St-Pierre the perfect crusader to get ramped up drug testing in UFC
One week ago, Keith Kizer, who as executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission is charged with policing, among other things, the presumed proliferation of performance enhancing drugs on the world's largest combat sports stage, issued his resignation after eight years on the job. Just four days later, on Tuesday, we heard from a man who'd recently stepped away from an enormous, spotlit stage of his own. Georges St-Pierre, a month removed from relinquishing his welterweight championship in order to take a hiatus from mixed martial arts, was stunningly critical of the UFC, accusing the behemoth fight promotion of dragging its feet on efforts to rid the sport of illicit drugs.
Well, yeah, I do think it's a coincidence. Though PEDs were at the heart of one man's departure and in the backstory of the other's, this was no coordinated campaign. But the 1-2 punch did put a thought in my head: When the Nevada commission goes looking for Kizer's successor, maybe it should cast its eyes toward Montreal.
St-Pierre taking over an athletic commission is a ridiculous suggestion, of course, but what's not so preposterous is the notion that the sanctioning body and the (former?) fighter can learn from each other. A synthesis of purpose could benefit both. Whomever the NAC brings on as executive director should be someone with GSP-like resolve and fortitude -- maybe even obsession -- to tackle the PED issue head-on. And St-Pierre would serve his legacy well by taking a long-term, unremitting approach to this issue, like an athletic commission would, rather than merely tossing the occasional bomb from the sideline.
The St-Pierre matter came to a head this week when he spoke to reporters in Montreal and revealed that the UFC's lack of support for his effort to ramp up drug testing in the leadup to November's bout with Johny Hendricks was a significant factor in his decision to walk away. "I tried to do something to change the sport," he said, speaking in French. (Chapeau's off to bilingual colleague Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting for the translation.) "Unfortunately, there were other people, for different reasons, maybe for money, in fear of losing money, because if you canceled the fight because someone tested positive, there are millions of dollars [lost]. Also, the sport's image ... If you start testing everyone, how many will get caught? I don't want to say in public because I don't want to accuse anyone, but the sport's image will be hurt. Don't forget, I have internal information. I'm an athlete. I know what goes on, so that disappointed me greatly."
These are words you never would have heard from St-Pierre at any time during his decade-long run of glory in the UFC. Through nine successful title defenses that generated wealth for himself and the promotion, GSP was always the consummate company man, unfailingly falling in line with the UFC's direction for the sport, never stirring up trouble. But that relationship lost its amiability back on Nov. 17.
Hendricks is the one who inflicted the visible damage that night, his five-round beatdown leaving the face of St-Pierre -- winner by a much debated and even ridiculed judges' decision -- with bruises and scrapes covering his bloated, brutalized face. It was UFC president Dana White, however, who inflicted the most lasting damage.
When St-Pierre stood in the octagon in the immediate aftermath of the fight and, sounding emotionally fragile for reasons he wouldn't get into, announced that he was going to "hang up my gloves for a little bit," he apparently caught White off guard. And that triggered what in a typical person might be termed a fight-or-flight response, but in the case of no-retreat Dana would better be characterized as a fight-or-fight-back-even-more-nastily response. "GSP will not retire. He will not retire after that fight," White fumed minutes later on the Fox postfight show. "He owes it to the fans, he owes it to this company, and he owes it to Johny Hendricks to come in and do that fight again."
For a man who has often said he supports fighters' decisions to walk away when they no longer have a passion for the sport, and who had reaped many a benefit from St-Pierre's accomplishments and good graces, White sure dropped the ball on that one. Actually, he'd gotten the ball moving in the wrong direction weeks earlier, when the UFC poobah characterized as "stupid" the back-and-forth between St-Pierre and Hendricks as they tried to hash out the details of enhanced drug testing for their clash.
It wasn't stupid to St-Pierre, and in the wake of White's responses to his crusade and then to his sudden departure, Georges apparently has become tired of being the company man. His comments this week went beyond drug testing to address how the UFC's control of the sport and its athletes affects any consideration of changing the status quo. "I'm for anti-doping tests. I think it's a big problem in the sport," said St-Pierre. "This is a relatively new sport. There's one organization that has a monopoly, so the fighters don't have much power. They can't really talk, because if one says what he thinks, he will get punished."
How did White respond to these strong words? Just as you would expect: with strong words of his own. "If he wants to talk man to man, he can see us face to face," White said. "But everything that he said is ridiculous."
That's it, Dana, scoff at the guy's assertions and challenge his manhood while you're at it.
Here's hoping those comments add fuel to GSP's fire. It's not that the UFC should be the target. The promotion has stepped up its drug-testing efforts where it has jurisdiction, such as with fight cards held in locales where there is no local sanctioning body. And White & Co. make sure that fighters who do get caught pay a hefty price. But so far we've heard nothing but lip service on the thorny issue of testosterone replacement therapy, which is unnaturally making some fighters more dangerous. Yes, it's the athletic commissions that issue the TRT exemptions. But when the UFC stages five straight Vitor Belfort fights outside the country -- with Kizer having made it known that Belfort, who in 2006 tested positive for elevated testosterone following a fight in Las Vegas, is unlikely to get an exemption in Nevada -- it takes on the appearance of the promotion skirting the rules.
Now that Belfort is next in line to challenge middleweight champion Chris Weidman, the UFC has made it known that it plans to hold that fight in Vegas. That's a positive step. Let's see how the story develops.
And let's see how the GSP story develops as well. In some ways, Georges is the perfect crusader, because he's never been known to make waves. So when he raises an issue, we don't immediately start peeling away the layers of discontent, looking for the gaudy self-interest to reveal itself. St-Pierre has credibility. Then again, he's now an outsider. Can he enlist the support of any of the sport's remaining high-profile greats in this effort to clean up the landscape? Jon Jones? Ronda Rousey? Someone?