By Zach Arnold | July 4, 2011
When horse racing — yes, horse racing — is held up as an example of a sport that recently has made better changes for drug testing than your industry, that’s saying quite a lot.
A horse is a horse, of course, unless they’re an MMA fighter taking horse drugs like boldenone and clenbuterol. Great for your heart, I hear.
Dr. Margaret Goodman appeared on Eddie Goldman’s radio show last Friday with some interesting remarks about the landscape of MMA’s drug culture and where things might be heading in regards to potential Federal or independent oversight of regulation.
The subject of Nate Marquradt and TRT came up. As you might expect, TRT is now an increasingly popular loophole for fighters to exploit for double-doping: take steroids, damage the endocrine system, get testosterone, go to a commission and get a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE), and off you go. Keith Kizer says Nevada has protocols to weed out the steroid users from non-steroid users in order to qualify for TRT, but color me skeptical.
Should TUEs be allowed in MMA?
“The answer is that, yes, Therapeutic (Use) Exemptions are important, but it’s almost unnecessary for anyone to need that that are top athletes. It just doesn’t make sense, those two things just don’t go together and I think the problem is it’s not a new area for MMA and for boxing and commissions but it’s an area that’s not dealt with on the same level that an organization like WADA deals with it or USADA in the sense that if you’re going to allow TUEs you have to understand when one is appropriate and, you know, it’s just practicing cookbook medicine. You can’t just say, ‘okay, if he’s got a low T level or his testosterone level is between a certain range, then he’s not overusing it.’ You know I was talking to someone that intimately worked with WADA for a number of years and even was on a committee to assess this kind of thing and they only have a handful of doctors that are around the world that they believe are acceptable to really determine if somebody needs a TUE for testosterone or drugs like that. So, if WADA, you know, who you have to say holds this to the highest standard in evaluation can’t find that many doctors that are appropriate in determining whether or not someone really, really needs the TUE, then this has to be handled to a much greater degree in boxing and the MMA.
“And the other issue is that nobody’s dealing with… let’s say that these fighters are given a TUE for it and their levels, let’s say Marquardt’s levels were within a normal range, everyone is forgetting that even though his levels are down all that time when he was using he continues to have a beneficial effect from a Performance Enhancing Drug, so that can last months after stopping usage. So, technically, we’re allowing certain athletes to have PED advantage over their opponent and that is just not right. It’s not fair to the fighter who probably doesn’t need the drug in the first place and it certainly isn’t fair to their opponent. And then, you know, you hate to bring this issue into it but when there’s betting on these fights, besides the most important safety aspect. So, you know, if these kinds of exemptions are going to be allowed which I think almost never should they be allowed as far as PEDs are concerned, then it is important for commissions that are going to say whether or not they’re going to allow this that they have these athletes evaluated in the right manner. To say, okay, we’re going to stop it for 8 weeks and then re-test him and blah blah blah… some of these drugs can be out of somebody’s system very quickly, you know, the half-life of how long a drug stays in your system can be gone very quickly when you do a drug test. But that does not mean that someone is not obtaining the performance-enhancing effects from it.
“Look, if they’re going to play the game, if commissions are going to play the game and grant these TUEs, then they have to go that extra mile to determine when it’s absolutely necessary.”
Shouldn’t opponents of fighters getting TUEs be notified ahead of time and have their own doctors analyze what is going on?
“The dangers (of fighters abusing TUEs) are huge and how fair is that? I mean, that is not fair and why should the opponent have to (deal with) that risk? And, you know, I just think that the issue, this is a great time to sit down and deal with it. Kudos go out to Greg Sirb because, really, he’s the first one that has really stepped up and said, wait a minute, this doesn’t smell right. And, you know, that is fantastic and I think that, you know, yes it’s great that the UFC supported that. I would hope that they would support that more, but the issue is they must have had some knowledge that he was, you know, Nate was using beforehand obviously because of other fights. How long was he given TUEs? And then you have to worry about with some of these organizations and UFC is one of them where they go overseas, where there is no commission overseeing things, so if they’re handling whether or not a fighter gets a TUE, how often does the opponent know that and how are they granting those? You know, I guess the question was Marquardt using it during his fight in Germany and who was overseeing that? So, I mean, and how many other fighters are doing that? And then you deal with all the other PEDs out there, who’s monitoring that or is it just a free-for-all? And, so, unless there’s the light of day brought on it by a commission like Pennsylvania, how often is this skirting by and opponents are dealing with performance-enhanced fighters? It’s just a bad around situation all around and this would be a good time to deal with this.”
