Aside from a string of major injuries and promotion-shaking championship belt changes, very few things rocked the UFC harder than PED scandals in 2013 and 2014. There’s also no bigger issue in the world of mixed martial arts than what some say is rampant use of PEDs in combat sports. So we’ve compiled a list of the Top 10 PED Scandals in MMA. Befitting the unmistakable theatrics surrounding these epic fighter scandals.
At number 10 is the grandmaster himself, Royce Gracie, starring in ”The Emperor’s New Muscle”. Most MMA freaks agree that Royce is the #1 greatest fighter in UFC history… at least, I would say, more than not. He makes the list for several unique, compelling and dramatic reasons, the first being his godly status as a fighter, coupled with the fact that he was found to have an ENORMOUS amount of the steroid nandrolone in his system after his controversial victory over Sakuraba following their 2007 rematch at K-1 Dynamite! He had so much nandrolone in his system that the Commission’s testing devices could not fully register it! What is certain is that he had more than 25 times more nandrolone in his system than what a natural human should register. Further, Royce reacted with one of the more arrogant responses to testing that we’ve seen. After news broke of Gracie’s doping violation, in true Royce form, the king blamed the surfs for the fire in his kingdom, saying:
“I have no idea what they’re talking about. Look at my first UFC. 178 [pounds]. Look at my last fight. 180. For accusing me of using drugs…I never gained a pound in my life. It’s not like I went from 178 to 200 pounds. It’s ridiculous”
Fact-checking reveals he actually was noticeably more yoked in the Sakuraba rematch than ever before and, at the age of 40 is nothing, if not suspicious. The same fact-hunting shows that he actually weighed in at a 188 for the Sakuraba fight and by contrast, was only 175 pounds for the Matt Hughes fight just one year earlier. That translates into a 13-pound muscle gain at the age of 40, calling into serious question the honesty of his protests after the fact.
For this doping violation he received a one-year suspension and a $2500 fine by the California State Athletic Commission. But the biggest punishment of all is this: the fact that he beat Sakuraba in what many say was a clear Sakuraba win, and then having the controversial victory nullified or at least asterisked due to the positive steroid test changes the fairy tale into a tragedy. And although he still tries, no one with a clear conscience believes that he beat Sakuraba, officially, because he cheated. An unfortunate outcome for the Yoda of the UFC… Also it was very sad because after this positive steroid test and scandal, he never fought again. Not even the harshest critic or hater would deny Royce’s rightful place in the UFC and MMA Hall of Fame. It would just be so much nicer if he would be a bit more graceful about the Sakuraba saga … and all would be forgiven.
Stephan Bonnar comes in at #9 in “MMA Legends of the Fall”. First of all, Bonner is here for two reasons: One he’s forever a UFC legend, being one half of Griffin vs. Bonnar #1 which Dana White calls the most important fight in UFC history. That makes him one of a scant few UFC ‘Mr. Incredibles’ in the annals of MMA lore. Finally, testing positive for steroids not once, but twice and being forced to retire following the second gets him safely on the list of the most noteworthy doping scandals in MMA.
The first time he tested positive was less dramatic for the presence of banned Boldenone, than for the fact that he chalked up his second loss to Griffin. His explanation that he felt forced to take the PED in order to try to heal an injury faster that would have surely cancelled Griffin-Bonnar #2 had he not, makes us look below the surface. The B story in this Top Ten List is this: the degree to which fighters, even the very best, are left with few or no alternatives but to enhance performances naturally or unnaturally to avoid being seen as soft, unreliable, or just not a company man.
With a year full of both new drug scandals and colossal injuries in elite MMA, its a question that’s going to have to be addressed before it threatens to undermine the long term credibility and viability of the sport, and continues to undermine the long-term health and wellbeing of the fighters who donate their bodies to the sacrificial science of full contact combat sports. But with a legendary rise and an unceremonious fall, the Stephan Bonnar story has it all. But don’t be fooled by the gruff exterior, Dana White is the master of the happy ending, inducting Bonnar into the UFC Hall of Fame with Griffin in July of 2013. Not that Bonnar doesn’t deserve the Hall of Fame nod, he does. It’s just that Dana White is so damned good at underplaying the importance of PEDs in the ‘Bible stories’ of UFC history that are always being creatively re-authored by Zuffa.
Cung Le in “Burning in the Spotlight” makes the list for several reasons that are just so damned Hollywood and slapstick, that the Le steroid saga demonstrates the problem with MMA’s doping policies in the bright light of day, if you’ll pardon the pun. Le tested positive for elevated levels of Human Growth Hormone following UFC Fight Night 48 and originally received a nine-month suspension as a result.
