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« | Home | »

The steroids mess

By Zach Arnold | July 19, 2007

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By Zach Arnold

After I wrote my post today breaking down the latest drug statistics from the CSAC, I decided to focus my time finalizing a pair of articles on MMA’s drug culture for publication. While my energy was focused on that, news broke that both UFC 155-pound champion Sean Sherk and Hermes Franca tested positive (Sherk for nandralone, Franca for drostanolone). Suffice to say, I will be modifying my drug articles to reflect today’s news. I will also be modifying tonight’s Fight Opinion Radio taping to reflect the updated information on steroids in California. Suffice to say, I’m not going to be in a happy mood on the show.

For the time-being, here are some links covering the latest drug-testing failures. Take a few minutes out of your schedule and read them.

  1. The Fight Network: Sherk, Franca test positive
  2. MMA Weekly: Franca tests positive and Sherk tests positive
  3. UFC Junkie: Sean Sherk & Hermes Franca both fail UFC 73 drug tests
  4. Sherdog: Dana White comments on UFC steroid policy
  5. Bloody Elbow: Does Dana dare risk the curse of the Lightweight tournament?
  6. UFC Mania: Lightweight Losers – Sherk, Franca test positive for steroids following UFC 73
  7. Five Ounces of Pain: UFC releases statement in response to failed drug tests
  8. Kevin Iole: MMA needs to address steroids problem
  9. Fight Report: Sean Sherk, Hermes Franca test positive for steroids (these guys predicted Sherk would fail his drug test BEFORE UFC 73 happened)
  10. MMA HQ: MMA steroid epidemic continues

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 46 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

46 Responses to “The steroids mess”

  1. Zurich says:

    As I’ve said elsewhere, I think some of the UFC (and to a lesser extent, MMA)’s problem with steroids stems from the unwritten rule of “two losses, you’re out”. If there was some element of job security despite losing, I think you would see less fighters roiding.

  2. Sean (not Sherk) says:

    This is really getting disgusting and I hope the organizations also take action and not just leave it up to the commissions. Man, Dana really liked this fight too and had been talking it up in some of the post fight interviews with the mainstream media (not that I blame him, but man he must feel even more burnt by this than normal).

  3. UFCDaily.com says:

    I think if the situation Franca described is actually how it played out in that the UFC wouldn’t allow him to move a fight more than 2 months in advance it is partially their fault. I will never condone taking performance enhancing drugs but I think there needs to be some way for competitors to have the ability to cope with major injuries without being forced into a match unprepared or to have their title shot completely taken away.

    I think what he asked for was more than reasonable and this was only what pushed Franca to to take the steroids in the first place. If you are an honest athlete and true to your sport something like this shouldn’t force you to accelerate healing. At the worst you call of the fight and fight your way back to a title shot.

    The UFC isn’t to blame in this situation but they could have been a little more relaxed in allowing Franca to have ample time to heal.

  4. Smoogy says:

    UFCDaily: I mostly agree with you. Obviously in the end Franca should have looked at the big picture, since this will be far more damaging financially and career-wise for him than backing out of the title fight… but put in his position, I don’t know what I would have done. Franca was under enormous pressure as a fighter and the head of a household to perform on July 7th and he decided to roll the dice and make the move that would allow him to continue on for the short term. I don’t really have any desire to pass judgement on him knowing the details (as he described them), I just feel pity for the guy.

  5. Jeremy (not that Jeremy) says:

    Hm, the Muscle Shark is a booster?

    I NEVER would have imagined.

    Maybe they shouldn’t have called this event, “Stacked.”

  6. Mike Schroeder says:

    What I simply fail to understand is the lack of mature decision making by these so-called athletes. Let me explain it so simply that a five year old could understand. The CSAC tests all championship fights. I’m fighting a championship fight. Hmm. Do we need to send these guys to a class on common sense?

  7. Adam Morgan says:

    These guys think they can cycle it out of their system before the piss test. It’s just a clear case of stupidity on their part.

  8. Zurich says:

    UFCDaily: Ok, but what about Sherk?

  9. Andy says:

    I find this really shocking. After seeing Sherks training regieme, i cant see any reason for him to take drugs. It’s a real embarrasment to the sport, and something needs to be done, and fast

  10. Ivan Trembow says:

    As I said in the other post, this is going to make it a lot harder for anyone to deny that there is a serious drug problem in MMA and that the major promotions such as the UFC need to test everyone themselves in addition to all of the athletic commission testing. Events like the UFC 73 where the commission tests everyone are the exception, not the norm. It’s far more common to have four or six fighters on the entire card tested, or zero in the case of UFC 69 and UFC 70.

