After Alistair Overeem Drug Test Failure, Is A Million Dollar Program The Solution For The UFC?

When the Nevada State Athletic Commission released the news yesterday that Alistair Overeem, the UFC's #1 contender at Heavyweight, had failed a surprise drug…

By: Nate Wilcox | 11 years ago
After Alistair Overeem Drug Test Failure, Is A Million Dollar Program The Solution For The UFC?
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When the Nevada State Athletic Commission released the news yesterday that Alistair Overeem, the UFC’s #1 contender at Heavyweight, had failed a surprise drug test administered after a UFC 146 press conference, predictably the pundits hit the fan.

The UFC and mixed martial arts as a whole have been struggling with how to deal with performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) for some time. Generally the UFC’s answer has been to defer to the state athletic commissions that monitor the sport in many, but not all jurisdictions.

UFC president Dana White’s comments from March 27 are representative:

“We’ve got 375 guys under contract. We’re doing a zillion fights a year. We’re traveling all over the world, and all these other things we’re doing. Now, do you really think we can really crack [expletive] 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.”

With Overeem’s high profile failure, many pundits are saying the UFC’s existing approach is no longer adequate.

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Here’s what Yahoo! writer Kevin Iole, one of the most respected voices in the combat sports media, has to say:

But if any good comes of Overeem’s testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio testing well above normal limits, it would be that it may spur the UFC to take a serious look at bolstering its drug program.

The solution is one that White has resisted embracing. It’s to implement a comprehensive policy that includes random unannounced testing on each fighter at least twice a year run by an accredited agency.

Dr. Margaret Goodman, a Las Vegas neurologist and the former chairwoman of the medical advisory board of the Nevada Athletic Commission, founded a company called the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association.

She said a program that would test all of the fighters under contract to White and Fertitta twice a year would cost between $1 million and $1.5 million a year.

Other pundits have a different take. We’ll hear from them after the jump.

More SBN coverage of UFC 146

ESPNI’s Josh Gross has a more punitive proposition:

If Overeem is indeed guilty of what’s been accused, the UFC should do to him what they needed to do to (Thiago) Silva and others of this ilk. Use is rampant and the only thing that will shake fighters out of feeling like a.) it’s OK to do or b.) they have to in order to compete, is alter the perception that taking this stuff is how business is done.

You do that by shaking the earth, rattling the status quo. Use, get caught, bye bye. It shouldn’t matter who you are or what you’ve accomplished. Absent that, this garbage will persist until, eventually, lasting repercussions for the sport, for the UFC, for fighters take hold. Something not so trivial as losing out on seeing the UFC heavyweight titleholder claim the MMA linear title, which was up for grabs when Overeem was set to meet dos Santos.

Zach Arnold turns the tables and wants to ask NSAC executive director Keith Kizer some questions about steroids vs. marijuana:

Since Keith Kizer loves to be a politician in the media, I would love to see someone confront him on the marijuana issue. If somebody can get past the boilerplate ‘a banned substance is a banned substance’ rhetoric, I’d love to see him get grilled on the following questions:

  1. Do you consider marijuana to be a performance enhancing drug for fighters in combat sports?
  2. If you consider marijuana to be a PED, do you consider the effects of marijuana to be of similar enhancement to anabolic steroids & testosterone?
  3. Would you treat someone equally if they applied for a marijuana Therapeutic Use Exemption the same way you claim to treat guys who ask for testosterone TUEs?

Victor Conte, former steroid supplier to the baseball stars turned drug testing evangelist wants the NSAC to adopt VADA (not WADA) testing:

As soon as you start to use drugs you become a liar RT @ShokoAsahara: thought he said he got yolked from eating horse meat?
If UFC’s Overeem had a 5:1 T/E ratio, then he would have been negative under Nevada rules, but positive under California rules. BIG PROBLEM!
The 6:1 T/E rule in NEVADA needs to be CHANGED! Period. California & most of the world have been using a 4:1 limit over 5 yrs. GET REAL!
When is @danawhite going to wake up and smell the UFC testosterone abuse party! How much more obvious can this rampant problem become?
@danawhite needs UFC to use an independent anti-doping entity like VADA. Does MMA need the fox guarding the hen house? Hope you don’t plan to have a UFC anti-doping program that will be run by a UFC employee.
The protocol is for an elevated T/E ratio is confirmed by B sample testing w/ witnesses. Follow up CIR testing for “synthetic” test confirms. Simple. CIR (Carbon Isotope Ratio) testing for “synthetic” testosterone as a screen test would quickly reduce testosterone abuse in the UFC.
@danawhite The answer to cost effective drug testing for the UFC is right there in Las Vegas. VADA is on stand by. So do the right thing.
Keith Kizer. Answer the 64K ? Why does NEVADA use a 6:1 T/E ratio when the Olympics, MLB, NFL all use 4:1. Is it to help athletes cheat?
Poor excuse. RT @Rick_Guy: @VictorConte To attract big fights. Vegas is hurting and a stringent testing policy would only deter promoters.

And good old Jonathan Snowden takes a very different position at Bleacher Report:

Are steroids harmful? Possibly. Probably. Maybe. Some would argue that under a doctor’s care, they can be safely regulated. And, if so, don’t we want fighters to be the best they possibly can be? The human ideal? Don’t we want them to recover more quickly from injury, to workout harder and to develop their bodies until it’s a weapon in the form of muscle and bone?

There’s a part of me that wants the UFC to go John L. Sullivan on us and put Overeem on a barge in international waters Police Gazette style. That’s how boxing got around the long arm of the law when it was illegal in the early 1900’s.

Of course, such a thing is completely out of the question.

The blessing of State Athletic Commissions is the great legitimizer for Dana White. It is a powerful argument in favor of the UFC’s very existence. Risking that in order for Alistair Overeem to train a little harder would be the height of foolishness.

If only for appearance sake, we need our sport to take a hard line against performance enhancers. I understand this.

But man, I really wanted to see that fight.

Ben Fowlkes decries such cynicism:

Maybe we’re getting what we deserve. Let’s be honest: most of us are upset about this development for the same reasons the UFC president is. We’re not outraged over ethical concerns. We’re not mad that he might have been trying to cheat, and in a way that could seriously injure someone. We’re bummed because Overeem’s superhuman testosterone levels will likely torpedo the bout with Junior dos Santos at UFC 146, and dammit, we really wanted to see that one. Why didn’t he know this test was probably coming? Why couldn’t Overeem have gotten his act together and saved that main event?

I completely understand that reaction, that disappointment in both the loss of an interesting fight and in the dumb predictability of it all. Who can even spare any outrage, when high testosterone levels have become so common in this sport that simply being a fan makes you feel like a part-time endocrinologist? Overeem failed his test, but we knew he would, didn’t we? We knew it was just a matter of catching him at the right time, with the right element of surprise. We were prepared for that. We had the jokes and the clever one-liners all queued up for this very situation.

What we’re less prepared for is what happens next. That’s when we tend to lose interest in the story, move on to other things. It’s almost as if we’d rather speculate than actually know. Because when it’s all just whispers and rumors, at least then we get to see the fights we want. At least then we can still claim that we had no idea.

That’s the spectrum of responses, from the prescriptive to the punitive, from the thought-provoking to the self-promotion and right on down to the amoral. Where do you stand BE readers?

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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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