Friend of our site

MMA Headlines


Bleacher Report

MMA Fighting

MMA Torch

MMA Weekly

Sherdog (News)

Sherdog (Articles)

Liver Kick

MMA Junkie

MMA Mania

MMA Ratings

Rating Fights

Yahoo MMA Blog

MMA Betting

Search this site

Latest Articles

News Corner

MMA Rising

Audio Corner


Sherdog Radio

Video Corner

Fight Hub

Special thanks to...

Link Rolodex

Site Index

To access our list of posting topics and archives, click here.

Friend of our site

Buy and sell MMA photos at MMA Prints

Site feedback

Fox Sports: "Zach Arnold's Fight Opinion site is one of the best spots on the Web for thought-provoking MMA pieces."

« | Home | »

What’s not said about drug testing in combat sports

By Zach Arnold | December 20, 2011

Print Friendly and PDF

After all the hullabaloo that the Nevada State Athletic Commission put Alistair Overeem through in regards to taking a urine drug test, he’s touting how he’s been drug tested the most out of anyone in the sport. It makes for a media-friendly tag line heading into his fight against Brock Lesnar on Friday, December 30th at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

On this site, we’ve focused on the issue of doping in MMA and what kind of tests athletic commissions could implement if they really wanted to catch more guys in the act of doping. Suffice to say, we don’t buy what Keith Kizer is selling in regards to the claim that urine drug testing is more effective than blood testing. It may be effective for catching idiots who are using horse drugs like boldenone which have a long half-life, but you’re not going to catch any sort of substantive/sophisticated testosterone usage unless you use a Carbon Isotope Ratio test.

Dr. Margaret Goodman appeared on the Sherdog Rewind show this past weekend and did an interview with the inimitable Jack Encarnacao on this very topic. She is launching a new organization called VADA (Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency) which will allow fighters in the combat sports to be able to be independently drug tested at a higher standard than what the current athletic commissions are using. You can find out more details about VADA on Twitter and Facebook.

If you’re looking for a perfect example of how VADA can be utilized, Jack brought up the example of Josh Koscheck when he said he wanted to have more stringent drug testing for his fight against Georges St. Pierre. Instead of being lauded for the request, Dana White told him to be quiet and that the commissions are the ones who handle drug testing protocols.

As for why VADA has been established, Dr. Goodman says that the current testing standards simply aren’t modified to test for standards that are important in boxing & MMA.

“The way commissions order tests now, the prices might have changed, but for example to do the regular drug screens that a commission would order, let’s say that they do the complete panel that goes through Quest labs. It could be somewhere in the neighborhood of 125 items, most of which are either drugs of abuse and a lot of other things that maybe aren’t even applicable to combat sports that’s included in the panel and then you’ve got the large amount of numbers of things that are done in the anabolic screening panel and diuretics and masking agents. That may only cost $300 but unfortunately the problem becomes is that you’re missing all these other items. You’re missing EPO, you’re missing checking the blood count which can only maybe cost you $8. But you’re missing all those other things and that’s why the process needs to be advanced and done the right way or not done at all.

“That’s another thing that we really want to do with VADA is we want to educate the athlete on these aspects. When I started working as a ring doctor (and I always go back to this silly story), but when I first started as a ring doctor and I would sit with the fighters and one of the ways you examine a fighter is by hearing them talk and seeing how they respond to questions. You kind of know if somebody’s brain is working well by just doing something simple like that and I would ask them what they were taking. We had a sheet where they had to write down any medications they were on and attest that that’s the only things they were taking. But a lot of fighters would write down that they were taking aspiring and I would say to them, ‘Don’t you know the risks of taking aspirin right before a fight?” and they had no clue and the fighters that had been taking a lot of aspirin you’d often see in a fight those are the guys not just with the nosebleeds but those were the guys that had faces that ended up looking like Elephant Man after five or six rounds. And so to me it was all about education and at first I remember when I would talk to fighters about these things at the weigh-in, you don’t have a lot of time when you’re doing your exam but the trainer would come up and say, ‘don’t, don’t, you’re going to scare them! You’re going to tell them all these things.’ But you know what? I think fighters are different, especially we know with a lot of the UFC fighters they’ve had other jobs in life, some of them are very medically trained. They need to understand all of these different issues so that they know what they’re putting into their bodies (and what) could be detrimental and life-threatening to them.”

Dr. Goodman also think that focusing on anabolic steroid use as opposed to focusing on blood doping is not a good idea given the kinds of health risks involved in that kind of drug usage.

