The MMA World Just 'Blew' it!

Monday, 12 January 2015  |  Carl


The MMA World Just "Blew" It

When new broke earlier this week that UFC Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones had failed a pre-fight, out of competition drug test administered by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC), many MMA fans took this situation to pile on Jones. While many see Jones as a fake, loudmouth, brash, egotistical dick, the bottom line is that even if Jones is all these things, this is not the time to try and make your point from your sandbox. Jones tested positive for Benzoylecgonine, which is the primary metabolite in the drug cocaine. Despite cocaine being illegal, the NSAC does not consider the drug, or the metabolite, illegal during the "out of competition" period, which was explained as 12 hours prior to the fighters scheduled bout. 

So while Jones did fail this test, and does partially deserve some of the hatred towards him now, drug addiction is not something to laugh and point fingers at. Without knowing the full extent of Jones' use of the drug, his willingness to enter a drug rehab clinic does show that possibly this was not solely a one time thing. On the other hand though, this could all be nothing but a stop gap measure to convince fans, media and others in the MMA world that he is sorry and is looking to get help following no more then a one time mistake. No matter what it may or may not be, Jones does deserve some level of sympathy. The problem is that while sympathy is in order, it should not trump accountability and responsibility from all parties involved.

Now, this is not Jones' first "mistake" during his UFC career. Going back to 2012, Jones has been involved with a DUI incident, a very public scuffle during a UFC media event, uttering a death threat on camera towards an opponent, and despite claiming his cell phone was hacked, posting homophobic slurs towards a man on Instagram. For almost any other figher, any of these situations would have drawn some form of punishment from the UFC, but not Jones. While he was fined and sentenced to community service by the NSAC for the media event scuffle, Jones has basically walked away from every situation embarrassed, maybe ashamed, but punishment free.

In 2013, the UFC introduced a Code of Conduct, meant to establish a right and wrong kind of behavior guideline for UFC athletes, and we have seen several fighters punished under this. Matt Mitrione, Nate Diaz, Anthony Johnson, and several others have been handed varying degrees of punishment for a range of behavior. Some resulted in fines or suspensions, while others were outright releases from the promotion. But yet again, Jones has been able to escape any type of punishment from the promotion for any of his actions.

In this current ordeal however, Jones is possibly the one man that deserves the least amount of blame. Sure he was the one that failed the drug test that started this entire situation, but its not up to Jones to hand out punishment for wrong doings, that task is left up to the UFC and the SAC in charge. And neither has stepped up in the least.

For whatever reason, as mentioned above, Benzoylecgonine is not considered an illegal out of competition substance. Seeing how this is true, the question that needs to be asked is simple: what sport or governing body can basically excuse drug use from one of their athletes simply because it didnt happen "in competition"? Using this standard, Alistair Overeem should have never been punished for his out of competition failed drug test in 2012. Sure, the reasons for his failed test was legit, elevated testosterone levels, but it happened out of competition. And unlike cocaine, the reasoning behind Overeem' elevated levels could be placed on the very reason he gave, which was a medication prescribed by his doctor that contained testosterone. 

Now to be clear, even if people do buy it was accidental on Overeem's behalf, he did fail a state sanctioned drug test. But does possibly being naive or ignorant about what goes into your body make what you did worse then another who confesses to taking an illegal drug? Do we simply excuse the cocaine using fighter because it wasn't during competition time? Overeem did not compete with the levels he was flagged for, in fact, the levels were brought to light about 6 weeks before he was scheduled to compete. During the 9 months Overeem was out of action however, he was not suspended, he was simply unable to apply for a license within the state, and with the UFC agreeing to not schedule Overeem in any other state, in essence, Overeem was suspended for 9 months for an out of competition drug test.

Lets not over react here though. I am not saying it is OK to train with elevated levels of testosterone, because it is not. What am i saying is that in terms of the rules and regulations from the NSAC, the fact that Jones can fail a test for a drug banned in competition, yet allowed outside, while others fail the same tests, for varying substances, and receive punishment, should raise some eyebrows. The terms out of competition seems to imply that the fighter is not a fighter at this time, but simply a normal every day citizen, which to a point is true. But the last I checked, cocaine is illegal for those normal, everyday citizens, while testosterone replacement, or any form of testosterone, is legal in many case. So what the NSAC is essentially saying is simply this, illegal drugs are OK out of competition. Does that seem right to anyone?

Perhaps the most ridiculous part of all of this is that while cocaine, and marijuana, appear to be allowed outside of competition, the penalties for competing with it rivals that of any hard line steroid, or PED. Middleweight boxer Julio Casear Chavez Jr. was fined a whooping $900000 and suspended 9 months by the NSAC for failing a post fight drug test for marijuana in 2012. Former UFC Lightweight Melvin Guillard was also suspended by the NSAC, this time for cocaine, in 2007, receiving a 8 month suspension and a $2100 fine. Fighters such as Nick Diaz and Pat Healy are 2 of the more recent UFC fighters to fail post fight drug tests for marijunana, Diaz being suspended for 1 year and fined by the NSAC, and Healy being suspended 90 days by the NJSAC.

The one difference between all these men and Jones however is simply that while these men competed with a banned substance, Jones only used during his down time and was caught by a test that should have never been given, Yes, the test that ended up catching Jones was admitted to be an oversight by the NSAC, and should never have been given, since the substance wasn't one they had authority over. The two tests the followed for Jones did not test for cocaine, or recreational, but his post fight drug test did, and many are eagerly awaiting the results.

