UFC president Dana White's stance on the use of performance enhancing drugs by the fighters who work for him can be summarized in two simple sentences:
• If you think there is a lot of PED abuse in the UFC, you'd be stunned by how much there is in the NFL and Major League Baseball.
• UFC fighters are regulated by the government, so they're monitored more carefully than other athletes.
The second point is laughably off the mark and is simply a means to redirect scrutiny away from the UFC's lack of a comprehensive drug testing policy.
State athletic commissions are in such severe financial straits that many of them are on the verge of collapse. The Oklahoma State Athletic Commission may be dissolved, and events will no longer be regulated in the state if a tax assessed on promoters is overturned.
Promoters such as the UFC who sell a pay-per-view event to a resident of the state of Oklahoma are assessed a four-percent tax per sale, even if the event emanates from another state or country. So, for every $50 UFC pay-per-view that someone who lives in Oklahoma buys, the UFC must pay the Oklahoma State Athletic Commission $2.
Stunningly, that income comprises the bulk of the state's funding for its commission. The UFC is threatening a lawsuit if the tax isn't rescinded.
Whether the tax is fair is a debate for another time, but the fact that Oklahoma's commission survives on that revenue is indicative of its perilous financial situation. There is no way Oklahoma can do any meaningful drug testing of fighters who compete in the state because the cost is more than its minuscule budget could bear.
And Oklahoma isn't alone. Even states with healthier budgets are stretched thin. In Nevada, athletic commission workers still take furlough days in order to keep down costs.
Regulators are like Sisyphus, pushing a very large stone up a very steep hill in order to try to combat the drug problem.
[Related: Alistair Overeem's positive test for PEDs infuriates Dana White]
That brings us to Thiago Silva, the talented UFC light heavyweight who on Saturday will meet Alex Gustafsson in the main event of a nationally televised card on Fuel TV from Stockholm, Sweden.
Silva, 29, will be fighting for the first time since Jan. 1, 2011, when he battered Brandon Vera in a stunningly one-sided bout at UFC 125.Not long after that bout, Silva failed a post-fight urinalysis. It turns out the sample he provided "was not consistent with human urine."
Silva later admitted buying urine online as a means of masking steroid usage, which he said he did because he had an injured back.
There have been very few fighters I know of who have been caught using steroids who haven't attributed it to an injury. Rather than admitting that they were taking steroids to gain a competitive advantage – to get bigger, faster and stronger, as well as because they think so many of their peers are doing so – they turn it into a sob story. Their families, they inevitably say, rely on the money they earn, and given their injuries, the steroids were a necessity in order to keep putting food on the table.
I don't doubt for a second that Silva was injured and was in great pain. But should he be allowed to cheat and to gain an advantage that would make him even more lethal than he would be normally, just because he has financial difficulties? I think not.
The appalling part of this is not that Silva is coming back. He served the time that the Nevada commission gave him for his penalty and he deserves to be able to make a living in his chosen profession.
What is galling, though, is that he comes back with no restrictions and right into a main event. Who knows if he was telling the truth that his steroid usage was simply due to an injury? They all say that.
Since White and UFC chairman Lorenzo Fertitta have so far declined to come up with a comprehensive drug testing policy that includes random, unannounced tests – as NFL and MLB players are subject to as part of their collective bargaining agreements – at least they should create a policy covering those who have already been caught.
If you fail a PED test at any point in your career, you should automatically be subject to random, unannounced testing for the privilege of remaining a UFC fighter.
The UFC should require PED abusers to agree to three random tests a year, plus tests within a week of signing a contract for a fight, one midway through camp and another post-fight.
Even with such thorough testing, though, some fighters will beat it. Still, such a plan will greatly reduce the incidence of PED use and make the sport safer for those who choose to compete while clean.
The policy should also include clear terms for future failed tests. Another positive test should mean a two-year ban from the UFC. One after that should result in a permanent ban.
[Also: Mailbag: Brian Stann trains for UFC bout at home after family tragedy]
Silva is a perfect example of a guy who got off easy. Yes, he paid a heavy fine and, yes, he was suspended for a year. That's a stiff penalty. But when you rob a bank, you go to jail.
It's ludicrous, though, to allow fighters who have abused PEDs to come back as if nothing occurred. Using steroids or other performance enhancing drugs is a significant violation and should be treated accordingly.
The UFC's handling of Silva is galling and shows it still doesn't get the scope or the seriousness of the problem.
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