    It costs less than $300 per fighter to test for banned stimulants, steroids, and recreational drugs, which makes it all the more ridiculous that less than half of the fighters are typically tested.

    The most important thing is that there needs to be random, on-the-spot testing, as it’s apparently not at all difficult to beat a drug test when you know exactly when you’re going to be tested (as every MMA fighter does every time they’re tested).

  11. Zach Arnold says:

    Ivan – I know this idea would stir up controversy, but what about persuing fighters and gyms with searches or raids similar to what we see in the Olympics? I realize people would be in an uproar about such a cloak-and-dagger tactic, but I’m sure it would be a form of shock therapy.

    The reason the IOC was able to get away with this tactic in Italy (for the Olympics in Turin) is because Italy has an anti-doping law in which athletes caught can get jail time, plus there are other elements such as wiretapping used to break up doping rings.

  12. Ivan Trembow says:

    I wouldn’t view that as cloak-and-dagger tactics, I would view that as standard drug testing procedure. Fighters should be in a position where they know that an athletic commission official (with proper ID, of course) can come up to them at any time and require a drug test on the spot (in the nearest bathroom), after they’ve been randomly selected to take such a drug test, of course. The very nature of “random” drug testing is that it has to be done at random times in order to get the most out of it.

    Some of the athletic commissions have talked about doing this in the past, but it hasn’t gotten off the ground. I imagine that funding would be an issue, especially when it comes to flying to specific training camps to collect specimens, so it could be a funding problem for the athletic commissions, but the UFC could easily fund it for a whole year just from a small percentage of their 2006 net profits, which were higher than all but three years of WWE’s entire history according to the Wrestling Observer.

  13. Preach says:

    The problem in doing that would be the State Athletic Comissions, Zach. Over here in europe all the sports have major governing bodies that have national authority, not just statewide. So it’s no problem for, say the DFB (the german football association, the biggest sports governing body in the world), to just show up at a training camp and demand all players to be tested. And with the recently passed anti-doping law stings like that will only increase. The US would need not only their own anti-doping law, but they would also have to get all the SAC’s to work together, or simply form a national anti-doping agency to conduct these tests, since all the teams and camps are spread throughout the country. And i somehow doubt that something like that will ever happen, there’s just too much lobbying going on, and i doubt that all the SAC’s will agree to get their range of action shortened. And even if it should somehow happen: what about those that are fighting out of foreign camps? Like Canada, Brazil, Croatia, Japan. Who would control them? Obviously an us-american governing body wouldn’t have any jurisdiction there.

    The only way how it could work, would be if the UFC would do it themselves, if they added a paragraph to their contracts, that the fighter has to submit to random testing for drugs and/or performance enhancers. But something like that would bring a few more problems with it. First, the costs. It may be just 300 bucks to test, but they would have to fly in their own, trusted people to the camps to get the blood- and urine-samples, which, depending on where the camp’s located would raise the expenses considerably. Second, they would most probably get a lot of flack from the fans and the media for conducting their own tests. The general census would be: Who tells us that they’re really testing them? Who tells us that they don’t help their fighters to properly cycle off? Sure, this problem could be avoided by using an outside agency, but is there really an independent company that specializes in something like that?

    A lot of ifs and whens, but hopefully they’ll find a way to sort it out, and better sooner than later. We don’t need to have athletes dropping dead left and right (WWE) and we don’t need tv-stations and sponsors jumping off the sport (Tour de France)

  14. 45 Huddle says:

    Fighters like Hermes Franca sound like big babies when they complain the way they do.

    Let me use baseball as an example. Players will typically take time off during the season for injuries. However, come playoff time, a lot of them will “make do with what they have” and compete. Gary Sheffield did this last year just to have a chance at competing. Curt Schilling did this in 2004. Heck, pitchers do this all the time, where they get just enough starts at the end of the regular season, and then they do with what they have, dispite the injuries. So that has nothing to do with money (cause you know they are making a lot), but they don’t complain about being injured for the big stage.

    Hermes Franca is classless. For some fans to defend those actions is even worse.

    As for Sherk, now that I think about it more, it is no shock he was roided up. The guy had major surgery on his shoulder like 7 months ago. When you have surgery like that, your shoulder wilts away to nothing. For him to get back to that muscle mass, he had to be taking something.

