Larry Pepe eviscerates Josh Gross for proposing zero-tolerance UFC policy, says current drug testing procedures are great
By Zach Arnold | October 6, 2010
Before we get to our main item of the day, here’s a few headlines for you to check out.
Yesterday, three notable matches were bandied about on various news sites: Stefan Struve vs. Sean McCorkle, Shane Carwin vs. Roy Nelson, and Rich Franklin vs. Forrest Griffin. I’m interested in all three of these fights, primarily the Franklin fight. I’ll pick him to win that fight, but I think it will be a great stand-up battle. As far as the Carwin/Nelson fight is concerned, that’s a fascinating fight for one reason — if it goes to the ground, Nelson will tear him apart. If Nelson’s chin remains as good as it was in the Junior Dos Santos fight, Carwin will have his hands full.
275,000 PPV buys for UFC 119? To me, that sounds just about right. Actually a little bit on the high side, in my book, but about right on target given that card line-up.
Dan Hardy is using criticism on MMA message boards to fuel his spirits for the upcoming UFC 120 fight against Carlos Condit.
The Bismarck Tribune has an interview with Dane Sayers, who is on TUF 12. For the TUF 12 Finale on 12/4, Kendall Grove vs. Demian Maia has been booked. On Wednesday night (Spike TV), the UFC starts their three-part Brocktober series of hype shows to hype up Brock Lesnar’s fight with Cain Velasquez.
Are you buying or selling the December 4th Strikeforce card in St. Louis? Card line-up features Dan Henderson vs. Renato Babalu, Paul Daley vs. Scott Smith, and Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Lindland.
You want to see an MMA fight with two real grizzled veterans? Try Jeff Monson vs. Travis Fulton on October 23rd in Pompano Beach, Florida. The fight will happen as a lead-in at Club Cinema, which will show the UFC Anaheim event later on that evening.
Josh Gross is defending his position that UFC should cut fighters who fail drug tests. He definitely took a stance that not a lot of people agree with, but I’m glad he made his case. His logic may sound draconian to many, but I understand what his general thinking is. If you believe, like most people do, that Zuffa is the only major player in the industry (and they certainly do like to act like they are “the sport” at times), then the only way fighters will respond to matters like using PEDs is if there’s a great fear that they could lose their job with the UFC and lose out on making a lot of money because of getting cut after a drug testing failure.
However, this is not a theory that Larry Pepe of Pro MMA Radio believes in one bit. In a passionate 20-minute segment on his radio show last week, he blasted Josh Gross over his claims about how serious the issue of drug usage is in MMA and the idea of UFC implementing a zero-tolerance drug testing policy. Here is the full transcript.
“The whole issue surrounding steroids in MMA, should the UFC adopt a new policy, should they do more drug testing, should there be zero tolerance… and I have to admit, as I look at this, I think there’s been a tremendous overreaction by the media. Not everybody, of course, you know, like anything, people are going to have different opinions and mine is very different and I’m going to focus one appearance that I heard, it was when Josh Gross went on The Jim Rome Show and made a number of statements that I just can’t agree with and factually/statistically don’t make sense to me. The first of those, you know, he made a comment when asked by Rome how prevalent the drug problem is in MMA. He estimated, and I’m quoting him, ‘I’ve heard estimates anywhere from 30% to 70% opinion. Talking to people in gyms this week, you know, in the wake of the Chael Sonnen thing.” And it’s… that just defies any logic to me, there’s no basis for those numbers. I mean, how can anybody, regardless whether it’s Josh or anybody he spoke to, how can anybody really estimate what % of MMA or UFC fighters are on drugs and it kind of boggles my mind that we hear numbers like this thrown out. Of course, there’s never been any study and if you say well there never would be a study, well The American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation published, released a study in February of ‘09 where 2,552 retired NFL players answered questions on steroid use anonymously, studies like that do take place sometimes and I’m not saying we’re going to have one in MMA. What I am saying is I think it’s irresponsible to put an estimate of that kind of % on what kind of usage is out there when I’ve spoken over the past of couple of weeks with, you know, various fighters, various managers, and I don’t get anything that even remotely approaches that from people’s estimates of things.
