Written By: Josh Hemeon
Last week’s podcast “That time we talked about Superman” gave me the opportunity to spout out my opinions on possibly my favorite fictional character. There was no way I was going to miss that podcast! I was on site at my work taking hours off just to do it and manning my radio which some of you may have heard in the background. That night Traves teased this week’s podcast with some fight-by-fight analysis, and if I am to be completely honest, I am not prepared to do a pre-fight analysis for each fight. However, if I just did the main card this would be doable. After all, there is not a whole lot to cover for most of these bouts. However, there is a lot of analysis out there for the main event of Jon Jones vs Daniel Cormier. They are both atypical fighters with contra posed larger than life personalities outside the octagon. A pre-fight analysis would be hard to summarize and even harder to explain to the casual MMA fan or WWE fan glancing the article to read about Lesnar’s chances.
Then a much more interesting story falls into my lap: Jon Jones removed from UFC 200 due to a doping violation! Now here at the Midnight Drive-Thru I am granted a little more in the way of free speech than the corporate media may allow. Commentators like Robin Black and Chael Sonnen would go through the technical and tactical aspects of the fight and Daniel Cormier himself has contributed to the conversation though never making an accusation towards his opponent. Even commentators like Joe Rogan and Brendan Schaub would likely hold back a little bit in order to maintain their credibility with fans. So the one thing that would have been different in my analysis is the issue of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs)!
Readers of my previous article “Is the UFC Becoming the New Sports-Entertainment?” (which I am told is TheMidnight Drive-Thru’s most read article, insert shit-eating grin here!) may have gathered that I am not a Jon Jones fan. Additionally, I admit to being a DC fan, not only in regards to comics but also in chubby black wrestlers with amazing slams (Sorry Mark Henry you’ll have to live with being #2)! That being said, during Jon Jones’ bout against Ovince Saint Preux at UFC 197, I noticed what everyone noticed but drew a very different conclusion from Jones’ lackluster performance: He was coming off steroids. Many PEDs and steroids, in particular, give athletes a hulk-like demeanor, hence the term “roid-rage” and the noted correlation between risky behavior and steroid use. A rioded-up fighter will often charge in like a meathead and show little concern for their own safety. There was a time in the UFC when Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) was allowed and fighters using it often displayed these traits. Notable TRT user Vitor Belfort is the best example of this, the best comparison I heard was that “Vitor Belfort and TRT was like Superman and the Sun!”
At UFC 197 Jon Jones, who was typically a very aggressive, explosive, and all around fan-friendly fighter, was reduced to a very cautious and defensive fighter who took a decision win against an opponent ranked #6 in the division. While Jones and his team were quick to blame ring rust and a recently adopted powerlifting regiment, I couldn’t help but think that I was seeing a natural version of Jon Jones. Even leading up to the fight I questioned whether the adoption of a powerlifting regiment was a newly natural athlete desperately seeking an edge to make up for what was lost under the new testing era. While it is true that powerlifting would likely hinder and not help an MMA fighter’s performance, the fact that Jones would change up his training regime so drastically after having the success he did over his title reign is suspicious. In this writer’s opinion, Jones saw that his natural performance was unlikely to defeat Cormier and he took the chance of returning to old tricks and risking getting caught. A more charitable view could be that Jones used the substance knowing he would be caught as a cop-out or form of self-sabotage. Whatever the case may be, on June 16th the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) tested Jones and Jones when the results came back on July 6th Jones was flagged for an anti-doping violation. USADA strikes again, this time three days out of the UFC’s most anticipated PPV to date.
The partnership between USADA and the UFC, while not controversial to fans, has been a major game-changer in the sport. While everyone can agree that PEDs should be banned, especially in combat sports, I don’t think the UFC quite realized what they were getting into when partnering with USADA. Joe Rogan commented on his podcast PowerfulJRE that MMA fighters are being “forced to fight natural” under USADA rule and that it is “obvious they weren’t [natural] before.” Of course in any major sport, there is an industry for anything that is going to give athletes an edge and athletes are under tremendous pressure both internally and externally to use PEDs.
For instance, USADA tested Brazilian #1 contender for the Strawweight Title Claudia Gadelha three times in one week ahead of her upcoming title fight. While Gadelha tested clean it is not surprising why she was targeted for testing. She has shoulders and traps that make it very evident she carries her own luggage, her abs would put Brad Pitt from Fight Club to shame so much that he would revise his no shirt rule, and quite frankly I am typing this out and not saying it out loud for fear her muscular ears would hear me! Ahead of his UFC 200 bout Brock Lesnar was tested five times by USADA so far and no surprise why he looks like he swallowed a sea turtle whole! The difference between Gadelha and Lesnar though is that Gadelha came from a background with little to no economic opportunity, and she is not alone in this regard. Brendan Schaub once remarked that since the new drug testing was instituted “The Brazilians haven’t been doing so well!” in his prediction that Conor McGregor would defeat Gadelha’s teammate Jose Aldo. This is not without reason as Brazilian fighters lead the UFC in anti-doping violations with seven Brazilians failing tests in some way.
As of the date of this article all belts except for Women’s Strawweight, Men’s Featherweight, and Men’s Middleweight are around American waists. At first, it appeared that USADA was catching all these foreign cheaters and the UFC was becoming more legitimate and the playing field was being leveled. Headed up by Jeff Novitzky (known for being the guy who caught Lance Armstrong), USADA continued to flag a stream of UFC fighters from all over the world for anti-doping violations with Jon Jones being the fifth American fighter to be flagged. Since USADA came in fighters have also been pulling out of fights due to injury at alarming rates. To put this in perspective, so far in 2016 there has only been one main event that was not changed. This was UFC 198 Werdum vs Miocic, which technically was supposed to happen earlier in the year but Werdum pulled out with an injury. It is somewhat comical watching old cards on UFC Fight Pass where they advertise a fight that never happened or going to a bar that shows UFC fights and the wrong fighters are on the posters due to last minute changes. Just in the past couple days, UFC 200’s main event was changed from Jones vs Cormier to Lesnar vs Hunt to Tate vs Nunes.
While I think we can all agree that USADA’s presence in the UFC is a good thing, I think it is fair to say that the UFC underestimated the business implications USADA’s stringent testing would have for the UFC from a promotional standpoint. With this latest flagging of Jon Jones, one of MMA’s biggest stars will likely be out of action for two years while serving a suspension from USADA. This is in part because the UFC may have misjudged just how much of a problem PED use was in MMA. What we are seeing now is the messy part of a transition to fighters supplementing naturally and training in a way that respects the limits of the human body. Nobody wants to see the UFC go the way of the WWE and watch as many MMA fighters are taken before their time due to PED and prescription drug abuse. But at least for now it seems that we should all have a healthy skepticism of whether or not any given event will take place as scheduled. As for Jon Jones, in the immortal words of Nate Diaz: I’m not surprised motherfuckers!