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Mailbag: Should the UFC take a harder stand against steroids?

As we move into the last quarter of 2010, it's time for SI.com's MMA readers to have their say. The biggest topic in September was reaction to the news that Chael Sonnen produced a positive steroid test for elevated levels of testosterone. If you read my column in the wake of the news, you know where I stand. Something must be done to further curtail performance-enhancing drug use in MMA, and that is a fine place to start the latest mailbag.

You're wrong to say the UFC should cut fighters for using performance-enhancing drugs. This is an issue for the athletic commissions. It's a very UFC-centric position to say they should be the ones who should make this decision and it doesn't stop fighters from going to another organization. I'm all for tougher punishments by the commissions, and if you don't want to see Sonnen fighting, then they are the ones you should be lobbying not the UFC. But I get it -- writing headlines criticizing the UFC attract more attention and are consistent with your bias against them.-- Gary, Perth, Scotland

I'm not asking the UFC to do anything but police itself. And I don't understand what's so heavy-handed about a policy that says Zuffa won't promote fighters after they're caught using steroids. The UFC has dropped fighters from their contracts for many reasons: missing weight, backing out of fights, reluctance to sign a video game licensing agreement, or simply being annoying. Yet it's never parted ways with a fighter because of his PED use.

Until uniform and comprehensive drug screening standards take hold across the United States, nothing will change unless promoters enact as serious a deterrent as possible. I agree with Dr. Margaret Goodman, who said on my podcast last week that combat sports should be subject to widespread and random testing under the World Anti-Doping Agency standard. But that's expensive and unlikely to happen across the board unless federal law requires it. With Zuffa actually lobbying in Washington D.C., against having MMA fall under the jurisdiction of a federal "boxing commission," we're stuck in a system that sees states doing what they want.

Zuffa (i.e. UFC) sets the agenda for so much of what happens in MMA, it's difficult to comprehend why it sends mixed messages regarding PEDs.

Are you arguing that steroid cheats should be gone from every sport? If not, what makes kicking someone out of the UFC so necessary when no other league from any major sport has the same rule? And what did Sean Sherk lose with his suspension? How about the lightweight title that he never got back, or one fight check he could have made during the time he was suspended?-- Brandon, San Jose, Calif.

I wasn't arguing for lifetime banishment across the board, though I probably wouldn't have a problem if it happened that way. Anyhow, the UFC is far from a league in any sense you mean it. For one thing, especially in the drug-screening context, there isn't any sort of labor agreement between the athletes and management. Fighters are essentially independent contractors. Relying on state governments to handle testing allows the UFC to steer clear of a NFL/NFLPA system. They can throw their hands up, place the onus on the state regulators and act as if there's nothing more to do. I don't buy that.

To your point, why should the UFC hold its fighters to a higher standard than the NFL or any other league? Because blunt-force trauma isn't something to trifle with. Because if someday a fighter gets hurt against an opponent who is found to be using, it could be a big blow to the sport.

What did Sherk lose? Outside of some damage to his reputation, not much. He was granted a title fight by the UFC just 10 months after the California State Athletic Commission said he was caught. Whether he held the belt or not coming into the fight didn't matter since B.J. Penn worked him that night.

I would like to hear you opinion on the current state of judging in MMA. If you could, please comment specifically on the role of wrestling in scoring, and what changes you believe are necessary, if any. Upon finally reading the entire set of scoring rules, I do believe that they could be effective if properly implemented, and I don't think that there is nearly as much leeway as judges give themselves. Like many other hardcore fans, I have become very weary of questionable/terrible decisions and at least want continuity in scoring, if not a better system that places less value on control and more on submission attempts/damage. I know that this is a very involved question with many component parts, but I would appreciate your opinion.-- Michael, Los Angeles

It's ugly out there. Whether that stems from a lack of specific scoring criteria for judges to focus on, or it's a result of commission-appointed judges remaining ignorant of what to look for in a fight, there's a lot of room for improvement.

I think it will get better in time, though my major concern right now is judges being taught to score a certain way that, in the long run, will influence how MMA is fought. If certain tactics are more likely to produce a winning decision, fighters will tend to use those tactics.

When I watch a fight, I ask myself a simple question at the end of each round: Which person would I have rather been? The vast majority of the time, the answer to that question dovetails with the winner of a round.

Wrestling isn't any more valuable than striking or submissions. Not in my book, at least. Because a fighter scores a takedown doesn't automatically mean he or she should gain an advantage. What's done afterward matters. Did the fighter on the bottom reverse or stand within, say, 20 seconds of the takedown? Did the fighter on top do any damage with the position? Who is attacking? Is the person on the bottom outworking the fighter on top? Is the fighter on the bottom looking for submissions? There are a million things to watch for, which means it's incumbent on state regulators to license judges who know what they're watching.