“[Blood doping] is extremely dangerous and it’s probably one of the most dangerous things that an athlete can do and I don’t think that really any commission, at this point in time and for whatever reason, takes this problem as seriously as they should and whether it’s EPO, whether it’s somebody infusing their own blood to bring up their blood count, I mean the risks are just so devastating that it really has to be looked into… I mentioned to you, to do a simple blood count, I just negotiated this with a lab that will be doing it for VADA, I mean it’s going to cost $8 and when you look at the expense of all these other things that are coming up in these drug panels that commissions are often doing that are really of no pertinent value to the safety of the fighter because you order a panel and it’s got a bunch of stuff in it that you didn’t really ask for but it’s just the way the lab has their panel, you know a simple hematocrit, installing that (in a panel) is really going to tell if they’re at a place where they shouldn’t be training and I don’t know the exact rules in Cycling but I do know that they follow the 50% rule and if an athlete’s higher than that, you know they’re not being suspended because someone thinks that they’re blood doping they’re also being suspended because it’s unsafe for them to train when you have too many blood cells that have no room, no place to go, they’re going to get clogged in your arteries and your brain and in your heart and next thing you know you got athletes keeling over for no necessary reason.

“You know what happens? It’s just the same way in other sports is people say, ‘well I’m going to just do it for a short period of time and when the fight’s over or when my competition’s over I’ll go off of this stuff and I’ll just be fine,’ and that’s probably true 90% or maybe even 99% of the time but there’s those risks there and then you put it together with what kind of family history do these athletes have, do they have a family history of heart attack and stroke, what are any other medical issues that they may have that are undisclosed or undiscovered… you know it’s all about education and I think that not only MMA athletes but I think boxers are smart enough to understand this but somebody has to take the time to explain it to them. It shouldn’t just be that we’re testing athletes to catch them, that we’re trying to prove a point or we’re trying to prove that our system is good enough that obviously they’re not using because we don’t catch them…

“Unfortunately, I can tell you some personal experience in my regulatory days is that if a fighter dies, everyone gets all upset because there’s all this (negative) press and obviously everyone’s concerned about the poor individual that passed away but nobody sits down and looks at why, nobody wants to deal with these issues and you really have to … not be afraid to hear the answers. And so after it’s out of the media, these things fade away and that was one of the reasons why I left as a ring physician, it was just so frustrating to me that these issues weren’t taken seriously enough and weren’t acted upon enough.”

As for the great debate about urine vs. blood testing to catch doping, Dr. Goodman agrees with Keith Kizer’s premise… only on one condition, a condition that we’ve brought up before in numerous articles on this site.

“I do agree that urine is better for certain things but, once again, you want to test for everything that’s important and by not testing with blood in addition you’re missing a lot of things. You’re missing every possible instance of blood doping and that can really be lethal to an individual even more so in a lot of respects than someone taking anabolic steroids. The other thing that we’re missing here is, yes, something will stay in someone’s system longer but unfortunately if you don’t do certain kinds of testing, there’s a test (Carbon Isotope Ratio) called CIR. Bottom line is if you don’t do the right test to look for synthetic testosterone, you may miss it any way! The main thing that’s important is this is a growing body of knowledge. Things are changing all the time. Panels that are tested for are changing and if you talk to people now it’s not so much that fighters are using these anabolic steroids that stay in somebody’s system for a long time, they’re too smart for that. Those aren’t the most effective ones out there. They can use creams and gels and things that they can take that are out of their system in just a few hours. Sticking with some kind of urine test so you’re going to catch something that someone took months ago, those aren’t the drugs that these guys are using and we were talking about Carbon Isotope Ratio testing which is a way to make sure whether or not somebody could be using some kind of exogenous testosterone and you might not pick it up in the urine when you’re testing for anabolic steroids specifically but this specific test can often tell you in a much shorter period of time within maybe several hours to days to really pick up and find out whether or not somebody’s been using.”

One of the unique aspects of the drug testing debate is that those who believes the commissions are doing enough or shouldn’t be doing any testing at all say that doping really doesn’t help MMA fighters win fights (based on how many fighters have gotten caught and what their win % is in those fights where they got busted). So, if there’s no winning benefit to doping, then why are so many fighters involved in the practice? Dr. Goodman believes, like you and I do, that there are short-term benefits (that come with higher health risks) when it comes to doping.

