Well done Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC). You’ve ruined it for all of us. What could have been the most mouth-watering night in the history of MMA is now a fiasco.
I mean we all new that the man fans affectionately called Alistair “Overroid” could never have naturally put on over 50lbs of muscle in the space of five years. We all knew that his cartoonishly oversized body was testament to the complete lack of testing in Japan, where he fought the majority of his fights. We also all knew that his failure to submit a urine sample before his fight against Brock Lesnar, when he was conveniently out of the country, was as shady as it sounds.
But now that he’s finally been caught, many, including Dana White, seem to have forgotten that it is a physical impossibility for this lanky 31-year-old to fight at heavyweight. That the only way for him to maintain that kind of muscle mass on his body is through constant steroid use. Any lapse in his regime could see him deflate like a blow-up doll.
These are facts that Dana seemed to have forgotten when he launched his tirade against Overroid. “He lied straight to our faces. That has me so fucking angry, I can’t even tell you,” said Dana. “He said to us, ‘The last thing you have to worry about is me popping. I’m the most-tested athlete in the world.’ Yeah, fucking right.”
Maybe it’s unfair to blame Dana either. The pressure on commissions to better monitor fighters has reached a boiling point and there was no option but for the NSAC to subject all the fighters to a surprise test following the press conference to promote May’s UFC 146 event.
And they caught him with the elevated T/E ratio test that they popped Sonnen with.
For anyone unfamiliar with T/E ratios, it stands for testosterone and epitestosterone. In a normal person, for every molecule of testosterone you produce, your body also produces a molecule of epitestosterone. In most cases then, a person’s testosterone/epitestosterone (T/E) ratio is almost always 1:1. The World Anti-Doping Agency and the United States Anti-Doping Agency allows for this ratio to reach 4:1. The NSAC allows as much as 6:1. Overeem tested over 10:1 according to commission executive director Keith Kizer.
It’s a sad testament to how much Overeem relies on steroids that even though he was the one fighter on that card who knew he was going to face two random tests at some point, and that he was going to be in Vegas, at the NSAC’s home turf, that he still managed to convince himself that he wouldn’t get tested.
So far the commission hasn’t taken any action against Overeem, and asked him to appear before them to explain his actions. But the omens don’t look good. Overeem’s licence to fight in Nevada ran out in 2011. Had Overeem been licensed, the Nevada commission would have filed a disciplinary complaint. That puts the burden of proof on the commission. For licensing, the athlete has the burden of demonstrating he should be allowed to fight.
In the wake of the positive test, Overeem now has three options, according to Kizer. He can just move on and not fight. He can ask for his B sample to be tested. "If that came back negative, I would give him a licence," Kizer said. The final option is to come before the commission and "argue 'Hey despite my positive test, you should still license me because ...'"
Kizer expects the second option. "I'm sure he'll have the B sample tested and if it comes back positive as well, I don't think we'll hear from him again."
The B sample was taken at the same time as the A sample and is there just in case something went wrong with the first test. It’s highly unlikely he’d pass a second test – no one ever has in Nevada.
Overeem’s failed test marks a watershed in the sport of MMA. The sport has been hit with rampant steroid abuse scandals ever since fighters first began getting tested – despite being founded on the back of prolific steroid users such as Ken Shamrock. But fighters have largely gotten away with it because testing in the sport, just like in boxing, is so shoddy.
At the time the UFC 146 fighters were subjected to the un-announced test, Dana told reporters that it was impossible to monitor a fighter’s steroid use around the clock.
“We’ve got 375 guys under contract,” said Dana. “We’re doing a zillion fights a year. We’re travelling all over the world, and all these other things we’re doing. Now, do you really think we can really crack fucking down and chase these guys around everywhere they live, all over the world, and just randomly test these guys all the time? On top of all the other things we’re doing? You really have to sit back and think and use a little bit of reality.”
And therein lies the problem. No one is willing to take the responsibility for drug testing and with the UFC continuously washing its hands, no one will.
Testing is expensive. Aside from Nevada, the state athletic commissions in the US have very little money to be continuously testing fighters year-round: most only test on the night of the fight, and straight after. A fighter like Overeem can be juicing all year long and be clean for that small window when he is tested.
Even Nevada has said that year-round testing is unfeasible. The only reason that all the fighters at the Vegas press conference were tested was because a random test was due for Overeem anyway. And the NSAC can only do a random test when the fighters actually come to Nevada.
The situation outside the US is even worse. In places like Japan and Brazil, there are no athletics commissions and no one to do the testing except the UFC itself – an organisation whose commercial interest lies in the fighters passing tests.
And even if the commissions do begin testing year-round, they only have legitimacy to do so when a fighter signs a contract to fight. Outside of that, fighters are free to use all the performance enhancing drugs they like and still test clean when the time comes. And that’s not to mention banned drugs such as Human Growth Hormone and peptides which have no reliable test.
So while Overeem’s failed test has shown the efficacy of random testing, the situation of rampant steroid abuse in MMA is unlikely to change. Perhaps the UFC, after being hit commercially once more with a failed test, will take more responsibility.
Don’t hold your breath, though. Brazilian Thiago Silva failed his test a year ago and then tried to pass off fake urine as his own. And yet next week, in his first bout back, he's headlining UFC’s debut event in Sweden.