At this point, I'm not a proponent of the half-point scoring system being bandied about by regulators. It could be a nice tool for experienced judges, but I fear it will lead to more confusion among officials and frustration from fans who feel like you do, Michael.

It's hard to respect your rankings when you've got a guy who was cut by the UFC No. 2 and a guy who lost his last fight to the bogus No. 2 at No. 3. Do you really think Fabricio Werdum could hang with Cain Velasquez, Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, Frank Mir or Junior dos Santos? Hell, I wouldn't favor him over Big Country or Big Nog. Putting a guy like that at No. 2 because of something he did in the minor leagues against an overrated Fedor Emelianenko? If that's how you're going to rank people, you might as well put Bobby Lashley up there.-- Joseph, Baghdad

Well, Lashley's not in my rankings, is he?

I don't share your world view of MMA. The sport is larger than any one promoter. A great fight/fighter outside the UFC is just as valuable as one inside the UFC. To believe otherwise is unfair to mixed martial artists everywhere.

Rankings shouldn't have anything to do with the belief that one fighter can hang with another. They are, at best, as snapshot in time. After spending seven years atop the heavyweight division, Emelianenko was triangle choked by Werdum in 69 seconds. It was shocking. I ranked Matt Serra No. 1 at welterweight after he stunned Georges St. Pierre in 2007, so Werdum didn't even manage that kind of respect.

Broaden your view of the sport. You're missing out on great MMA if you don't.

Was the Mir-Filipovic fight that bad regarding the inactivity? Honest question, I actually didn't see it. But with Dana White apparently withholding the KO bonus, and seemingly speaking of Frank Mir being cut in the event of another similar performance in the future, what is going on? On one hand, I can understand the lay & pray debate (and I know that's not the issue with Mir-Cro Cop), and I can certainly understand wanting to see a great knockout, but more often I'm hearing fighters talk about "putting on a show for the audience" (something Dana seems to endorse). Biding your time, waiting for counterstriking opportunities, good defense -- I've always thought these were intelligent strategies. Sometimes two fighters are going to come in with the same idea and it might not look like a Kimbo Slice video, which, frankly, I'm thankful for. I'd rather see smart fighting than wild striking. I'm in the minority here, aren't I?-- Eric, Minneapolis

If you're in the minority, then so am I. Nine times out of 10 I prefer a hard-fought, smart, tactical fight -- one that includes aggression in the right spots too -- to wild brawls. Give me checked leg kicks instead of windmilling punches.

Mir-Cro Cop was slow and uninteresting until the end. Just an awful fight to watch. Apparently White's comments about cutting Mir were overblown. He said emphatically on Twitter that Mir wasn't going anywhere.

Why did you say there should have been a 10-10 round in Mir vs. Cro Cop? The 10-point must system means somebody has to win the round except where point deductions come into play, so there is no 10-10. Did Mirko win it? What did he do? Did Mir win it? How? 10-10 is a cop-out. No judge has that luxury.-- George, Smithtown, N.Y.

Actually, judges can score rounds 10-10 based on MMA's unified rules, though even with the option available some commissions apparently frown upon its use. Can't say I disagree, as I despise 10-10 rounds (you're right, most of the time they are a cop-out) and try my best not to give them out. But there is a time and a place when it's necessary. That's how I saw Round 2.

Josh, seriously, did you just say Arizona State has produced the most MMA fighters? Have you forgotten about Oklahoma State? I know, my alma mater always gets overlooked whether it's the wrestling program, which will be in full force this season, or the football team. You'd take those ASU guys over these dudes: Randy Couture, Don Frye (transferred in), Kenny Monday, Johny Hendricks, Jake Rosholt, Mark Munoz, Daniel Cormier, Shane Roller, Muhammed Lawal?-- Bobby Dozier, Tulsa, Okla.

Yep, I'd take these dudes over those dudes:

Don Frye (transferred out)Aaron SimpsonCB DollawayTownsend SaundersRyan BaderDan HendersonDan SevernEric LarkinCain Velasquez

What is your opinion of Alistair Overeem? His stamina, chin and overall confidence as a fighter seem to be vastly improved since the Pride days. Why is he playing so elusive with the North American MMA scene? That is where the big money is.-- Brockmann, Toronto

You can't make a mistake against Overeem and survive. Hopefully he fights MMA at least three times in the United States in 2011. Right now he's working himself through the K-1 Grand Prix tournament and meets Tyrone Spong on Dec. 11 after destroying Australian Ben Edwards over the weekend.

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