“Of course (there are) benefits. The one thing it may not help and I can tell you from years ago when Fernando Vargas lost a fight and then tested positive for Winstrol and he was one of the first major fighters to ever test positive in boxing for anabolic steroids… it certainly didn’t help his chin. So, yeah, there are certain things it won’t help but will it help you train more? Will you be able to train for frequently? Will you then get the benefits of that? Of course you will! And, of course, it can make your stronger and make you faster and maybe it helps on the takedowns. I mean, there’s a whole bunch of different things. Of course it’s valuable but the other side of the coin is that the dangers of it aren’t really appreciated and understood and that’s what makes it so wrong. I just think that the knowledge is partially there not enough and commissions tend to not do as good of a job as maybe they would like to or maybe they even care to.

“I was talking to someone about this that was very much on the inside, not with the commission, but someone very involved in boxing and they said, ‘don’t you understand that this is hell for us? Nobody wants to see fights not take place.’ And so every time, for example, when we started doing MRI testing on fighters nobody was really concerned about the MRI itself but they were concerned about what was going to happen if we found an abnormal result. I mean, I can tell you that there was a very well-respected promoter in boxing (this was before we started having MMA) and the promoter was like, ‘well, do you understand, what (a famous fighter) if he has an abnormal scan?’ And I just looked at him like… well, that’s the point! Isn’t that the point? If someone has an aneurysm or a hemorrhage in their head and he was looking at it from the perspective of the promotional side that ‘that fight won’t take place!’ And, so, that’s another problem with doing drug testing and I sure understand that and I can see why an organization like VADA or even trying to enlist other organizations like WADA or USADA involved in combat sports are not going to be welcomed because no one wants to have anything that can stop a fight and they don’t like to look at the repercussions that it could save somebody’s life, that somebody wasn’t using some substance or some dangerous (agent) to make their performance better.”

Speaking of MRIs, here’s a report that Ron Kruck filed for Inside MMA in which he reviews the study being done at the Cleveland Clinic (in Las Vegas) to give 150 fighters quarterly MRI scans & brain tests to see what kind, if any, damage fighters are suffering in terms of head trauma in their respective sports. The study will be conducted over the next four years.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 17 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

17 Responses to “What’s not said about drug testing in combat sports”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    1. SpikeTV is counter programming the UFC on Friday’s in 2012. The program is called “The Ultimate Fighter Fridays”. The biggest problem is that they will also be counter Bellator at the same time on MTV2. Don’t let a good grudge get the in the way of common sense now SpikeTV.

    2) People are saying that XBOX Live is giving away UFC 141. Not sure if it’s a glitch or if they are just trying to test the system to see how it goes. Have to be a gold member to do it.

    • nottheface says:

      I don’t think their grudge has much to do with it. They are trying to get some ratings by capitalizing on the fact that people will be watching MMA on Fridays. They’ve already paid for airing the UFC next year so if they think they can draw enough to sell advertising it makes sense for them to keep running UFC content.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        Don’t you think more people are going to watch MMA on another night of the week that the UFC isn’t on, canibalizing their ratings? They are hurting Bellator just to give the middle finger to the UFC.

        Those shows will get a certain number of viewers throughout the week no matter what. just from people flipping through the channels.

        If this was just about attracting fans who want to watch MMA, then they wouldn’t be calling it “The Ultimate Fighter Fridays”. Or the counterprogram to the FOX show, which was labeled even worse.

        And you are right. They have already paid for the rights to the content. It’s a sunk cost.

        But putting it against their own asset (Bellator) makes it pretty clear that they are still butt hurt by the UFC leaving…. At least more so then they care about their future in Bellator.

        And the funny thing is that, sure they might hurt the UFC’s ratings slightly at first. But long term this helps the UFC out more because they have 2 channels people are watching them on. This hurts SpikeTV long term because they are basically pushing the UFC in a good time slot…. The same UFC that is signed to FOX for a 7 year contract.


        I’m also sure some crack pot at SpikeTV is telling himself:

        “Well, if we can trick viewers for an entire year, then we can just replace the UFC with Bellator on Friday’s and have them seemlessly get high ratings from the transition.”

        Something tells me that is the master plan, along with giving a big FU to the UFC. The problem is that by the end of 2012, all of the UFC viewers will be moved over to FX. Sure they might catch a SpikeTV program here or there. But for the most part, they are moving over. SpikeTV won’t be fooling fans for very long. And if anything, will piss off people who might have missed the first few LIVE TUF’s because of the trickery they are attempting.

        • nottheface says:

          but they’ve countered UFC ppvs and Versus shows when they had a good relation. The reason: ratings go up for these retread shows whenever there is an event going on. The UFC would do all the work promoting an event and for those people who couldn’t get the ppv or versus or were too stupid to realize it wasn’t on Spike would tune in., Now they’re going to do schedule it weekly,

          I agree that it hurts Bellator and actually helps the UFC, but I don’t think Spike cares. It’s there last chance to cash in on their UFC library.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          1) They countered the Marquardt on Versus fights with Marquardt content on SpikeTV once they found out the UFC was talking to NBC more seriously.

