
Of the steps UFC has taken in attempting to address issues surrounding steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs -- spending millions on education summits for its fighters, testing internally when it promotes in jurisdictions that don't -- none, absent a comprehensive PED policy that does not currently exist, would be as effective a deterrent as asserting once and for all that steroid users have no place in the octagon.
A public declaration would be the least expensive, least invasive and most effective measure White and the Fertittas have to stop this stuff from being associated with the UFC brand. It would reverberate around the sport.
Imagine that instead of threatening to shelve monetary bonuses in the wake of positive steroid tests by Sean Sherk and Hermes Franca following a UFC lightweight title fight in Sacramento, Calif., in 2007, White, who continues to suggest he can do no more than he's done to prevent MMA from washing over in PEDs, simply said fighters who cheat aren't welcome on his show. What if instead of allowing Tim Sylvia to fight for a UFC heavyweight title nine months after getting popped for steroids, White did this in 2003?
Would the culture of MMA's drug use be different? I can't imagine it wouldn't.
For as much as White and the UFC are looked upon as MMA's standard bearers, they cannot be expected to do anything about fighters outside their control. But that's not happening. Sherk, who fights Saturday on a UFC pay-per-view card in Indianapolis, sat out like Sylvia, served his time, paid his fine and, less than a year later, returned to a title fight.
What consequences were there, really?
I don't buy the argument that cutting guys like Sherk or Sylvia or Chris Leben or Stephan Bonnar or Sonnen would have minimal impact because rival promotions would gobble them up. So what? Let them. It's not like the UFC has a difficult time cultivating young new talent (or cutting it, as evident by the recent releases of Todd Duffee and Efrain Escudero). And if promoters like Strikeforce, which just signed heavyweight Josh Barnett, the most notorious steroid user in MMA, or Bellator or Dream choose to enter into business with tainted fighters, how well will that go over?
Maybe that's it. Maybe I'm missing something when it comes to what the public wants. Let 'em all juice, right? Let them kill each other; it's not my body, after all. Chicks dig the long ball. Quite frankly, fan opinion on this shouldn't matter. The issue of steroids in MMA isn't just about perception. It isn't just about the health risks. The real issue here is this: The sport is dangerous. Point to any safety record you want, it's dangerous. And it is undoubtedly more so if fighters like Sonnen are brimming over with testosterone.
Don't think it matters? Don't think it can change a fight? In light of what we know now, how can Sonnen's effort against Silva not be looked at through a different lens?
The use of this stuff is also, clearly, cheating, which should hopefully still mean something. Bottom line, it doesn't have any place in MMA, let alone the biggest promotion in the world. Will there always be people who do anything they can to get to the top? Yes. But I can't fathom there would be as many in MMA if White and the Fertittas stop allowing fighters who test dirty to use the UFC platform for money or fame.
And I can't understand why we should be expected to watch them in the UFC.
The sport is better policed now than the first half of the decade -- no one could argue otherwise -- but that doesn't mean MMA is where it needs to be on this issue. And in part that's because the UFC's efforts aimed at attacking PED use don't go nearly far enough.