    Now, it will be really interesting if he had medically prescribed roids for his recoup time, and those are the same roids that came up positive. In that case, he might not even be suspended at all. But I doubt that is the case.

  15. Jeremy (not that Jeremy) says:

    The UFC should be able to pick up the phone, find their fighter, and have the ability to tell them to report to a specific league-determined lab to give samples within 4 to 8 hours based on their location.

    If they don’t show up, they’re fined and/or suspended.

    Doesn’t matter where it is in the world, because there are hospitals and labs everywhere. They don’t need to test the samples immediately, they just have to have the lab forward them to a central location to be tested later.

    You go to Giza or Machu-pichu…maybe you’ve got a problem, but if you’re going to Italy, or on a USO tour, it’s not.

  16. UFCDaily.com says:

    Zurich: I am not sure about Sherk. The fact that we haven’t heard from him means he believes the test was false or he has no good reason. I am not defending either of them but I have much more respect for Franca for coming clean before the tests were even released.

    I like the idea of actual random testing taking place outside of the events but considering how testing is poor at events I think we need to see that improved before adding further tests. To put it simply it will probably be awhile.

  17. The Gaijin says:

    How do you defend Sherk and then call Franca a pathetic cheat?

    You’re absolutely pathetic…keep towing the company line and defend the champ. The same excuse you use for Sherk is the one you chastise Franca for using.

    Get a LIFE you Zuffa shill machine.

  18. The Gaijin says:

    Positive steroid tests:

    Wanderlei Silva: 0
    Sean Sherk: 1

  19. D.Capitated says:

    The US would need not only their own anti-doping law, but they would also have to get all the SAC’s to work together, or simply form a national anti-doping agency to conduct these tests, since all the teams and camps are spread throughout the country. And i somehow doubt that something like that will ever happen, there’s just too much lobbying going on, and i doubt that all the SAC’s will agree to get their range of action shortened. And even if it should somehow happen: what about those that are fighting out of foreign camps? Like Canada, Brazil, Croatia, Japan. Who would control them? Obviously an us-american governing body wouldn’t have any jurisdiction there.

    Preach hits it square on the button. Unless you have a national commission (which boxing fans have been yelling for now for at least 10-15 years) its impossible to do what people want them to do. Furthermore, even a national commission can’t stop activity overseas. That’s why Tour De France officials could only make raids when riders were on their tour rather than in training camps. Even the IOC can’t stage raids on a national team’s training facilities. They have no legal capability to do so.

  20. Jeremy (not that Jeremy) says:

    UFCDaily, the problem with relying on day of event testing, particularly mandated by the commissions, is that the policy is always going to vary from place to place.

    If UFC is going to have to do the testing themselves on the day of the event anyway (since it won’t be mandated 100% in all locations, and in some locations isn’t required at all), then why not do it properly in the first place?

    This is something that UFC is going to have to lead on, I think, because the commissions aren’t going to do it. They’ll just keep putting out their black-eye press releases.

  21. Jeremy (not that Jeremy) says:

    Gaijin, Silva’s smart enough to put an extra two months into his fight schedule when he’s doping, perhaps?

  22. UFCDaily.com says:

    I agree Jeremy, The UFC has to take a stand and lead MMA organizations in getting rid of drugs in the sport. I think they learned their lesson with the backlash from UFC 69 and UFC 70. I hope we see them do their own testing but also push states to require testing of all fighters, not just random ones. I think a unified MMA drug testing rules is what we could really use.

  23. The Gaijin says:

    Oh no doubt. I was just relishing in his obvious ignorance is bliss/bias that had him openly accusing fighters of “obvious” steroid use and chastising etc. while he made it seem like his favourite organization and fighters were pristine and above cheating.

    For one is anyone really that surprised that Sean friggin Sherk was on something?? 45 basically tries to make it fact that Silva’s on the crank when in comparison to Sherk and various others he looks average.

    I think (unfortunately so) that its pretty obvious there’s a huge steroid/performance enhancing drugs problem in mma and pro sports in general and that it’s almost at the point where you have to assume that most if not all of the elite guys are somehow gaining a “competitive advantage”.

  24. Maximilian says:

    One thing the UFC could do to discourage steroid use for faster healing is to give Karo Parisyan his title shot. Looking at him, any injured title contender WILL think twice before not taking the title shot under any circumstances. This is not to excuse ANYTHING, though. I’m all for more rigorous testing and, I think this has not been brought up enough, harder penalties. 1500 Dollars and a year out is ridiculous for someone like Royce who earn hundreds of thousands and fights only once a year anyway.

