The Latest on Chael Sonnen, Dana White, Steroids and the UFC

UPDATE: Chael Sonnen's camp has responded to the test results, via Ariel Helwani: In an MMA Fighting exclusive, Sonnen's manager, Mike Roberts, wrote that Sonnen…

By: Nate Wilcox | 13 years ago
The Latest on Chael Sonnen, Dana White, Steroids and the UFC
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UPDATE: Chael Sonnen’s camp has responded to the test results, via Ariel Helwani:

In an MMA Fighting exclusive, Sonnen’s manager, Mike Roberts, wrote that Sonnen will appeal the California State Athletic Commission’s claim that he tested positive for “abnormally high” levels of testosterone and that Sonnen will break his silence on the matter in the coming days.

“It is our policy not to comment on pending actions by the Athletic Commission. Chael is consulting with his legal advisors and physicians and will have a statement in the near future. Chael will file and appeal with the CSAC and looks forward to working with the Commission to resolve this matter.”

Now that we’ve gotten the news from the CSAC, the commenters are buzzing about Chael Sonnen. Here’s some highlights.

The big dog is ESPN radio personality Jim Rome. Full audio of his segment on Sonnen is in the full entry, but here’s Steve Cofield talking about it:

Monday’s Jim Rome show was another example of “be careful what you wish for MMA” when it comes to media coverage. Now that more media big boys are on board, they’ll often latch onto the negative stories before the positive ones. It was a bit shocking to hear the national radio host talking MMA on a Monday that didn’t follow a fight card weekend but the Chael Sonnen saga was simply too good for Rome to pass up.

Rome did bring up a good point. In the end, are there really any long range repercussions for the sport? Will Sonnen getting nabbed scare anybody? Rome says no, because the penalties can never match the potential windfall from taking PED’s, winning and moving up the rankings.

Rome also found time to play some drops (5:45 mark) from Sonnen’s Q & A last week at Ultimate Fight Night 22. Sonnen said he’d like to stab Brock Lesnar (video – 5:25 mark). At least he’s got no worries about any disciplinary action for that stupid comment, Sonnen more than overshadowed it with his positive test.

Geno Mrosko has a key insight about Dana White’s initial comments on the Sonnen matter in which he defended the fighters and argued that it would be cruel to punish them beyond the sanctions the athletic commissions hand out:

Here is the key part of what he said. “Take away their ability to make a living…”. Remember, he’s a promoter and he’s trying to work you. We won’t let him though. He doesn’t mean take away THEIR ability to make a living; he means take away HIS ability to make a living. That’s what the real issue is here, at least for him. Whatever threatens his business, and in turn his money, must be dealt with and spun into something harmless.

There are many in the media that want the UFC to step up testing. There is really only one reason for Dana and company not too; money. He’ll spin it all he can that the commissions already do it and they do a good job of it but we know that isn’t true. They do drug tests on the same day as the event. From what I can tell, through research, they don’t ever do it any other time. That means the testing in place for the UFC is the easiest to beat of any of the major sports. That right there is enough to encourage fighters to use. If they know when they are going to be tested then they know when to cycle. Which means you might as well not test at all.

S.C. Michaelson points out that Dana White and the UFC have lost the most from Sonnen’s failed test:

The biggest losers besides Sonnen himself are Dana White and the UFC. First, in Sonnen they had a brand-new star when they haven’t been able to create many new ones. Sonnen is the type of fighter that not only can build himself up, but also, within the context of building up a fight, generate a buzz for his opponent, giving them a “rub” (transferrence of support). In a division such as the MW division (which has been plagued with “middle sister” syndrome),. the “Jan Brady” of the UFC, that type of fighter is key. While a fighter such as Michael Bisping is a household name, he isn’t a draw, but a fight between he and Sonnen would have drawing potential because of the back-and-forth that would take place.

Monetarily, the UFC loses big. The Silva-Sonnen rematch had a lot of buzz coming out of the fight. Though Sonnen had talked up the fight a lot, leading into it no one thought Sonnen would do what he said he was going to do. He controlled dominated Anderson Silva for the better part of five rounds before being choked out. It was the first time the once-thought unbeatable Silva looked to be in any serious danger in his UFC career. Many chose not to give Silva the credit for the submission and labeled it a “lucky sub” and assured that Sonnen would finish (get the decision) the job in a rematch. While early numbers (a million buys) turned out to be excessively high, the actual number (600K buys) was still a good number and among the top 3 buys featuring Anderson Silva. Despite the decisive finish, UFC President Dana White saw the potential money and decided to make the rematch for some time in 2011 after Silva had healed from a rib injury sustained before the fight. It was expected that the rematch would have an even bigger buyrate than the UFC 117 contest.