Getting a license to fight is a privilege, not a right
“If you’re going to do the drug testing, you do the drug testing to the best of your ability and I believe, I really do believe and I’m not sure about MMA athletes but I do believe there’s many boxers out there that, like Floyd (Mayweather), that maybe don’t want to be the spokesman for this because that’s not their role, but I do believe that they want to prove that they fight clean, they’re willing to step up to the plate and I would hope that there’s other MMA athletes out there that would speak out against this and speak out to the fact that PED use is rampant. And, you know, yes everyone wants to say that MMA is a safer sport on many different levels and, yes, they don’t have the statistics of deaths and those types of injuries, thank goodness, but this kind of problem could end up being their Achilles’ heel if it’s not dealt with appropriately. Because it’s just like I said, if you’re not going to do the testing in the appropriate manner and determine whether or not someone really needs a TUE to the fullest capabilities, then I agree that it shouldn’t be allowed at all because what are we trying to do? Are we trying to make somebody perform at a level they’re not able to medically? Let’s say if Marquardt or another fighter really does have this problem, you know, what about all the harmful effects of giving the young man these drugs? If you have a medical condition that precludes you from competing in MMA or boxing, then you shouldn’t be given drugs to try to make you fit into that role.”
The next big drug focus for MMA – EPO usage & blood doping in general
“What we’re ignoring here is that there’s so many other substances that are used as performance-enhancing agents besides testosterone or anabolic steroids and often athletes use things in combination. So, to say that an athlete is just purely using one single anabolic steroid and not using all this other stuff like EPO for blood doping or all these other things that are out there, I mean you could give a litany of drugs, is silly and that they’re probably using things in combination. And if you look at cycling, which is probably considered the dirtiest sport out there still, they’re using, you know, certain agents in addition to probably using steroids but they’re using things like EPO all the time and I do believe that EPO is very commonly used in MMA and in boxing and that is a drug that definitely will improve your endurance. You know, steroids, anabolic steroids will help them in training considerably besides the actual idea of the power. They will help every single athlete in training, especially in a boxer, an MMA athlete where they’re getting injured all the time. But EPO or blood doping methods are hugely important in giving a performance-enhancing effect to an MMA athlete or a boxer, so you know I think the problem is our testing is inadequate. If we’re going to do the testing, it needs to be the done right way. Yes, nothing is perfect, but the way the situation is and the way commissions is handling it now is just not thoroughly enough. It’s like trying to put lipstick on a pig, unfortunately, and it still is a pig. I hate to use that analogy but it just fits. So, if we’re going to deal with it, let’s deal with it. Otherwise, don’t deal with it at all! Just stop all this. Let everybody fight on whatever they want but I don’t think that’s the mentality that we want, I don’t think that’s fair, I don’t think it’s safe, it tarnishes these great sports and so, yeah, now we got to deal with and I think it’s easy to do but I think it needs to be done in a right way instead of just everybody coming out and saying, ‘we’re doing WADA testing,’ when they’re not doing WADA testing or ‘yes we care about it, we’re teaching our athletes to stay away from steroids’ when they’re looking the other way.”
Why standards need to be stepped up now and independently examined
“Of course, these TUEs are important and have to be used. But the overall drug testing is so inadequate at this point, it needs to go to unannounced drug testing, needs to have more expansive lists of things that are tested for, depending on what is thought to be used in boxing and MMA. The blood counts need to be evaluated in fighters to make sure they’re not blood doping, these needs to be done periodically for EPO to make sure there’s no blood doping. So, there’s a whole host of things that need to be done that aren’t being done and they’re not hard to do and then it wouldn’t take all of this explanation in the media every time somebody is thought to be guilty of using something. We’d be nipping it in the bud in the beginning.