But for as ridiculous as it it that the NSAC is powerless to punish Jones, the UFC has ample time and reason to reprimand Jones. As of now though, it appears as if they will do nothing but offer Jones support. This seems funnier then the lack of common sense in the testing procedures. While I have no issue with the UFC supporting Jones during this time, they cannot do this while suspending or fining Jones for behavior that is in direct contradiction of the Code of Conduct the UFC themselves set into place.

One needs to look no further then Nate Diaz for the obvious flaw in the UFC's handing of improper behavior. Diaz was fined $20000 and suspended 90 days for using the word "fag" in a tweet following the suspension of Pat Healy. If the use of a homophobic slur on social media is cause for a suspension and fine, which was the correct decision, then how is admitting to drug use and having a failed test as proof not? The fact that the test was given out of place should have no bearing to the fact that a UFC fighter has been caught using cocaine. 

Former UFC Welterweight Matthew Riddle failed 2 post fight drug tests in a 3 fight span in 2012. One test was failed after UFC 149 for marijuana, for which Riddle was given a 90 day suspension by the Calgary Combative Sports Commission, while the other was following a bout in England, which was overseen by the UFC as England has no set governing body. Following this failed test, also for marijuana, Riddle was released from the promotion. Now on the surface, this seems like a reasonable reaction from the UFC. In a statement released following UFC 149 regarding Riddle, and Francisco Rivera, who also tested positive for a banned substance, the UFC stated:

"UFC has a strict, consistent policy against the use of banned drugs and performance-enhancing stimulants, including the requirement that all incoming athletes be tested and cleared. Therefore, we fully support the drug testing efforts of the Calgary Combative Sports Commission and will fully cooperate with the Commission regarding this matter."

To read this, and to know about the UFC's constant insistence that they are against drug use in the sport, one would assume that this includes drug use at any time. In other statement, given after a failed drug test from Nick Diaz, UFC president Dana White said:

"I am beyond disappointed that he tested positive for marijuana. It is now in the hands of the Nevada State Athletic Commission."

Yet following the news of Jones' failed test, White had this too say:

"I am proud of Jon Jones for making the decision to enter a drug treatment facility. I'm confident that he'll emerge from this program like the champion he truly is."

Where is the disappointment, the rage against UFC athletes using illegal drugs? Or does this ire only become directed at fighters that aren't UFC money makers? To use another fighter as an example of the hypocrisy shown by the UFC, look no father then current UFC Middleweight title contender Vitor Belfort.

Known as "The Phenom" Belfort was quite possibly the UFC's first true star during the early stages of his career. Following a nearly 4 year career outside of the UFC, Belfort returned in 2009 and earned a Middleweight title shot quickly. Soon after this bout, Belfort caused a stir across the MMA world by being granted an exemption for testosterone replacement therapy (TUE). The questions were raised solely on the fact that Belfort had failed a drug test in Nevada in 2006, and generally, fighters with failed drug tests no not receive TUE's from any SAC. And that was the case, as Belfort was not granted one by a SAC, he was given one by the UFC, and scheduled to compete almost exclusively outside of America. 

Belfort was named the top contender to current champion Chris Weidman in 2014 and was scheduled to compete in the spring of 2014. Then news broke that Belfort had failed an out of competition drug test from the NSAC for elevated testosterone levels. While Belfort did have a TUE from the UFC, he did not have the same exception from the state of Nevada. Soon after this failed test, the use of TRT was banned in Nevada, killing any small chance Belfort had of receiving a TUE for the Weidman bout. So what punishment was given to Belfort for failing this test? Not a thing.

As it turned out, Belfort was not licensed in the state of Nevada at the time of the test, so like Jones, the SAC had no authority to punish Belfort, but also like Jones, the UFC did, and choose to take no action. Belfort did have to appear in front of the NSAC for a hearing to attempt and secure a license to compete in the state. So take a guess what happened when a fighter who has failed 2 tests in the state appeared before the commission? Belfort was granted a license under the condition that he undergo "random" testing from the state at any time they felt.

Ok, that does look bad for the NSAC, but surely the UFC would do something regarding this issue correct? Again, wrong. In what seemed like only minutes after the hearing ended, the UFC announced that Belfort would compete against Weidman for the Middleweight title on December 6 at UFC 181. 

Yes folks, the same promotion that has released, fined, suspended and openly condemned the use of drugs in the sport handed a title shot to a two time test failer after allowing the same man to receive a TUE out of country depsite the fact he had failed a drug test. 

So is it any real surprise that Jon Jones will probably walk away from this ordeal with simply a bruised reputation and ego, but nothing else? It has been said openly by many that Jones isn't being punished simply because he is a money make, and in some aspects, this is probably true. But even though he is a money maker, a suspension, fine, even stripping of his title, would not affect his money making ability. As he is headed to rehab for a now undetermined period of the time, the UFC had the chance to impose an even vague suspension on Jones, ala Matt Mitrione, who received an indefinite suspension following his transphobic rant directed towards transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox. This suspension lasted all of two weeks, when Mitrione was booked in a bout against Brendan Schaub.

Even a thinly veiled, "make people happy" suspension for Jones would have shown the UFC actually believes its own hard stance on drugs and poor behavior. But instead, we have Dana White telling us that "if Jones was using coke and was that good, imagine him off it".

So the next time you see a UFC, or MMA fighter, punished for anything, take a hard look at the name next to the offense. You will probably understand the situation alot better that way.
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