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Luca Fury: Why will UFC fire fighters for bad sportsmanship but not for failing drug tests?

By Zach Arnold | October 13, 2013

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A simple question from Luca Fury that gets right to the heart of UFC’s haphazard policy of punishing fighters.

If you exhibit questionable behavior consider beyond the pale, the UFC will fire you as long as you aren’t a top superstar. Luca recently (and aptly) pointed out what happened to Renato Babalu and Paul Daley. He also noted Rousimar Palhares getting cut from the UFC for holding onto the heel hook hold long after Mike Pierce submitted during their UFC Brazil fight last Wednesday.

Palhares is the perfect transition to Luca’s over-arching question. This is a fighter who fought on the UFC Brazil show while coming off of a drug suspension for… elevated levels of testosterone, a 9:1 T/E ratio to be exact. The suspension came after Palhares fought on a UFC Australia card last December. Which makes what Palhares did to Pierce on Wednesday night even dumber in retrospect.

Now, let’s point out the obvious: Palhares didn’t get fired for failing a drug test but he did get fired because of his prior record of bad sportsmanship. And that is where Luca pointed out the obvious public relations quandry UFC has right now when it comes to their selective punishment of fighters who behave badly or fail drug tests.

Here is Luca Fury’s commentary on UFC’s current policy on firing fighters for certain acts but not firing every fighter who fails a drug test.

When it comes to the fighters failing drug tests, the UFC does not have a universal policy. They are not consistent with the way they punish fighters. In fact, they are very inconsistent. It’s not about whether you fail a drug test or not that you get cut or not. It’s about whether you’re a fan favorite or whether you’re exciting or whether Dana likes you or whatever.

Take, for example, Matt Riddle. A guy who has won more fights than he’s lost in recent years, failed a test, they cut him, said it was because of the failed test that was for the reason. Take, for example, Lavar Johnson. He was a guy coming off of a boring performance but he still did have a winning record in recent years and he tested positive one time, I believe it was for elevated testosterone, and they instantly cut him and said that was the reason, it was the positive test.

However, look at a guy like Thiago Silva. A guy who has tested positive multiple times yet the UFC has kept him around, haven’t really punished him. He’s actually only has a couple of wins in the past five years or something, has a couple of wins overturned for positive tests, has several losses in there. Really hasn’t actually looked good recently, either, but the UFC has kept him around. Now, if it was really because of the positive tests that they cut Lavar Johnson and Matt Riddle, they would have cut Thiago Silva as well.

Also, look at a guy like Chael Sonnen. He tested positive for extremely elevated levels of testosterone following his title fight against Anderson Silva but did they cut him? No, they kept him around and in fact gave him almost an immediate re-match against Anderson Silva. Now, yes, of course people wanted to see Chael Sonnen around, people wanted to see him fight Anderson Silva again. So, obviously, from a fan perspective it was kind of good that they did that. However, guys know that if they are fan favorites or they are in exciting fights or they are a good fighter who is towards the top of the division, they can get away with this type of stuff and that’s not how it should be. The UFC should crack down on these guys and say it doesn’t matter if you’re a top fighter, it doesn’t matter if you’re a champion, it doesn’t matter if you’re an exciting fan favorite. If you test positive, if you break the rules something as serious as a failed drug test, knowingly doing something that’s banned, you should be cut. There shouldn’t be any leniency here because if guys know they can get away with it, they’re going to do it and they’re going to not really care about doing it because they know it’s fine, basically a get-out-of-jail free card. What’s the worry?

Now, I know that athletic commissions [do issue] some punishment. They’ll fine a guy, they’ll take a small % of his purse, they’ll suspend him for six months, maybe as a repeat offender a year. But, think about it — if you’re one of these guys is towards the upper level of a division, is a fan-friendly fighter, they’re probably making $100k, $200k a fight. So, if the athletic commission takes 10% of their purse, 15% of their purse, really what is that to them? They’re still making a ton of money. More money than they even need. And so what if they suspend him six months, a year? These guys usually only fight twice or three times a year, so if they are suspended six months that really isn’t anything to them and even if they are suspended a year, really? I mean, if I’m a fighter who’s doing these drugs and if they’re helping me get to this next level, then it’s absolutely worth it. I can get to the top of the division, make so much more money because I use these Performance Enhancers and know there’s just one point in my career where I take a year off but I still make a bunch of money for that previous fight. I’m going to still use them, there’s really almost no consequence here. In fact, it’s totally worth it.