“The bottom line is that this 100% can’t fall on commissions are far as drug testing. This is where we get into a problem. You know, a lot of commissions don’t have the manpower, they don’t have the finances, they don’t have a lot of the things that are needed to conduct appropriate, thorough drug testing and that’s why ultimately this needed to be handed over to other agencies and individuals to do it not only independently but to do it the correct way. So, that’s the bottom line.
“There are athletes that will step up to the plate to volunteer themselves for drug testing. I believe that commissions and this is something that the ABC look should to help promote further education in how drug testing can be performed and be done cost-effectively but has to be in an unannounced, random way. It has to be free of conflicts of interests and it needs to be done now.”
Who will create an independent medical body to oversee drug testing and what’s the incentive?
“I think that its possible to create your own and obviously I’m not really able to talk about it so much right now but I think that this is something that, you know, I’ve been really interested in. I know some other individuals are interested in trying to create an independent organization that will allow athletes to volunteer for testing. You know, it’s different with Olympic sports where, you know, an athlete that knows that they’re eligible to compete in the Olympics has to sign up with WADA or USADA maybe like 18 months in advance and at that point in time and you know we’ve got boxers that have been subjected to that, Olympic boxers that are now professional fighters out there doing well that have been through that probably wouldn’t have a problem with it. But I think there needs to be this groundswell of something like this starting on a case-by-case basis to see that it isn’t that restrictive, that can be done in a cost-effective way and it is the right way and it benefits the athlete to demonstrate to the public that they’re clean and I think it can be done.
“I think it was done in horse racing, it’s being done more in horse racing, it’s started on an individual level and more and more racing commissions are adding unannounced drug testing and expansive drug testing to their protocols. I think that, you know, with MMA being so vocal and being so prominent now as far as the media is concerned it’s going to be a question that they’re going to have to answer or the Government will step in. I know people have lobbyists preventing further Government involved in MMA but the bottom line is the Government is going to be asked to take a look at drug use like it has been asked to take a look at drug use in horse racing recently. They’re going to be asked to do this in MMA and just like I said earlier, this may be end(ing) up (as) MMA’s Achilles’ heel.”
Why fighters, not promoters and commissioners, can create momentum for independent drug testing
“Well, I just think that athletes themselves need to step up like Floyd is doing and obviously Floyd’s in a different position, he fights for big purses… but I think that individual athletes can step up and volunteer for testing.
“So, I think there’s fighters out there and I think it’s just going to start on an individual basis and I think this will help give a better image to boxing. I would hope that MMA athletes would speak up as well because I don’t believe every MMA athlete is dirty, of course, and I think there’s ones out there that are willing to step up and prove that’s the case. Like I said earlier, I don’t think that the commissions as much as you would like it can (handle) the total responsibility because it is an international sport, they don’t have that much contact with the athletes and there’s so much variance between commission and commission as far as the resources that they have to have something like this done. Obviously, everybody wants to throw everything at the promoters and tell them to step up. But I think the athletes themselves, if they ask to have it done, I think it can be done.”
Will promoters dispose of non-main event level fighters who challenge the status quo on drug testing?
“It’s sad. I mean, you know, for the longest time one of the biggest complaints that many people have with horse racing, especially individuals that spend a lot of money owning horses and having horses trained, is that one gets injured and they just throw them away and move onto the next and, you know, you hate to see that type of mentality, you know, if a UFC or MMA fighters of one of these other organizations were to speak out (on drug usage) that, you know, ‘yeah, well, there’s always a lot of other talented ones that will keep their mouth shut.” I would hope that wasn’t the case, but you know, time will prove that.
“I think that it’s great that fans get involved. I try to get involved and I look at the things write and comment on, you know, yea or nay or positive and negative and I think it’s great. But I think that the fans may not realize how much influence they do have and I’m not talking about just not buying a fight or turning something off. But when fans contact commissions, they contact the media, they write, they do all these things, things do happen. So, I would think that the best thing that can be is if people out there that love the sport want the sport to be clean, want it to be a level playing field, that the more that they contact commissions and write in, I believe that more will be done.”