(This story appears in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)
Pat Healy has spent the last four months or so trying to make the best of a pretty bad situation.
The only problem has been, there’s really no way around turning a $130,000 negative into much of a positive. That’s how much a few puffs of pot cost Healy when a drug test after his win against Jim Miller was red-flagged because of marijuana metabolites.
Healy (29-16 MMA, 0-1 UFC) upset Miller at UFC 159 in April, and he won two $65,000 bonuses (for the night’s best submission and best fight) in the process. But when the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board announced the test came back positive for pot, the bonuses were rescinded, as was arguably the most important win of Healy’s career.
Healy returns from a 90-day suspension Saturday to face lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov (20-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) at UFC 165 in Toronto (pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET), and he’ll do so with plenty of eyes on him.
In the months since Healy’s suspension, he has, perhaps unwittingly, become the poster boy for changing attitudes about marijuana use in MMA.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission, which is considered the standard-bearer in MMA regulation, this month raised the threshold for marijuana metabolites from 50mL to 150mL. Before it was 50mL, it was as low as 15mL — leaving pretty much no room for error.
Healy said he smoked marijuana socially about a month before the fight, but he still failed the test.
“I do kind of feel like I got shot to that spot where they use my incident as the case study for the rules being changed,” Healy told USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie.com. “I do feel it’s a step in the right direction, and I don’t feel like it should be treated like a (performance- enhancing drug).
“I think you should have to stay within the rules, but with the way Nevada does it, and a few other commissions have followed suit — that’s the proper way to handle it, just focusing on things that are going to affect the outcome of the fight.”
Getting public opinion behind him hasn’t been very difficult. That seems to have fallen in line with America’s largely relaxing attitudes about marijuana use in general.
However, the UFC didn’t give Healy an easy task in his first fight back after the suspension.
Healy is a 2-1 underdog against Nurmagomedov. And like before the Miller fight, Healy thinks he’s being overlooked.
Healy, ranked No. 9 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie.com MMA lightweight rankings, is treating the Miller no-contest as a win and says an upset of No. 15 Nurmagomedov will open a lot of eyes and put attention on him for reasons that have nothing to do with lighting up.
“(Nurmagomedov) may not be taking me lightly, but he said he’s better than me everywhere,” Healy said. “That’s something that triggers me: ‘OK, he thinks he’s better than me everywhere. We’ll see what happens during the fight.’
“I think a good win here will definitely change people’s minds. Coupled with the last fight with Jim Miller, I don’t think they can deny I’m a top guy in the UFC.”
For complete coverage of UFC 165, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.