“Cocaine is a hell of a drug”…or is it?: PreView’s opinion on drugs in MMA

Hilarious Rick James remarks aside, I’m posting this article to address a problem in MMA that grown over the past few years; one that I think has a very negative effect on the sport and how it’s viewed in the general public. In case you couldn’t get it from the title of the article – drugs.

(Note: Most of the technical info comes from wikipedia or the National Institute on Drug Abuse - fighter stats from MMAJunkie and Sherdog.)

The past couple years have seen a rise of drug use in MMA. I will acknowledge at this point that perhaps it is not an actual increase in the amount of drugs being used, but simply that the drug tests have gotten better, or the organizations are testing more, but regardless, more people are getting caught – and either way, it’s still a problem.

Drug use in MMA can generally fall into two categories; performance enhancing and non-performance enhancing. In the performance enhancing category, you have drugs like all sorts of steroids, human growth hormone (HGH) and diuretics (to help the fighter lose weight).

In the non-performance enhancing category, you have drugs like cocaine, marijuana, oxycontin and so on. At this point, I must state that I realize that some states’ athletic commissions have classified drugs like marijuana and cocaine as performance enhancing, but later in the article, I’ll discuss why I think that opinion, particularly about marijuana, is idiotic at best.

Over the past couple years, a number of fighters have tested positive, but the ones that really spurred me to write this article were UFC fighter James “The Sandman” Irvin, who recently lost to Anderson Silva, newly crowned Elite XC Heavyweight Champion Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, and Affliction fighter Edwin Dewees. First, I want to be clear that I don’t think this takes away anything from either Silva’s win – he would’ve beat Irvin even if Irvin would’ve walked in The Octagon with a baseball bat, and Antonio Silva could’ve beat Justin Eilers for another four days if he had to.

Regardless, the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) published its post-fight report which stated that Irvin (the only fighter who tested positive in that UFC event) tested positive for methadone and oxymorphone.

From MMAJunkie:

“Methadone is a synthetic opioid usually used in treatment of opioid dependence for drugs such as heroin, though it can also be prescribed as a painkiller. Oxymorphone is a semi-synthetic opioid analgesic (painkiller) often used for the relief of moderate to severe pain. The NSAC has approved neither prescription drug for usage by MMA competitors.”

Methadone and Oxymorphone? Are you kidding me? Irvin has since admitted he did take the drugs, but claimed it was for a pre-existing injury he aggravated while training for the Silva fight. I think two things are telling of the fact that Irvin might have been b.s’ing a little bit. First, as many of you know, Methadone is used for treating heroin addiction. However, since its inception as a heroin treatment, it has come under fire because it too is addictive. Oxymorphone is 6-8 times more potent than morphine.

I’m sure Irvin was in a lot of pain, training extensively while he was in a lot of pain, but double-stacking those two drugs on top of each other? Ridiculous. Not to mention, while his claimed use may have been legitimate, the use of the two drugs together is ridiculous, and Irvin admitted he didn’t have a prescription for either drug.

Antonio Silva, after his recent defeat of Justin Eilers for the Elite XC vacant HW belt, tested positive for Boldenone, a steroid normally used to treat horses – it is not legally available for human use in the United States. Boldenone has a very long half-life, and can show up on a drug test for almost a year-and-a-half after it is taken. With human use, Boldenone is generally used part of a “stack” of anabolic steroids (more than one taken at once) to increase size and appetite.

Maybe I’m an idealist, but I don’t think Silva took Boldenone. He has claimed innocence, and I do believe him. For one, Silva is 6’4 and weighs 300 pounds. He’s clearly bigger than the majority of his opponents. Second, Silva is a bit of a freak of nature. He is as big as he is because of a tumor that was near his pituitary gland. He only had it removed due to a ruling of the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC), that Silva would not be medically cleared until he had it removed. Now, while I know that Boldenone is not naturally produced in the human body like a number of other steroid derivatives, I think that his strange body chemistry could have caused the drug test to register a false positive. However, going against Silva’s argument is the fact that the test was initially analyzed by the CSAC lab, and then by an independent lab with a second sample (taken at the same time as the first. He has a hearing in front of CSAC sometime within the next two weeks, so we’ll see what they have to say. Frankly, because of the long half-life of Boldenone, I would imagine he would keep testing positive for it, or depending when he took it, would have previously tested positive for it, and he didn’t.