The UFC also loses because another one of their stars is caught up in a PED scandal. I would say that this is the biggest star to date that they have had fail a test (yes, even bigger than UFC Heavyweight champions Josh Barnett and Tim Sylvia) as Sonnen’s name was out there and was gaining a lot of press. The UFC dodged a similar bullet when UFC Heavyweight Shane Carwin was implicated in a federal steroid trial as having received copious amounts of illegal drugs. The key factors in that case were the lack of a failed test and the fact that the known drug transactions took place before Carwin had signed to the UFC. The failed test of Sonnen puts a spotlight on the biggest dirty secret in MMA, one that for the most part the UFC (and by proxy the MMA media) try not to address: Performance Enhancing Drugs.

E. Spencer Kyte has some criticism for the CSAC:

The CSAC has a shaky reputation at best, pops more PEDs users than any other jurisdiction and hasn’t come forward with any real specifics about the situation. In fact, letting Sherdog know at the Shane Mosley / Sergio Mora bout on Saturday night is kind of an unprofessional way to break the news if you ask me.

I want the CSAC to specify what banned substance Sonnen tested positive for and when the results from his “B” sample will be ready. False positives happen from time to time and what he popped hot for will factor into forming the narrative coming away from this situation. One of the name brand performance enhancers is a lot different than ingredient 367 from an over-the-counter cold medicine that happens to present like stanozolol.

Jamie Penick has more questions for the CSAC:

My next question is: did Sonnen test positive for whatever he supposedly informed the commission he was taking? Because with all of the talk of the flu medication and him being sick the week up to the fight, I can see him saying that the medication could cause the positive result; but that’s not necessarily what did set the tests off. At the same time, if he said something, and then didn’t put it on his pre-fight questionnaire, I don’t understand how the commission lets that fight go on in the first place. If you have a guy who is going to fail his drug screening and he tells you as much, how do you let him in the cage? If that positive result leads to a one year suspension, I just don’t get how they let him step in the cage in Oakland, then. It’s another interesting wrinkle to this story.

On the other hand, Zak Woods points out the CSAC has the best record among commissions for catching fighters using banned substances.

Dr. Johnny Benjamin addresses various theories as to what might have caused Sonnen to fail the test:

Internet conspiracy theories abound and include – but are not limited to – tainted nutritional supplements, workout regimen, naturally occurring increased levels of testosterone in some people, lab error, CSAC conspiracy or mismanagement, etc.

I’ve written extensively about the potential issues regarding the lightly regulated arena of nutritional supplements and functional foods. Simply put: It’s difficult to be certain of what you’re really getting since no one is effectively or consistently ensuring or evaluating product integrity.

Some people do have naturally occurring increased testosterone levels as compared to the standards. But if this is a factor, why were these “naturally occurring increased levels” not detected during Sonnen’s tests at UFC 104 or UFC 109, which he passed?

Could this all be due to lab error? Possible, but not likely. The lab in question is the UCLA’s Olympic Analytic Lab used by the U.S. and World Anti-Doping agencies. They test both an A and B sample just to check themselves. They happen to be more than 99 percent accurate. I’m no statistician, but I know that to be better than 99 percent accurate twice is no small feat. This is no similar home test or one that you purchased at your local health-food store. This lab is the best of the best.

And my personal favorite? This is all a CSAC conspiracy or mismanagement. I have been critical of past CSAC shenanigans, but there is nothing to suggest that in some way the commission intervened in this process or has any real interest in the outcome of any particular fighter’s drug screen. What’s in it for CSAC officials? What’s their motivation?

The bottom line is that Chael Sonnen failed a highly accurate test evaluated by an impeccable laboratory.

And Ben Fowlkes discusses the way Sonnen’s antics have damaged his credibility and limited his PR options:

Chael Sonnen isn’t most fighters. He likes to keep us guessing. When an apology or at least an explanation seems like the most rational course of action – remember when he claimed that Lance Armstrong gave himself cancer? – he instead opts for the completely implausible denial. When you think he’s going to be as virulently obstinate as ever, such as after his loss to Anderson Silva at UFC 117, he throws you a curveball and acts like a dignified gentleman, declaring that the better man always wins.

So now that he’s been branded a cheater by the California State Athletic Commission and the MMA world awaits his reaction, what path will he choose? Will he blame supplements or over-the-counter medication? Will he explain that he needed help pushing through an injury? Will he say he did it and he’s not at all sorry? Will he blame some guy with a Hispanic accent?

We have yet to find out, but it’s worth noting that in times like these it sure would be nice to have a reputation for something other than being the guy who’s willing to say absolutely anything.

More Bloody Elbow coverage of Chael Sonnen’s positive test result:

Jim Rome talking Chael Sonnen via Cage Writer:

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About the author
Nate Wilcox
Nate Wilcox

Nate Wilcox is the founding editor of As such he has hired every editor and writer to work for the site. Wilcox’s writing for BE is known for its emphasis on MMA history, the evolution of fighting techniques and strong opinions. Wilcox developed the SBN MMA consensus rankings which were featured in USA Today from 2009 to 2011. Before founding BE, Wilcox was a political operative working for such figures as Senators John Kerry and Mark Warner and an early political blogger. He is the co-author of Netroots Rising, a history of the political blogosphere from 2003 to 2007. Wilcox also hosts the Let It Roll podcast on music history for the Pantheon Podcast Network.

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