Kind of goes to the whole situation with baseball. They’re talking about with the guys, these guys who tested positive for steroids and stuff. They still got the huge contracts, so really it’s worth it to them to use the steroids all those years because they’re locked into that huge contract that’s going to make them money regardless of whether they’re suspended or not. It’s kind of the same situation here with MMA fighters. Like I said, you use steroids for all these years, get to that high level, get this huge contract, and then just because you’re suspended at one point for a small period of time [it is] totally worth it.

Now, yes, you could say, “Then they’re not going to be able to use the steroids after that and they’re going to decline.” Well, the thing is these tests are so easy to beat that it’s really more of an issue of an IQ test rather than a drug test. It’s are you dumb enough to get caught because they’re not really hard enough to beat. So, these guys who test positive for these banned substances, you’d think that they just quit them right afterwards and never go on them again? No! They’re just more careful about not getting caught because, again, these tests are easy to beat.

But if you were to say, “hey, you test positive just once, you’re gone…” People are going to be much more selective about whether or not they want to make this decision because they’re going to know that, oh, it’s not an issue where if I on the off-chance in a very rare situation get caught I’ll be suspended or whatever but then I’ll just be able to get right back on the horse and fight for the title again or something. If they know that, hey, if I get caught just once I’m outta here, I’m cut from the organization…. I guarantee you there’s going to be a lot more guys second-guessing whether or not they should make that decision to use Performance Enhancing Drugs.

So, I definitely the UFC should start cracking down on these guys. Yes, in the short term, it’s obviously not going to be a very fan friendly (policy) if they cutting guys who are, like I said, top fighters, fan favorites. But in the long term, it’s better for the UFC, it’s better for their PR (public relations), and it’s better for the sport in general to have a clean, healthy sport rather than something dirty where fighters are cheating behind the scenes, being able to get away with it and even if on the off-chance they get caught, they just get a tiny slap on the wrist (right now) and aren’t really punished.”

Luca forgot to throw in Ben Rothwell’s name in there. His rant is a nice companion piece to my article on the brain damage/testosterone (drug) connection in combat sports. As for why UFC doesn’t have a consistent policy, it’s because they often treat their business like it’s horse racing. Whichever ponies draws the most business at the gate & action at sportsbooks is going to be favored no matter what the circumstances are when it’s go time to perform.

Now, it’s not fair to say that UFC doesn’t take failed drug tests seriously. They do take them seriously if it means leverage over a fighter who they view as making too much money and thus said fighter has a choice of being more flexible in future business relations. For many fighters, it’s UFC or bust. UFC is the only major MMA promotion right now and Bellator’s image amongst free agent fighters is questionable due to what’s happened to both Eddie Alvarez & Ben Askren.

Topics: Brazil, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 11 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

11 Responses to “Luca Fury: Why will UFC fire fighters for bad sportsmanship but not for failing drug tests?”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    1) I don’t think FOX has anything to do with Palharaes being fired.

    2) It is true that if you are a superstar, that you get to play by a different set of rules. But that is a general rule of life, not just the UFC. Happens in other sports all of the time.

    3) Lavar Johnson was 2-4 in his last 6 fights before being cut by the UFC. So to say he had a winning record in recent years is bogus.

    4) The UFC does need an exact drug policy… but here is why they don’t….. COMPETITION!! If MLB throws A-Rod out of baseball tomorrow, how will it affect them? It will not. He can’t sign with another league and then potentially hurt MLB. If the UFC throws Anderson Silva out of the UFC, another company can snatch him up and try to make money off of him. And that will negatively impact the UFC’s future. The competition is what is keeping the UFC from creating an exact drug policy. And I don’t blame them based on this fact.