Edwin Dewees tested positive for Nandrolone, also an anabolic steroid. Nandrolone is produced naturally in the body, but at a level of 0.4 – 2 nano-grams(ng) per milliliter. CSAC and other commissions have acknowledged that the body can have a naturally higher level (approximately 6 ng/ml) depending on what kind of supplements a person takes, and how much they work out. However, Dewees had a level of approximately 499 ng/ml. Not 0.499, but 499.0. Not good for his case. Other MMA fighters who have tested positive for Nandrolone include former UFC Lightweight Champion Sean Sherk and UFC Hall of Famer Royce Gracie. Sherk’s level was approximately 12 ng/ml and Gracie’s was approximately was over 50 ng/ml. Sherk maintained his innocence, but Gracie did not.

Other MMA fighters of note that have tested positive for drugs include:

Nick Diaz (after defeating Takanori Gomi) – marijuana – more on this later.

Johnny Morton (former Detroit Lions wide receiver) – steroids – did not submit to a post-fight test; suspended indefinitely by CSAC, not given his $100,000.00 purse from the fight (and that was just his show fee – he got KO’d in 36 seconds).

Diego Sanchez (after defeating Joe Riggs) – marijuana

Ricco Rodriguez – cocaine and marijuana

Bas Rutten – morphine

Stephan Bonnar (finalist on Season 1 of TUF) – Boldenone (claimed it was because of an elbow injury)

Thiago Alves – Spironolactone (diuretic) – For those of you that don’t know, diuretics elevate the level of excretion of water in the body, so it helps fighters cut weight. Alves has a historically heavy “walking weight” for a fighter who is supposed to weigh in at 170 pounds. Generally, a fighter will “walk around” (have a day-to-day weight) about 185 or 190, and slowly wean that down before a fight, and then sit in a sauna or run a lot or do something else to sweat the day of a weigh in. Alves historically walks around at 200 pounds or more. Most recently in his fight with Matt Hughes, Alves failed to make weight, claiming it was because he hurt his ankle the week of the fight, so couldn’t do his normal cardio work to lose weight.

Kit Cope – Boldenone

Alexandre Nogueira – Boldenone

Cesar Gracie (in his comeback fight against Frank Shamrock) - marijuana

Kevin Randleman – didn’t fail a drug test per se, but attempted to provide urine that wasn’t his to drug testers before an event.

Carter Williams (after his loss to Paul Buentello) – cocaine

What generally happens after a failed drug test is that a fighter is fined and suspended for a period of time, generally six months to a year. Upon return, they must obviously pass a drug test before they are cleared to compete again.

Fighters can protest the positive test, and there are more than a few lawyers who make their entire salary from defending athletes who tested positive. I don’t know of any examples where a positive test from an MMA fighter has been completely overturned (although I’m sure there are some), but suspensions and fines are often reduced.

After Nick Diaz tested positive for marijuana against Takanori Gomi, the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) declared the bout a no-contest, and this is where I think NSAC proved themselves to be idiots. Historically, if a fighter tested positive for a non-performance enhancing substance, such as marijuana, the result of the bout would not be changed, the fighter would simply be fined and suspended. On the other hand, if a fighter tested positive for a performance enhancing drug, such as steroids or diuretics, the bout would be declared a no-contest, meaning that it would not count as a win or loss for either fighter, but would stay on their record, i.e someone with six wins, two losses and one no-contest would be noted as 6-2 (and 1 NC).

The NSAC declared the bout a no-contest, implying that Diaz’s drug use amounted to a performance enhancer. Then, the chairman of the committee, made these remarks (commentary on remarks from MMAWeekly.com)
Apparently, the commission felt that the level for which Diaz tested at, 175, was a considering factor in his performance during the fight. Dr. Tony Alamo, the Commission's Chair, said that a result of 15 is considered positive, but that the NSAC has a threshold of 50 to test positive for THC and that they "feel very comfortable that everyone that tests positive [in Nevada] is truly positive."

