Reports have surfaced recently that Chael Sonnen tested positive for performance enhancing drugs following his five round submission loss to UFC Middleweight Champ Anderson Silva. This fight was one of the best of the year and UFC President Dana White had already been working on scheduling a rematch for the beginning of 2011. Now that match will surely be delayed, if it happens at all. This development uncovers a very big problem in the world of MMA.
Many stars have had issues with failed drug tests in the UFC and other promotions. Hermes Franca, James Irvin and Josh Barnett have all tested positive for the governing body for the state in which they were scheduled to fight. When Barnett came up positive for anabolic steroids just 10 days before his scheduled fight with Fedor Emelianenko at Affliction: Trilogy in 2009, the promotion had no choice but to cancel all the fights that night and subsequently folded. Sadly, steroid problems are not even a new thing in title fights. In 2007, UFC Lightweight Champ Sean Sherk tested positive for Nandrolone, was stripped of his title and suspended from fighting in California for a year. Sherk denied any drug use and had his suspension reduced to six months. Incidentally, the fighter known as “The Muscle Shark” is not nearly as muscular anymore.
The use of performance enhancers has been well documented, particularly in professional baseball. A mountain of evidence was disclosed in the Mitchell report and accusations swirled around stars such as Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, who broke countless records in the late 90’s and early parts of the last decade. However, unlike baseball, the use of steroids and other drugs can have direct and obvious results in MMA. Nobody knows whether increased testosterone levels will help you hit a ball with a bat, but it’s quite obvious that being bigger, faster and stronger can help you win a fight.
The real losers in all of this are the fans and the sport of MMA. For the first time in his four-year reign as champion, Anderson Silva was beaten for four rounds before finally submitting Sonnen. The fans were able to see a fight in which the title holder was punched and kicked more times in this one fight than in his entire UFC career combined. But all of this was accomplished by a fighter who needed to use banned substances in order to get a competitive advantage over his foe. Sonnen will get his day in arbitration over the violation. He will surely appeal the decision, as most fighters do, but he will never be able to replace what he has taken away from the sport by cheating.