With positive drug tests, questionable TUEs and absurd reffing running rampant across both MMA and boxing, I felt the need to get a more professional opinion than my own to weigh in on these topics. A quick scan of my Twitter put one man at the top of my list. Dr. Johnny Benjamin has been on a crusade of sorts, to get more stringent guidelines in place to level the playing field for MMA athletes regarding drug testing. He is a renowned orthopedic spine surgeon and author, and stood out as the most respected and well versed person to speak on these critical issues. The following is part 1 of my Q & A with him.
Stephie Daniels: Since the Antonio Tarver fight was pretty recent, what did you think of it?
Dr. Benjamin: He needs to stick to commentating because that fight was hard to watch. The only thing harder than watching that fight was listening to his broadcast partners try and find something kind to say about it. It just wasn't a good thing.
These fighters get to the point where they can't pull the trigger any more. They can see it, but they can't do it before it's gone. He could see it, but the reflexes weren't there to pull the trigger and make it actually happen. At that point, and before they get hurt, I want to see them do something else. He's such a great commentator and he's got the gift of gab, stick with that.
Stephie Daniels: When you talk about pulling the trigger, do you feel there's a certain drop-off age where fighters begin to lose that reflexive edge?
Dr. Benjamin: I don't think that there's any particular number. I think it's different for every athlete. One thing they say in boxing, that definitely holds true for MMA, is that you're just one punch away. Some guys can go on forever, and it seems like they don't lose much, but some guys catch a bad beating, and they're never the same again.
It's different for every fighter, and it depends on how many tough rounds and wars they've had in the ring. Things like that can make their physiological age much more than their chronological age. What it says on their driver's license license may not coincide with all the ass whoopings they caught in sparring. It's different for every fighter, but for Tarver, I think he's past that "sell by" date.
Stephie Daniels: What do you think Arturo Gatti would have been like in his 40s and 50s, had he lived?
Dr. Benjamin: If you want to see what Arturo would have looked like now, just look at his arch nemesis and best friend, Mickey Ward. They beat the hell out of each other. Do you see any changes in Mickey Ward? He's not the same guy he was. He doesn't speak the same way he used to. He doesn't run the same way. I saw him when he trained Arturo for his last fight, and we can all tell, Mickey's a different guy now. Why would Arturo be any different?
Stephie Daniels: What do you think of Paul Williams injury, and is there any hope of a complete recovery for him?
Dr. Benjamin: It's heart breaking. A guy like Paul Williams...there are guys who are just good guys and fun to be around, that's Paul. He's forever joking, a great guy to be around, I mean, I don't even have words to describe what this young man is going to go though. I've seen it so many times.
Sometimes, in my profession, you see something so many times, you become numb to it, but I'll never become numb to seeing a young person become paralyzed. That never gets any easier. Paul's injury was a severing of the spinal cord, which means it was cut into two pieces. We have no answer for that. None whatsoever.
Stephie Daniels: With the current methods that are in place with The Ultimate Fighter, how much safety do you think there actually is with the methods that are in place to "clear" a fighter medically to compete multiple times in a very short time span?
Dr. Benjamin: I'm not a fan of The Ultimate Fighter for the same reason I'm not a fan of multiple fight tournaments. One thing I like about Bellator, is they have a tournament format, but you don't fight for several weeks between each fight. Back into the old days, with the grand prix', you might fight three or four times in the same night, and that's crazy.
Unfortunately, TUF is doing the same thing. They spread it out a week between fights, but that isn't nearly enough time. I think Al Iaquinta fought three times in three weeks. They're begging for somebody to have a real problem, and the problem with the sport is you either love it or you hate it. There's nothing in between. All you need in an election year is one congressman or legislator who's a few points behind. They're trying to find something that's going to resonate with the conservative base, and all the sudden, MMA becomes the devil. We just don't need any terrible outcomes, because with terrible outcomes, comes terrible scrutiny.
Stephie Daniels: With the current rash of fighter injuries currently plaguing the UFC, do you feel that the fighters might be training too hard?
Dr. Benjamin: That's something I've been beating the drum on for a long time, over training. MMA is so competitive. Everybody wants to make it to the big show, which is the UFC. Everybody wants to be the headliner for a PPV, because that's more money. The competition is so brutal that everybody believes that they have to be in tip top physical condition in their training, because they might get that call at any time.
What you really need to be in tip top shape with, is your cardio. All that training, especially when you see a guy with a broken nose and a black eye, and they're saying, 'I just had a great training camp', that's a lie. If anybody goes into a fight 100%, they weren't training. What they really need to do is keep their cardio up at all times, so they can jump in that cage and do what they need to do. Everybody out there is a black belt in this or that, or an elite level wrestler, so they need to ease up on all that heavy striking and grappling, because that's the stuff that's killing their bodies.
That's a segue into chemically enhancing drugs. You've got these guys that are using, and fighting at 120% of who they normally are, then you've got these other guys who are trying to fight them fair, so they they think they have to train like a monster all the time to fight these guys. What happens is that it keeps pushing the bar to a level that the human body can't sustain.
Dr. Benjamin: To me, it's the biggest, gaping loophole in MMA right now. If you can find some half rate doctor who can find one sample that looks the least bit low...they'll get them after they've been training all day, to make the sample look as low as possible, or they may have done it to themselves because they took steroids in the past and now they don't produce as much testosterone as they should. Now they have a legal loophole to take TRT so they can still compete. You've also got these older guys that are looking for something to get them back on par with these young lions. If you can't perform with what God gave you, without being chemically enhanced, then you need to be like Antonio Tarver and find another line of business.
It all depends on when they test you as to how high your levels were. You look at someone like Alistair Overeem, who was 16:1, where the normal ratio is 1:1, it shows you that they're just gaming it. They're going to stop a couple weeks before they know they're going to be tested, which is typically after the fight. It's just too easy to cycle and beat the system. You've got this TUE, that's going to let you off. If you still come in a little bit high, that's going to let you off from the 1:1 ratio. You can be 20:1, 16:1, nobody's checking, so nobody knows. It's ridiculous.
Follow Dr. Benjamin via his Twitter, @DrJCBenjamin