    I am very vocal about a 3 strikes and out rule. I think it should be implemented. But as long as there is a Bellator or some other promoter trying to get part of the MMA marketshare…. Hard drug policies will never be in effect in the UFC.

    5) Palharaes is a bad example to use here to try and fight back at the UFC’s policies. He has been suspended twice for holding a submission too long. He has been busted for illegal substance. He has been in trouble in a grappling tournament for holding submissions too long. And his former coach has come out saying this was also a problem in the gym. He needed to be fired.

  2. Jonathan Snowden says:

    I love that he thinks a fighter making $100,000 a fight has “more money than he even needs.”


    In a career that’s likely going to last less than a decade and cost you both your health and long term physical well being? With that in mind $100,000 really seems like a lot of money?

    • Malin Bey says:

      I agree with Johnathan. MMA guys don’t make nearly as much as major sport stars in the US. And their careers are very short. I think the 3 strike rule should apply 1 year, then 18 months then banned for life.

  3. CC says:

    Would love to see Zach Arnold and MMA Supremacy start their own podcast.

    Call it MMA Offbeat. haha.

    Seriously, Start a podcast.

  4. Chris says:

    Luca brings up some valid points. The but the real story here is that the fighters have no union or collective bargaining agreements in place. So the UFC can be as arbitrary as they want when handing out punishments or suspensions. Just a fact of life if you are an MMA fighter.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      MLB can do what they want, and they have a union. First time offenders are supposed to get like 50 game suspension. A-Rod has never pissed hot and he is getting 200 days.

      How can they do this? The commission has a right to “protect the game”.

  5. The Gaijin says:

    Zack – care to give a bit more color onto why you’ve had some recent tweets saying the WSOF owner is a bagman for Zuffa and the LV Pols? Just curious to hear more backstory, unless, of course, you’re working on a feature on this and then I am content to wait.

    Thanks, T.G.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      WSOF is bankrolled by Sig Rogich. Rogich is one of the two or three most powerful political fixers in the state of Nevada. He’s an H.W. Bush style Establishment Republican. He’s not exactly a tea party guy, he’s a big business/crony capitalist/public relations guy with tentacles in Washington D.C. and all over the country.

      With Harry Reid fixer Harvey Whittemore off to jail, Rogich’s power is further increased.

      Rogich used to be the man at the Nevada State Athletic Commission during Marc Ratner’s tenure. He brings all the pols to the big fights in Vegas still. It is Lorenzo, Rogich, Ratner, and the AG’s office protecting Keith Kizer politically.

      Rogich is super-close to the Fertitta empire. He does nothing to piss them off. Hence, whatever moves he makes are basically blessed (officially or not) by UFC. The only purpose of WSOF is to be the stalking horse of Bellator, to do UFC’s bidding. That’s why when fighters like Fitch and Volkmann rant on Twitter about how WSOF treats them so much better than UFC, Dana is laughing his ass off — because WSOF is essentially UFC’s minor league play. The fighters look stupid praising Rogich & Sefo but ripping into Dana.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        Very good information Zach. I knew they had a friendly working relationship, but I did not know it ran that deep.

        It is pretty obvious that the Jon Fitch & Yushin Okami cuts are directly related to the existence of the WSOF. The UFC finally has a place to dump “boring” and overpriced fighters. And it helps out the WSOF because it gives them so bigger names that they can promote.


        I have no clue if the WSOF will do good on NBC Sports. But the way they run their business is much better then what we are seeing with Bellator. Better and more meaningful match-ups.

  6. Megatherium says:

    Highly unlikely that Fox would be put off by the leg injury situation and yet be okay with the site of Stun Gun hurling his body weight onto the chin of a downed and unconscious Erick Silva, doncha think fellas? Remember, your average tv exec isn’t likely to be a conditioned consumer of Zuffa brand violence.

    The stun Gun play on the prone knockout victim would be a good deal more troubling to the novice viewer than would the Palhares leg lock I would have to think.


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