“Let’s look at this football study real quick because I think it’s relevant. When that study was done, and keep in mind these guys are retired and this is anonymous and confidential, so I’m not saying everybody’s going to admit to what they did but certainly they don’t have to worry about losing their jobs and apparently the anonymity has been preserved. Even in a study like that, 9.1% was the number and when you got to the positions that really were not the skill positions but more the size, strength, and you know whoever’s heavier, bigger, and stronger is probably going to do better… Offensive Lineman and Defensive Lineman… the percentages were 16.3% for OL and 14.8% for DL. So, you’re telling me that in football where those positions size and strength is everything, the percentage averages out at around 15% but in MMA where size and strength is one factor but, you know, if we understand MMA at all technique, striking technique, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu of course is hardly based on size and strength at all, it’s very skill-based, but in that it’s going to be anywhere from 2 to 4 times as many people using drugs when they know that they’re going to get drug tested or potentially can at the events? To me, it’s patently ridiculous, it really is and when you look at the numbers, let’s get to some facts. The facts are that in 2009 the UFC put on 21 events. In 2010, there have been 18 events so far. So we’re looking at 39 events from ‘09 forward. I went back and looked at the last 7 events where results of drug testing were reported and 92 fighters were tested, so we’re looking at an average of about 13 fighters per event. So, over those 39 events that I just mentioned from ‘09 and 2010, and again rough estimates, 500 fighters, 507 fighters would have been tested. Let’s use the middle ground of Josh’s numbers, let’s use 50% as the number. That means that of those 500, by his accounts an average of 250 of ‘em would have been on drugs. How many failed? One. Chael Sonnen. That’s it. One. One out of 250. Now, if you think that’s just a good year, a good year and a half that the UFC had, as we go all the way back to 2002, I was able to find 10 UFC fighters who have failed drug tests according to a great piece that was on CagePotato.com, I would urge you to go check it out, run a search on their site for drug testing: the ultimate guide or something like that, you’ll find it… 10 fighters in 8 years testing for steroids, performance-enhancing drugs, 10. That’s barely an average of one fighter per year. So, in order to believe that 250 fighters were on drugs yet only one failed, then you have to believe that 249 out of 250 fighters are beating the test or getting extremely lucky, OK?
So, how does Josh think that they’re beating the test? And again, I’m going to quote, ‘I grew up with a buddy who ran high-level track internationally and he says, you know, if you want to do it, you hire an endocrinologist and you can do this stuff and it’s not an issue to get around until and unless they adopt WADA-quality testing.’ Now, to those of you that don’t know, an endocrinologist is a medical doctor, a specialist who deals with hormonal imbalances. So, let’s set the stage. Those other 249 fighters who passed the tests, if this is the way you do it, would have had to walk into a medical doctor’s office and explain that they are illegally taking drugs because it is illegal to take anabolic steroids without a prescription and that they like the doctor to basically put their medical license at risk by helping them defraud the Government because athletic commissions are Government bodies, on a drug test so they can get in a cage and potentially do harm to another human being. That’s the scenario. You’re going to get a medical doctor to help you manipulate these tests, that’s what the medical doctor has to buy into and potentially put their license at risk. I mean, seriously? Are these endocrinologists just out there waiting to help and I would venture to say that there isn’t an endocrinologist in the world who could get 249 out of 250 fighters to pass a drug test. It just… it defies any logic, I mean, I understand that we can all come out and make broad-based statements and wild claims but when you really break the numbers down and break the facts down, we have drug testing. It’s working, I believe, because guys are getting caught. It’s not a scenario where nobody ever gets caught, you say geez, man, there must be something flawed with the tests. And to believe that percentage of fighters is on drugs but somehow they’re all beating the test and I’m focusing on UFC results because everyone seems to be focusing — Josh, other writers as well — on what the UFC should be doing, that the UFC should be doing their own testing, that the UFC should have a zero-tolerance policy so we’re going to look exactly at what’s happened in the UFC and when you look at those numbers, when you look at 10 fighters over 8 years, when you look at the number of fighters being tested… it just doesn’t bare out that we have a problem and it’s pretty wild. If you believe we have a problem and that all these guys are beating the tests, then you also have to believe that either UFC fighters are the most sophisticated group of human beings in the world at beating drug tests or they’re able to get an extraordinary number of doctors all over the country, endocrinologists, to help them manipulate drug tests being done by a Government body and put their medical licenses at risk and in my eyes, not only do we not have a problem, I think we should take out an ad. Any sport should jump up and down if you have 8 years of data and 10 guys failing the drug tests. The UFC should take out an ad and say, hey, put us next to baseball. Baseball’s had 50 failures in the last 5 years. 50. We’ve had 10 in the UFC, I’m talking about Major League Baseball now. Major League MMA, in my eyes, the UFC. We’ve had 10 in 8 years. So, when you really break the facts down and you really look at the numbers, it doesn’t make sense and it’s just sensationalism in my eyes.
