But that is not the only argument to make, in my opinion. I believe that many fans and maybe even some members of the media do not realize what they call for when they demand MMA should be purged from these performance enhancing drugs. I believe, that the use of all sorts of PEDs is an important part of the machinery that is MMA and specifically the UFC these days. And most of the time they will not help fighters to become a super-human Ubereem-version of themselves but they will simply allow them to function. They will help them heal faster. They will help them make weight. They will help them to get through the kind of training regime that is necessary to go three or even five hard rounds in a sport that is as demanding as MMA in the first place. Take these substances away and what you will see is: more fights canceled because of injuries with longer layoffs. More people gassing in fights. Less people getting knocked out in fights, especially in the lower weight-classes. And you will see careers end years earlier. You may want to believe that this is an exaggeration but ask yourself this: almost all the fighters that have dared to speak openly about steroid- or PED-use in MMA have taxed the quota of athletes using at around 50% or more. Ask yourself, why that is? Is it, because 50% of fighters are cheats? Or is it because this is the only way to function in the environment that has been created for MMA at an elevated level? So many fighters are using because it becomes almost inevitable in their line of work. This will go far and beyond steroid use of course. Painkillers for example are a huge issue too, you can bet your house on that.
In the fans mind, someone who takes steroids is a cheat, somebody who resorts to an illegal drug to give himself a competitive edge so he can achieve something that his "god given physical gifts" will not allow him to achieve on their own. The idea is that the sport should be "pure" thus allowing the outcome to truly reveal the greatest fighter in the world. However, this idea is based on the belief that there exists a list of banned substances somewhere that excludes every drug or substance from MMA that would give the athlete said unfair advantage. I would wager though that hardly anybody that is talking about this is aware of the contents of said list, what it actually encompasses, what it allows, why these substances are on it and what other effects they provide. The line that is drawn so clearly in our heads does not exist, at least not in the form we imagine. What about substances not included on the list? Are they legal, are they okay, no matter what? If an athlete has a medical staff that is just advanced enough to keep his PEDs ahead of regulations, we will hardly say: "good for him, that’s okay!". The use of pure oxygen between rounds has been scrutinized – but is it okay to use it in training to keep an athlete fresh for a longer stretch of time? Or is that where cheating would start? What about all the supplements from the mystified Acai-berries to protein powder (shouldn’t they stick to natural stuff…like horse-meat?) and whatnot? Painkillers? Can Karo Parisyan take meds against anxiety or will that give him a mental stability he would not have on his own merit? Shouldn’t he get his act together on sheer willpower or GTFO? Where is all that muscle the cheater Barnett must have put on over the years during which he got popped for PEDs over and over again, why does he not look like He-Man? How "natural" is a 47 year old guy that is still a professional cage-fighter? Damn, Stallone is still in good shape for a 60+ guy too, isn’t he? So glad he can still perform like he does.
What? You feel provoked by the implications in those last couple of sentences? You want to marvel at the achievements of your favorite athletes and the idea that some sort of drug helps them achieve it taints their legacy? I say: no, it does not. PEDs may help a fighter to maximize his bodys performance but that is it. MMA still requires an iron will, still requires inhuman training-routines, still requires incredible skill and no drug on this planet will change it. We accept that dieting is part of MMA just like constant surgery on every joint in the human body. It is time to stop believing in Santa Clause and let the use of PEDs come out of the closet. The reason it will not happen is not that it is the right course of action. It just means that modern sports in general are using the illusion of pure competition to sell their product. The UFC - even if they wanted to - can not afford to go against this traditional image that has been established over centuries, even though it may not hold much water anymore these days.
picture via www.fighting-mma.com