By Zach Arnold | August 2, 2013
Here’s a story that provides no ‘fun’ or ‘jockularity’ for David Hill of Fox Sports or Kevin Kay of Spike TV.
The Feds are coming after everyone involved in the Biogenesis drug scandal. And it is expected that as many big-name clients that the Feds can get their hands on will be called to testify or provide evidence against Tony Bosch, the accused ringleader.
Last week, disgruntled Biogenesis employee Porter Fischer claimed that there were names from both boxing & Mixed Martial Arts on the Biogenesis clients list. There has been lots of skepticism about any impact there would be if a big-name MMA fighter/fighters was implicated in the scandal. After all, Shane Carwin didn’t draw much heat for his drug scandal. We addressed those issues last week.
However, there’s a difference between the mail order drug scandal that Carwin was named in and the Biogenesis scandal. The Feds see the Biogenesis scandal as this decade’s BALCO scandal. And one man in particular who made the lives of Barry Bonds & Lance Armstrong a living hell is getting into the fray: Jeff Novitzky. If I’m UFC or Bellator, I’m nervous about Novitzky potentially going after fighters. He’s relentless. He’s gotten in trouble for unreasonable searches for evidence against people he has targeted. Deadspin labeled Novitzky as a man who “continues his myopic, monomaniacal quest to bring down the users.”
Now that Novitzky and the Feds are investigating Biogenesis, it will be easy for UFC and Viacom to run away from further commenting on the story. They will hide behind the “we won’t comment during an ongoing investigation” smoke screen. Allen Barra wrote an article last week for The Atlantic asking why other sports leagues are not asking to see the Biogenesis client records. Barra also chided Dana White for his response regarding the potential of a currently active UFC active being named on the client list. While Barra’s article made a factual error or two, his general point was correct — why are leagues like the UFC seemingly not-very curious about who might be named on the Biogenesis client list? The answer: it goes back to Zuffa’s experience with Shane Carwin. There was no fallout when Carwin was named during the mail order anti-aging clinic drug scandal. So, therefore, why worry about the Biogenesis situation? Furthermore, Chael Sonnen continues to remain a big PPV draw for the company despite his shameless testosterone drug usage.
If the fighter/fighters in question named in the Biogenesis scandal are retired or no-namers, then nobody is going to care. If the participant(s) are currently active, some reason to care. If the participant(s) happen to be active and title contenders? Different ball of wax. Two factors about Biogenesis that could make it potentially hairy for UFC or Bellator: 1) the media is paying attention because the scandal involves high-profile names like Alex Rodriguez and 2) Jeff Novitzky is involved and he doesn’t go after small names, he only cares about snagging big fish.
The intrigue now is if the fighter(s) in question happen to be in the title picture. If that’s the case, how will UFC or Bellator handle the situation? Will they ‘freeze’ a fighter’s contract and try to use a lame punishment to deflect media attention? Will they cut a fighter? The options on the table for handling a potential bombshell are limited.
One counterproductive scenario would involve the promotions backing the fighter(s) and not levying significant punishment. For the sake of argument, I won’t mention any fighter names but… let’s say a fighter who happens to be in title contention is named on the Biogenesis client list. And let’s say that the fighter in question is booked for a big fight on an upcoming PPV. Then what? Do you pull the fighter off of PPV and ice them on the sidelines or do you move ahead, given the cost of promoting a PPV show, and basically dismiss any sort of punishment by hiding behind the lame excuse that “the Government” drug tests fighters?
Here’s the risk for UFC or for Viacom if the fighter(s) on the Biogenesis list happen to be active, a big-name, and/or a title contender… if you don’t drop the hammer on the fighter(s) in question, then you risk facing the wrath of Jeff Novitzky. Novitzky’s track record indicates that he can get very fixated on a target and will spare no lengths in going for blood. He’ll spend all the time and money in the world to go after anyone he thinks is a drug cheat. I suspect that Viacom would be more willing to drop the hammer on a fighter named on the Biogenesis client list than the UFC would be.
The last person in the world the UFC wants to piss off is Jeff Novitzky. Ask Bud Selig all about Novitzky’s tenacity. If Novitzky views the UFC as being drug enablers, he will start digging dirt on everyone involved. He is the type of person vindictive enough to go after Dr. Jeff Davidson (Zuffa) and/or Dr. Tim Trainor, Keith Kizer’s self-professed top sports doctor in America, in regards to the enabling of testosterone usage by fighters. The UFC really doesn’t want to deal with a headache like Novitzky. It would be in their best business interests to cut the fighter(s) in question if they happen to be high-profile and take the short-term money hit rather than deal with the Feds investigating their business & medical practices.
Dana White loves to use the phrase “the Government” when it comes to defending drug testing in Mixed Martial Arts. It’s the kind of focus-tested political linguistic marketing that you would expect Frank Luntz or George Lakoff to advise a Congressman to use. Keith Kizer is not “the Government.” He’s a hack from the Nevada AG’s office who gives two or three days public notice on steroid & drug panel commission meetings. Jeff Novitzky? Now, he is “the Government.” He’s a guy that acts as if he has nothing to lose and doesn’t care about politics. He has Uncle Sam’s resources and isn’t shy about using them.
The two major players in MMA better hope that none of their currently active title contenders are caught up in the Biogenesis scandal. If the worse case scenario happens, UFC and Viacom better have an emergency strategy in place to deal with the potential fallout. Let’s just say that Jeff Novitzky may treat MMA names on the Biogenesis list a bit differently than, say, a pro-wrestler caught on a steroids list. That’s the price you pay for wanting MMA to be a ‘mainstream sport.’