  25. Jeremy (not that Jeremy) says:

    Looking at Sherk, it’s hard to be surprised that he’s juiced. Guys in MMA who have looked like that have tested positive in the past (I’m specifically thinking Kimo here because he’s the first to come to mind, but I’m sure you’ve got your own examples).

    I AM a little surprised that he tested positive now when he apparently didn’t test positive at UFC64. Maybe Nevada uses different standards or something.

    I’m definitely saddened that a guy with his reputation / mythos about the healthy clean living lifestyle and massive work ethic would be revealed as a fraud though. That’s just bad for everyone.

    It’s all made difficult because I think, as an American culture (and this really extends to Japan too, IMHO), we’re kind of trained to either believe or WANT to believe that it’s actually possible to work out, lift weights, and go from a 90 pound weakling or a 350 pound slob to being some sort of bronzed, bare chested Adonis off a romance novel cover. It’s the male equivalent of the breast implant phenomenon. There’s an absolutely unreal standard out there and some people are willing to grasp it at any cost, and then we just buy the story hook line and sinker because we want to believe.

    So, of course, there’s now going to be this seed of doubt where we’re going to say or have some people saying, “oh, well, he was just using it to recover from surgery/injury/whatever, and he was playing it fair up to that point,” which just continues the basic problem that keeps us from seeing what’s right in front of our eyes.

  26. Brandt says:

    It really doesn’t matter what excuse is given at this point. Both fighters knew that using a banned substance would result in a fine and suspension from the state athletic commission. Franca’s excuse makes absolutely no sense. He states that he needed money to put food on the table. Now that he will be suspended for a year, how will he feed his family on the $14,000 (minus his fine, of course) he made during UFC 73.

    The entire situation blows considering both fighters (the champion who is willing to lose his belt) and the challenger who begged Dana White for a change at Sherk after his knockout victory over Fisher on UFC Fight Night 8 back in January were found to be using banned substances during a championship match. It’s making MMA and UFC look terrible and Dana White just sits there shaking his head and silently laughing at everyone while doing nothing to control the situation.

    It really is a mess. It may take state and national regulation to clean everything up and if it comes down to that, you’ll see more critics lobbying for MMA to be banned state-wide or even nation-wide. I’d love to see what White says then.

    I have a short writeup on my site basically echoing my comments for anyone interested.

  27. Zack says:

    “Gaijin, Silva’s smart enough to put an extra two months into his fight schedule when he’s doping, perhaps?”

    He got tested at Pride 33 and passed.

  28. The Citizen says:

    Another reason Pride was so wonderful. We never heard about the drug tests. All of the UFCs media and hype detract from the actual matches. Who cares?

  29. The Gaijin says:

    “Gaijin, Silva’s smart enough to put an extra two months into his fight schedule when he’s doping, perhaps?”

    > > “He got tested at Pride 33 and passed.”

    So in conjunction with reading the quoted post – he’s smart enough to put an extra two months into his schedule ;)

    (i.e. the approx. amount of time it takes to flush the detectable amount of said performance enhancing drugs out of his system).

    Obviously its pretty skeptical to say “well he looks jacked, but he tested negative – so he must be a good cheater” and really who are we to say that someone who dedicates their life to being a pro fighter cannot be built like that? But that is the sad reality when we have all of these scandals going on…

  30. Jeremy (not that Jeremy) says:

    I was mainly just being snarky.

    I don’t know if Silva is juiced or not. But, he did recently opt for a November fight instead of a September fight, and part of the reason for that was to improve his condition.

    With the apparent avalanche of steroid cases recently, it’s not beyond imagining.

  31. Zack says:

    He tested clean this year. He asked for November because he’s in the process of moving to America.

    I’ve moved five blocks and it throws everything out of wack for a couple weeks…imagine moving to a different country.

  32. >> Another reason Pride was so wonderful. We never heard about the drug tests. All of the UFCs media and hype detract from the actual matches. Who cares?

    How does that make it right? There should be regulation in place even if it means that fighters are suspended/fined or, hopefully in the near future, banned from specific organizations or MMA entirely. Not only are we trying to make things as fair as possible, but we basically are looking out for the fighters best interest in regards to drug use.

