The recent revelation that Chael Sonnen tested positive for performance enhancing drugs before his epic match with Anderson Silva has set the MMA community ablaze this week. Debate has centered on what exactly Sonnen took, whether his appeal will be successful, what the UFC middleweight has to say on the matter, and how indicative the situation is of illegal substances throughout MMA. We may soon find out answers to some of these questions while being left in the dark on others, but there is one question to which we already know the answer: Will the UFC step up its steroid policy?
The answer is a resounding "No."
The UFC currently implements a testing policy that defers to commissions in regulated areas while administering its own urinalysis at events in locales like Europe and Texas (even though Texas has an athletic commission). The problem is that astute PEDs users can take note of scheduled drug tests and cycle off their substances. Even then, HGH and other banned substances cannot be detected by a urine sample.
So why doesn't the UFC supersede the commissions' insufficient testing methods and lead the charge in bringing Olympic-style drug testing to MMA? Luke Thomas brings salient points on the matter:
Dana White's and Marc Ratner's dilemma is that they are reliant upon state athletic commissions even when those commissions fail them and the sport miserably. For the UFC to do their own testing on top of what the commissions already provide is to admit the cops on patrol have been asleep at the wheel virtually the entire time. It's hard to argue the steroid use problem among athletes has gone up in recent years. There certainly isn't any data to that effect. That's remained a constant. So what's changed? The ability of the commissions to keep with advanced dodging procedure among PED users. Their equipment is antiquated and their methods outdated, but if White cosigns that idea he's calling into question the very bedrock of authenticity that allows MMA and the UFC to be called regulated sport.
But what about punishing those whose transgressions are discovered? When pressed on the issue, Dana White has already made his stance clear. He feels that the commissions' punishment is adequate, possibly even excessive:
"When one of them fails a test, the government is going to fine them and suspend them and tell them they can't make a living for a year. So should I come in after they've already lost the ability to make a living for a year and been fined all this money and, in the worst economic disaster in the history of the world, fine them another huge amount and take away their ability to make a living even longer?
"These are guys with homes and families and personal lives and bills and debts and obligations, just like me and you... After they lost all this money already, money that, A, they've probably already spent and B, which they owe taxes, do I fine them another huge amount? What else do you do to a human being?"
Josh Gross offers perhaps the best solution to the problem, a punishment so steep it would probably be more effective than suspensions and Olympic testing combined:
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.
But such a desire can be nothing more than a pipedream in today's MMA climate. To suggest that the UFC might start cutting all PEDs users with a strict no-tolerance policy is outlandish for one simple reason -- money. Such an ideal policy will never be implemented because it threatens the UFC's bottom-line.
Imagine if Brock Lesnar, whose previous three matches have brought in almost four million pay-per-view buys, got popped for steroids. Under Gross's policy, that puts the biggest cash cow in all of MMA out of the UFC. A competing organization such as Strikeforce would scoop him up immediately (even if it isn't a frugal business decision). But more significantly than that, the hundreds -- yes, hundreds -- of millions of dollars that Lesnar accounts for will no longer be headed toward coffers labled "UFC".
Hell, just a little over two months ago Lesnar was almost defeated by Shane Carwin, a fighter whose name is closely intertwined with an ongoing steroids investigation. And there certainly are other fighters the UFC would cringe at having to cut should they fail a drug test, such as pound-for-pound kings Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva, and potential superstars like Jon Jones. A scenario wherein the UFC's biggest stars and best fighters incessantly teeter on the edge of free agency is enough to put gray hairs on even Dana White's head.
An ironclad no-tolerance policy in the UFC -- in any organization, for that matter -- would put MMA at the forefront of the battle against PEDs in athletic competition. Such a measure would garner positive national attention and engender precious goodwill in places like the New York state assembly, where MMA struggles to get sanctioned. But don't ever expect it to happen; the money at stake is just too great a sum.