However, at the outset, craziness ensued. First, there was the crazy photo of Le before the fight that was taken in full muscle-head mode with veins a-poppin’. Then there was the complaint by Bisping that he looked too big to be clean. After came the hilarious explanation by Cung Le for the photo; that he looked so damned godly in that photo due simply, to a magical lighting moment by the photographer: perfect light makes perfect bodies, went the logic. Yep, that’s what he said.
Then there was the ugly beating he took at the hands of Bisping in UFC Fight Night Macau, followed by the positive drug test, followed by ferocious complaints and challenges by Le’s Manager that the UFC’s testing was not done to standard and therefore caused a false positive. Then Dr. Don Catlin, a leading anti-doping physician agreed with Le’s management that the test done by the UFC was “useless” because of the timing. Being right after the fight, he said, Growth Hormone levels are highest naturally, and further that the testing company employed by the UFC was not a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) approved tester and did not follow accepted protocol….. Whaaaaaaaaaat??
Yep, what a media mess. What a scientific fumble, and what a hellish state MMA drug testing is in. The result: the former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion received a one-year suspension To top it off, it’s unclear if there is a clear appeal process in place for valid cases where the testing may indeed not have been done to standard. Epic fail on the part of everyone.
Le later had his suspension lifted as the tests were deemed unreliable. Le is considering if action should be taken.
At number 7 is The Phenom Vitor Belfort starring in “Vitor Victoria: For Whom the Belfort Tolls”. Vitor has made the all-time drug enhanced list because everything Vitor does is just so big, and just so damned Vitor-ious. First being the youngest ever UFC Champion in history makes Vitor worthy of his nickname The Prodigy and you have to give the guy props for his durable longevity in the sport.
However, if you ask the average MMA fan or insider, the percentage that believe Vitor has been mostly clean throughout his career is exactly 0.00 %. What we know for sure is he tested positive for 4-Hydroxytestosterone in 2006 following a unanimous decision over Hendo at Pride 32 and received a fine of $10,000 and a nine month suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. He blamed it on a Max Muscle brand over-the-counter supplement that – unbeknownst to him – contained the illegal man-juice.
Then in February of 2014 in the run-up to a fight with UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman, tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. But here’s where the plot thickens and the red carpet softens, for Vitor to stroll easily onto our Top 10 Drug Scandal List Approximately the same time as Vitor’s positive test earlier this year, the Nevada State Athletic Commission changed its policy and banned testosterone replacement Therapy (TRT). Facing the commission in July to address his illegal testosterone test, the Phenom put forth yet another phenomenal excuse, claiming that his doctor was in Brazil and since he lives in the US now, the doctor simply gave him a super-dose to prevent him from having to carry extra vials of juice. Then, lo and behold he was over the allowable blood ratio limit. In true phenom fashion, his doctor fell on the dirty sword, Vitor sobbed before the NSAC and he was able to walk away with a slap on the wrist, an undertaking to be tested for blood and urine regularly for the balance of his (now short) career, and ran off to prepare to fight Chris Weidman at UFC 181 in December (which has now been postponed due to Weidman’s hand injury).
But the main reason that Vitor makes the bad boy list for drug testing today is that, even though he had secured the appropriate Testosterone Use Exemption (TUE) from the NSAC, the very concept of a TUE to replace a fighter’s natural hormones – which were only ever depleted because of long term steroid use in his young fighting days – is laughable, tragic and leads to us also putting the NSAC ITSELF on the list of crazy drug test offenders.
As of this week he’s ranked #3 overall in the UFC middleweight rankings, #14 ranked at light heavyweight and ranked as the #12 overall pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. So the Phenom’s trials, tribulations, thrills, spills, and ills are more than enough to spell DRAMA in big bold performance enhancing letters. But Vitor must have a guardian angel watching over him like French sculptor Paul Landowski’s Christ the Redeemer watches over Rio, because despite being caught on the steroid 4-Hydroxytestosterone in 2006, jumping weight classes more often than Dana White says “fuck” and a journeyman’s story of MMA adventure riddled with performance greatness and superstardom, means only a divine presence could explain why he’s still so highly ranked and highly regarded after so many years … and why he’s so committed to Jesus-themed hair art.
Number 6 on the list is Thiago Silva in “Injustice for All”. Brazilian bad boy Silva was caught on March 29, 2011 following his unanimous decision victory over Brandon Vera at UFC 125. But what makes this one so scandalous is that Silva actually never tested positive for anything! How could that be, you ask?
Simple, what would you do if you knew you were on steroids and were going to be tested … and let’s suspend reality for just a second and pretend that we don’t know what happened when Wanderlei the Axe Murderer skipped out on a test. Simple, you would go to your local fake-pee distributor and submit a non-human synthetic urine sample, or coerce your pet cat into drinking too much coffee and violating his privacy in the name of MMA fame and fortune. Believe it or not, Silva submitted synthetic pee to the NSAC who, surprise, surprise, determined that Silva’s sample was not of human origins. The result? Silva admitted to providing a fake urine sample, was fined $33,750 and given a one-year suspension by the Commission.