    Why don’t we just throw out weight classes and make Sherk fight Arona or Q. Jackson and go back to the no-rules early UFC-type fights? It was chaos; is that what the sport needs?

    It’s really time to start moving forward in MMA. Drug use needs to go.

  33. HudsonMMA says:

    Question: Have any fighters in the IFL tested positive for banned substances? If not, they are doing something right over there. The other promotions need to take notes.

  34. Jeremy (not that Jeremy) says:

    Ask Eddie Goldman, he seems to really love IFL. It’s beyond me why.

  35. D. Capitated says:

    Eddie Goldman is paid by the IFL, that’s why.

  36. Grape Knee High says:

    I am all for more drug testing, but does anyone really think that more drug testing is actually going to rid MMA of illegal substance abuse? Really?

    The bigger the money and fame, all the more reason to use. And testing technology will ALWAYS be chasing drug technology, so only the dumb ones will continue to get caught.

  37. 45 Huddle says:

    The majority of the IFL cards are run in non-regulated states. That is why you never hear of these guys getting busted. Plus, some are on pace to fight 6 or 7 times in a year. It’s not even worth cycling through at that rate.

    I assume everybody read the Josh Gross rant at Sherdog.com directed at Dana White. Makes Gross look like an idiot. He is trying to use his hate for the UFC and make Dana seem like the bad guy here. There are a few posts at mma.tv that sum up his “editorial” best.

  38. The Gaijin says:

    I thought it was a great article and really calls the UFC to task. They want to be the face of mma – they better start making waves to clear things up.

    He makes tonnes of good, salient points on the issue – they preach all these things, then they run events in place where there’s no testing and in one instance even put up the facade that they would be running testing themselves (for which they never released any results).

    MMA has a BIG problem with performance enhancing drugs and if the leading organization is going to turn a blind eye to it and shrug its shoulders I think they should be called to the mat.

  39. The Gaijin says:

    Reading your “posts” makes you look like an idiot.

  40. D. Capitated says:

    The idea that you’re ever gonna find a way to prevent doping is nonsense. People in prison get drugs, for fuck’s sake.

  41. 45 Huddle says:

    The Gaijn,

    Stop this personal feud you have with me. You insults will stop now.

  42. Brandt says:

    D Capitated: Of course you can not prevent it from occurring, but you can prevent the fighters from fighting in the organization. It took less than two weeks for the CSAC to release the results of the drug tests. UFC could begin amending all future contracts to make their fighters to take a test 10 days before the fight. If they test positive, they don’t fight, don’t get paid, pay a fine, and get suspended for a year. If they don’t test positive for illegal substances, they fight.

    Obviously this will never happen because it means that the UFC will have to drop fights left and right two days before the pay per view. There’s an easy solution, but money is getting in the way. If Dana thinks his organization is the only worthwhile club in the world, he should be ensuring that his fighters uphold his image along with their own.

  43. D. Capitated says:

    D Capitated: Of course you can not prevent it from occurring, but you can prevent the fighters from fighting in the organization. It took less than two weeks for the CSAC to release the results of the drug tests. UFC could begin amending all future contracts to make their fighters to take a test 10 days before the fight. If they test positive, they don’t fight, don’t get paid, pay a fine, and get suspended for a year. If they don’t test positive for illegal substances, they fight.

    The UFC is a sanctioning body, however. They can suspend people from their contract, but there’s no guarantee that they’d be able to stop them from competing outside the US. You’re missing the difference between what they can do and what an athletic commission can do.

    Obviously this will never happen because it means that the UFC will have to drop fights left and right two days before the pay per view. There’s an easy solution, but money is getting in the way. If Dana thinks his organization is the only worthwhile club in the world, he should be ensuring that his fighters uphold his image along with their own.

    If fighters test positive, its not going to reflect well on anyone. All that having a 10 day advance drug screening would do is have people cycle off 10 days sooner, if at all. From the UFC’s perspective, it won’t make them look any better to have them compete without finalized drug testing than it would to just cancel their fight altogether, especially in the case of a headliner/showcase bout. Hell, the Olympics doesn’t get results until after competition is over. Does that do them irreparable harm? Does the world think the World Anti-Doping Agency is a joke as a result?

  44. Bob says:

    That Kevin Iole article is beyond ridiculous. He makes it look like if a lightweight takes steroids, he could knock out a heavyweight with one punch. Steroids do not increase your striking power!!! They help you recover faster after some brutal workouts. Why do they let a guy publish such false statements? He seems like he has no idea about steroids.

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