Alamo went on to say, "Mr. Diaz was 175. This creates a unique situation. I was there at this fight and believe that you were intoxicated and... that it made you numb to the pain. Did it help you win? I think it did."
Now, this “doctor” believed that Nick Diaz was intoxicated at the fight. I’ve always thought Diaz to be a moron, but he’s not a complete idiot. He may have smoked it sometime in the days leading up to the fight, but I definitely don’t think he smoked it the day of the fight. Nor do I think he was high in the fight, or that it made him numb to pain. Now, this “doctor” on the commission said he was high. Dr. Alamo is a medical doctor, so I would assume that he went to medical school….ergo, I would further assume that at some point he learned about the effects of drugs on the body, and physical performance. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federally funded government body, states that the acute symptoms of marijuana (when the person is intoxicated) are an impairment of short term memory, impairment of attention, judgment and other cognitive functions, increase in heart rate, and IMPAIRMENT OF COORDINATION AND BALANCE.

Now, while I think Diaz is a douche, I am aware of the fact that he’s a great fighter, and a black belt in brazilian jiu jitsu. He submitted Takanori Gomi, a fighter who had only been submitted twice in 20 odd previous fights, and those two submissions were from BJ Penn (current UFC LW Champ) and Marcus Aurelio, another great submission fighter. Further, Diaz submitted Gomi with a gogoplata, arguably one of the two hardest submission moves to pull off ever, especially in an MMA match. I could try to explain how hard it is, but instead, I’m just throwing in this video, so you can see for yourselves.

Now see how ridiculous that was? And Diaz did that in a fight, where another amazing fighter is doing everything he can to avoid it. Since Dr. Alamo claimed he thought Diaz was intoxicated at the event, he was implying that Diaz’s coordination and balance was impaired.

I don’t think someone whose coordination and balance was impaired could even come close to pulling off a gogoplata; ergo, I think the NSAC, and Dr. Alamo in particular, need to re-evaluate their methods of analysis and what kind of logic they are using to make determinations about these situations.

So, with all that in mind, why do fighters use drugs? Obviously because they feel it will help them in some way, whether it be to make them stronger or dull their pain. And a growing belief is that a whole lot more fighters are using steroids, but are getting away with it. Steroid users use in cycles, to maximize potential and give the drugs a chance to get out of their systems so they won’t get overloaded with hormones and have to deal with the adverse effects like “roid rage”, bad acne, liver problems, and other health problems.

Due to this cycling process, a fighter could potentially time the cycle to end before they would be drug tested. That’s why some fighters like Sherk have particularly low levels, when compared to fighters like Dewees – people feel Sherk just failed to stop his cycle early enough. And while I still have my doubts that Sherk used steroids, if there is a fighter that simply looks like he uses steroids, it’s Sherk. They don’t call him the Muscle Shark for fun.

As I stated in the beginning, I think drug use is a problem for MMA (and all professional sports). If somebody just wants to bulk up so they look cool/like a d-bag, or if they just want to get high on their own time, that’s their personal choice. I want to make it clear, though, I’m not an advocate of drug use of any kind. I am a fan of various supplements, but all of those supplements are legal. However, like I said, it’s a personal choice. For example, Eddie Bravo, a jiu jitsu pioneer, claims he smokes weed all the time, including any time he teaches or trains jiu jitsu. But that’s for training, he’s not competing, so I’m not going to knock on his choice even though I don’t agree with it.

BUT, when someone is using a drug to enhance their competition level, they’re cheating…plain and simple. And in a sport like MMA, which is still seeking acceptance in the eyes of the majority of society, the last thing it needs is a steroid scandal. Many people in society still think of MMA as “human cockfighting” (thank you John McCain – yet another reason I’m voting for Obama), and a lot of drug use would just further these wrong opinions that MMA fighters are a bunch of thugs or street fighters, just trying to beat the crap out of somebody, when instead, MMA fighters are some of the most elite athletes in the world, and some of the toughest men and women on the planet.

I think we all know the old adage, “Cheaters never win, and winners never cheat” isn’t true. Plenty of cheaters have won, and plenty of winners have cheated. But that doesn’t make it right, and people polluting the sport of MMA with drugs is just indicative of a series of excuses, or people wanting to take the easy way out, not having to train as hard, or work as hard, or just wanting to “feel better” when they get in the cage.

Cocaine may be a hell of a drug (at least that’s what Rick James said), but it and other drugs have no place in MMA.


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