“You also have to question why we would go after ourselves. Why? When we’re talking about that the sport should have more mainstream acceptance, it’s a sport that we love, it’s a sport that we know to be safe, it’s a sport where we are trying to overcome mainstream stereotypes… You’re assessing criminal behavior to half of MMA fighters. It is a CRIME to possess anabolic steroids without a prescription. They are a Schedule 2 controlled substance. It’s a misdemeanor to possess them. It’s a felony to distribute them or intend to distribute them. How does this move the sport forward? How does this gain mainstream acceptance? I’m not saying make stuff up to gain mainstream acceptance, but don’t make unsubstantial claims about this huge problem we have in MMA when none of the facts bare that out and by having third-party testing by the Government, there’s less room for error. If the UFC polices itself like a lot of these other leagues and I know we’re not the same but if they police themselves then to me there’s more potential for people to say, ‘Well they’re doing their own drug tests. Of course so and so didn’t fail because they’re not going to fail him because he’s too big of a draw!’ But we have the Government doing the testing. I’m more comfortable making the argument that we have a third-party who doesn’t care who they fail, who has no financial interests in who they fail and, yet, guys are failing and if I’m listening to The Jim Rome Show and I have kids and I hear that 30% to 70% of these fighters are on drugs, I’m not letting my kid go to an MMA gym, I’m not letting my kid train MMA because I’m going to say, hey, I don’t want my kid around that kind of environment and I have to say from my experience with the fighters, I don’t get that at all! I find them to be the hardest working bunch of athletes I’ve ever met and I don’t see it, OK? I might be wrong, I’m not saying I’m 100% right, but I know I’m right about one thing and that’s the numbers and numbers don’t lie.
“Then we move into the zero-tolerance argument. Again I’m quoting, ‘And, you know, I think people like to compare sports and talk about baseball. I got so many people e-mailing me and on my Twitter feed, it’s like who cares if these guys do this, do that. This is not baseball. This is not a game. They’re punching each other in the face. The sport is inherently dangerous.’ YEAH! It’s more dangerous than baseball. It sure as hell isn’t more dangerous than football. If you put the injury reports from NFL weekends next to the injury reports from UFC events, there’s no comparison in the safety of the two sports because in our sport, you don’t have guys who can run 4.3/40s or 4.5/40s at 200+ pounds full speed running into another guy with a helmet on his head that he can, you know, jam into his body. So when you look at the injuries, to me football is inherently, just look at the injury reports, a more dangerous sport physically. So, let’s look at the NFL’s policy since we’re talking, you know, danger vs. danger I think football’s much more dangerous in terms of injuries. NFL first-time you fail, 4 weeks. That’s one-fourth of a season, a quarter of a season. So you still make your money for 75%. 75% of the season you still get paid. Chael Sonnen, let’s use him as the example. He now is a year with no pay, a whole season, a whole calendar year. Not just with no pay but with no sponsorships, with whatever sponsorship deals he has in place at risk. So, where we do get to zero-tolerance? Why does MMA have to have zero-tolerance when in football you have to fail three times to get 12 weeks out? It goes 4 weeks, 8 weeks, 12 weeks. So even on a third failure you’re still making money for 25% of the season and a lot more money in most cases than what we see MMA guys making because it’s a salary, right? It’s not based on how many sponsorships you can run out and get. So, where we do we get to zero-tolerance? Should we apply zero-tolerance to us, to the media? Should Josh get fired from SI and never be allowed to write for them again if he’s wrong about anything or if he’s wrong about Chael? He referred to Chael as the biggest goat in MMA history, that he set himself up to be the biggest goat in MMA history. What if we find out that it was for a medical reason? What if we find out that there was some mistake with paperwork? What if he we find out, we don’t have any of these facts, yet. So what if we find that out? What if he didn’t put testosterone on his pre-fight form like Josh said on MMA Live? What if any of that is inaccurate? Does that mean he should lose his job? I don’t think it does but I also don’t think that a fighter should lose their ability to fight in the major leagues of MMA for life because they have one failure, one mistake. I don’t live in that world, OK? And there are so many reasons that a guy can fail a test when they may not have intentionally taken anything or may not have been on anything at all. I mean, if you do a little bit of research, you dig a little bit, just look at this California State Athletic Commission. They’ve had a terrible history with drug tests. Two high-profile drug tests, Phil Baroni and Sean Sherk, were both reduced after the fact. Why? Was it because they did everything perfectly and