The UFC goes after marijuana users but TRT is another story
Keith Richards once said, "I've never had a problem with drugs. I've had problems with the police."
Pat Healy might not immediately find the cruel irony in that quip. But maybe it'll dawn on him as he sits in front of his television Saturday night and watches Vitor Belfort blithely strut to the octagon (9 p.m. ET, FX), especially if by chance it's to the walkout song "Time Is on my Side."
Healy issued a statement Tuesday night in which he detailed how the biggest triumph of his career has turned into one huge bummer. Over the weekend, he was informed of the result of his post-fight drug screening from UFC 159 in Newark two Saturdays prior: He had tested positive for marijuana. So Healy's bravura upset of Jim Miller in his first bout with the leading promotion in mixed martial arts in nearly seven years has been changed to a no-contest. That apparently negates the $135,000 in bonuses -- $5,000 for the win, $65,000 for Fight of the Night and $65,000 for Submission of the Night -- he was set to pocket on top of his $17,500 fight guarantee. Healy also has been suspended by the New Jersey Athletic Control Board for 90 days.
Why drag Belfort into the discussion? Well, the 36-year-old Brazilian has a different drug of choice, and his does not come with the police knocking down his door. That's because Vitor isn't threatening the competitive balance of the sports world by partaking in an occasional toke in social situations. Instead, he's merely dipping his craggy old body into the fountain of youth, also known as testosterone replacement therapy. The long-ago UFC light heavyweight champion revealed after his knockout of Michael Bisping in January that he's among a growing number of aging fighters on TRT. That irks his opponent for this weekend's main event in Brazil. "Just look at his physique," Luke Rockhold, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion, recently told Yahoo! Sports. "Look at how he looks at . You can't tell me that at his age, something like that looks natural."
No, Luke, we cannot. We can't lie to you and deny the performance enhancement that goes along with TRT, either. We can, however, tell you that testosterone, when administered in accordance with a therapeutic use exemption, is perfectly legal in MMA.
And while smoking a joint might be a PED for the lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones, I think we can agree that it's not going to transform anyone into a street fighting man.
Even the World Anti-Doping Agency apparently agrees. Finally. The organization's executive committee met in Montreal over the weekend to refine its World Anti-Doping Code, and one measure it took was to significantly increase the allowable threshold for marijuana, from the current 15 nanograms per milliliter to 150 ng/ml. In effect, the new level would flag only those who are using cannabis in competition.
This is not going to help Healy, though, just like it didn't help Nick Diaz, Dave Herman, Matt Riddle or any of the other MMA fighters who've recently been popped for pot. The New Jersey commission, like other members of the Association of Boxing Commissions, does adhere to the WADA list of prohibited substances. But the newly tweaked WADA code is only a proposal at this point, to be voted on in November at the World Conference on Doping in Sport in Johannesburg. If ratified, it would take effect in 2015.
So for now all Healy can do is take his medicine, which he is doing with contrition. "First and foremost, I would like to acknowledge and take responsibility for my mistake," he said in his prepared statement. "I made a very poor choice to socially use marijuana, and now I must face the consequences of that choice. I can assure you that I will do everything the UFC and State Commission asks of me and beyond. I will also make a conscious effort to be a better role model within the MMA community."
Healy has to say what he has to say, of course, but MMA has far worse models. The sport has seen its share of everything from homophobia to xenophobia, misogyny to drunk driving ... and, of course, steroid cheating. With marijuana gradually gaining acceptance in our culture, the day might soon come when sports will do away with the screening for pot and focus on ridding itself of the deceitful scourge of testosterone replacement. As UFC president Dana White has said, "If you have to use TRT, you're probably too old to be fighting."
Yet as Pat Healy, $135,000 the poorer, sits in a dark corner for three months for the high crime of smoking a joint, Vitor Belfort will indeed continue his fighting career on Saturday night. With impunity. It's a career that includes a 2006 positive test for the anabolic steroid 4-Hydroxytestosterine. Researchers link steroid use with low testosterone production, so it's not unreasonable to speculate that Vitor's need for TRT is self-inflicted.
Does something seem upside-down here?