          2) Any content that would have played during PPV’s in the past were not dubiously named in order to trick viewers. The FOX and TUF counter programming is downright deceiptful.

          They aren’t going to get the money back from the UFC for 2012. Like I said before, it’s a sunk cost. What they should be looking to do is establish a day that the UFC is not on…. So Friday & Saturday is out the window… And use the UFC footage to get people watching past fights on that day. Then when Bellator is able to come onto SpikeTV, they can transition it properly.

          Trying to screw the past at the expense of the future is not maximizing profits. It’s vindictive.

        • enrikk says:

          I don’t understand this “counter-programming” concept. I’ve had a DVR for as long as the technology has been around (allowing me to record two shows at once) – and I know I’m not alone here. Every cable and satellite company should have it as an option, and they’re not expensive.

          No, I won’t be fooled by Spike’s “counter-programming”, and yes, I’ll still be watching ALL of it. I didn’t start watching Spike because of the UFC and I won’t stop when it leaves, either.

          With DVRs, BOTH Spike and FX will get good ratings. Everyone wins. It’s (almost) 2012, folks, put your VCR’s away and stop complaining.

    • Megatherium says:

      The MMA Junkie event calendar has ZUFFA counter programming itself on March 3 with the Aussie UFC event going up against the Strikeforce Heavyweight GP Final.

      Must be wrong.

      • Megatherium says:

        I guess if the event takes place on that date in Australia then we in the western hemisphere would see it a day earlier.


  2. Chief says:

    meltzer reports that while the 12/14 overeem test came back negative, the 12/7 test “sent to a German lab was returned to the doctor with no testing done of its contents. Overeem’s doctor then disposed of its contents and sent a letter to UFC saying that since it wasn’t tested, and it had been more than 24 hours, the sample would be worth nothing and it was disposed of. The sample was returned to his doctor untested on 12/13 and his doctor disposed of the sample on 12/13.”

  3. Bob says:

    If these isotope tests are implemented it won’t be long until someone starts supplementing their diet with foods/chemicals enriched in 13C (had to look up that the C3 plants which are used in testosterone synthesis have a lower 13c/12c ratio.

    If one were to just use 13c-enriched T you run the risk that another endpoint would be investigated (e.g. cholesterol) but your ratios may not jive and this may raise a red flag. IIRC there is some selectivity along the steroidogenic pathways in that the 13c/12c ratio for T may no be exactly the same as for other metabolites.

    Same thing as for the GH, eventually someone will start producing the other isoform (20K GH) to have the ratio fall within the range.

  4. Darkmader says:

    Off topic a bit. I can’t keep up with all these upcoming UFC shows with the matchmaking and I think they should chill out a little in 2012 because it’s saturating the product and of course I’m sure we might get a few more injuries. However, I just saw the main card for the Japan show a few minutes ago and it’s pretty f’n good. There are so many fights that can go either way and could very well start off the year with one of the best UFC PPV cards in a long long while.

    Champ Frankie Edgar vs. Ben Henderson (for lightweight title)
    Ryan Bader vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
    Cheick Kongo vs. Mark Hunt
    Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Jake Shields
    Joe Lauzon vs. Anthony Pettis
    Takanori Gomi vs. George Sotiropoulos

    Looks pretty damn good to me.

    Happy Holidays to all and keep up the good work Zach as everybody knows it’s one of the best sites in the world.

    • Megatherium says:

      Couldn’t agree more, they’re obviously making a special effort to give Japan a really good show. Sorta that respect factor entering hallowed mma territory I guess.

  5. RST says:

    “…that doping really doesn’t help MMA fighters win fights (based on how many fighters have gotten caught and what their win % is in those fights where they got busted)…”

    Well even if they didn’t scam off with a belt like barnett did, somebody still got cheated on.

    Even if doping or steroids only helped them achieve a 50-50 record, those shlubs they did beat still got weasled.

    Great article, I always wondered what happened to Goodman.

  6. BadSchnucka says:

    Good for the good-doctor. Don’t blame her for wanting to do a better job than the commission is interested in doing, and for the right reasons–fighter safety. Too bad keeping atheletes safe pisses people off.
    Seasons Greetings and Beatings 🙂

  7. […] A Terrific Breakdown of Steroids in Relation to MMA ( […]

  8. […] As always, Zach Arnold hits the nail on the head. Here’s his piece on Fight Opinion about What’s Not Said About Drugs in Combat Sports. […]


To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture.
Anti-spam image