they just were good-hearted that day? NO! You have to believe it’s because mistakes are made. What about false positives? False positives happen with drug tests. With a zero-tolerance policy, that’s it! That’s a wrap, son. You no longer have a career based on a false positive. What about if you go back and listen to the episode we did with Sean Sherk, his attorney (Howard Jacobs) on her and detailed some of the chain-of-custody issues that went on with his drug tests that may have led to a positive. He also detailed complexities of what they have to do with the machine and the equipment that does the drug tests to make sure that if the sample that was in there before your’s came up positive that your test doesn’t accidentally come up positive because of that. Nope. Zero-tolerance, you no longer have a career. What about positives that get triggered from natural products because there are pro-hormones or ingredients in those products that might trigger a positive? What about that? So, we’re just going to toss these guys out and say, hey, you’re in the minor leagues forever when we can’t even really get at the intent 100%? And zero-tolerance is put out there and Josh isn’t the only one advocating it. But it’s put out there because what we have now isn’t a big enough deterrent, he told MMA Live it’s clearly not enough. Not enough?! It’s not enough that a guy’s out for 9 to 12 months with no pay? Estimates for Chael are that by losing the Anderson Silva fight, by not getting that rematch now, he may lose $500,000 to $1,000,000 dollars between his pay and sponsorship deals and endorsements. Sean Sherk, when he came on the show two years ago, said he lost ’several hundred thousand dollars’ with a six-month suspension and he had the title stripped from him. That’s not enough deterrent!? It’s not enough deterrent that guys get raked over the coals in the media, that their name is now associated with drug use for maybe forever at least for a significant period of time? And the majority of MMA fighters don’t make money that compares with other professional athletes like baseball players or football players and like I said before with the NFL, if you have three failures you STILL EARN money for a quarter of the season but we’re supposed to have zero-tolerance all of a sudden? I think the real issue if you’re that disturbed, you believe that we have these huge problem, that the athletic commissions can be more aggressive because they are the ones to test and the athletic commissions, I have a memo in front of me signed by Keith Kizer it was dated May 24th, 2008, the subject is ‘additional steroid and drug testing’ and basically this is a notice that went out to every fighter in Nevada who has a license that the commission can conduct random testing when they see fit for any reason, that they can call a fighter and say you’re testing on this particular day so I guess unless you call your endocrinologist very quickly and get them to manipulate your hormonal levels very quickly, we already have random testing and it has been used. So, to me let the commission do it’s job and this idea of zero-tolerance, it’s crazy to me. Especially when you understand, when you really understand the complexities of drug testing and how you can even have false results or flawed results, to say that a career should be thrown on the heap based on one failure to me is ridiculous. It really is.
“You know, and I have to point out because nobody’s saying it and this isn’t to single Josh out but the facts are the facts and when you look at the facts, when you look at the numbers, when you look at the statistics, you sometimes wonder is this coming from somewhere else? And we have to keep in mind that the history between Josh and the UFC is not a positive one. He was banned from the UFC credential-wise because when he had the results of The Ultimate Fighter 4 show and he gave them out on the air when he did his Sherdog radio show and that didn’t sit well with the UFC as you could imagine so they banned him and there’s a negative relationship there between him and Dana. And at least from a journalistic standpoint have to question, you have to raise the issue whether some of this is motivated by a negative relationship between the parties. I don’t know that it is. I don’t know Josh. I don’t know that he wouldn’t be saying the exact same things whether he was banned or not but you at least have to question that issue. So, I hate to see us, as an industry, raising this huge issue because Chael Sonnen failed a drug test and it just happens to be the first failure we’ve had in about a year and a half and when you average out the last 8 years, we’re looking at 1.25 failures in the UFC for anabolic steroids per year and for me, that’s a record we should be proud of and that’s a record we should publicize, not extrapolate out to a huge problem for which there’s no evidence and there’s no statistical basis to believe. And I’ll leave you with maybe just the ironic icing on the cake but when those 10 fighters failed those drugs, the fight in which they failed their record was 4-6. So, apparently, steroids are not the path to success or victory in the UFC and statistically it looks like a fighters have figured that out already.”