The moral of the story and the key reason why this scandal is high on the list is again, the SCANDALOUS inconsistency shown time and again by the NSAC in dispensing penalties … specially if your name rhymes with Lander Way Dilva. Conclusion: the NSAC is a joke when it comes to testing, penalties, and fairness. The commission is the scandal. A new law needs to be enacted to suspend the Nevada State Athletic Commission until it undergoes therapy and counselling for corrupt administration and inflicting cruel and uneven punishment … To hell with it … until further notice, the NSAC is hereby suspended without pay!
At number 5 is Chael Sonnen’s “Chael Fail – The Prequel”. The first time Sonnen was caught by a failed drug test was in September of 2010 after he lost by submission to Anderson Silva in “Silva vs. Sonnen #1” at UFC 117. Like many fighters caught on PEDs, Sonnen cried ignorance and pointed to a medical condition, hypogonadism, as the reason for a blood testosterone ratio of more than four times the legal limit ! Always the doctor of spin, Sonnen claimed to have honestly believed that he had the necessary approval for the testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) that made his man-cup runneth over. Final result was a $2500 fine and a 6 month suspension by the California State Athletic Commission.
Number 4 is “Gone in 16 Seconds” starring then Strikeforce featherweight Champion Cristiane ‘Cris’ Cyborg’ Santos. The announcement that Cyborg had tested positive for Stanozolol came on January 6, 2012 following her title defense on December 17, 2012 at “Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal”. This is epic because few females command the fear and attention Cyborg does and it’s a rare day when we see a female fighter test positive for PEDs, although that may change the more popular and scrutinized female MMA becomes.
Also terrifying because of Cyborg’s reputation as a punisher in the striking department, the rebellious Brazilian swag she exudes and her sheer physical size. We all know the size of the rumour mill churning for years, suggesting long-term use of PED’s and the menacing dominance Cyborg has had over almost everyone she fights. To underscore the fear and legend surrounding Cyborg’s physical strength is that the positive test for Stanozolol came after a fight where she knocked out a very worthy and durable opponent in Hiroko Yamanaka in only 16 seconds flat! Her violation resulted in a one-year suspension and a fine of $2,500 by the California State Athletic Commission
At number 3 is “You’re Never Alone on Drostanolone, Josh Barnett”. Josh Barnett’s two very dramatic positive tests for performance enhancing drugs made us induct him here into the Hall of Steroid Shame because of the dramatic circumstances under which he was found, twice guilty of putting extra sugar in his Wheaties. The first time brought down an entire fight card and its organization soon thereafter. Affliction closed its doors for good less than a year after the Barnett fiasco – and killed the fight paychecks for more than 20 fighters on that ominous historic night in July of 2009. The other regrettable fact about Josh’s first fail is that in testing positive, Barnett FOREVER blew a chance to fight – and maybe beat – the legend, and arguably the #1 prize fighter of all time, Fedor Emelianenko. We know Josh will fantasize about that one until he heads off to that big octagon in the sky… shame, shame, legendary shame.
At number 2 is the recent blockbuster, “Runaway Wanderlei – Tales of a Testy Miscreant”. Silva earns high honours on the list for several reasons. First, next to Chael-Gate, it was the most public, poorly timed, biggest fined, yet hardly shocking PED story of the year, and the most recent in terms of the final dispensation of a penalty by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Being part of what was to be his fight with Chael Sonnen at UFC 175 in Las Vegas, the Runaway Vanderlei saga rivalled the best in international intrigue, with a kind of cloak and dagger mystery to its script. The outlaw, running-from-the-law plot is a western classic, complete with the meddling of various shady agents, doctors, attorneys, and all in English sub-titles as the exotic flare of the tropical Brazilian language barrier defense formed a character of its own in the story.
With Vandy apparently afflicted with a terminal case of dumb-ass, he and his representatives did their part to keep the Axe Murderer reigning supreme as the lifetime bad boy of mixed martial arts and answered that age-old pro sports question: is it better to be caught failing or avoiding a drug test? Clearly the NSAC feels that by far, like the adage about love, it is better to test and to fail than to have never tested at all.
At number One is “Epic Chael Fail # 2 – The Sneak-quel”. Caught twice in 2 weeks by USADA in June of 2014 for elevated testosterone and banned EPO, Sonnen shamed himself by going on a holier-than-thou rant on America’s Pregame about the Nevada State Athletic Commission “sending the wrong message”, namely: that fighting is more important than the health of the fighter. Only to test positive for EPO days later and have to eat every shameful word as he was fired from Fox and forced to retire from the UFC permanently for being a hideous cheat, master deceiver and slithery con-artist. What, no shock, you say ? But knowing the talented tale-spinner that Sonnen has proven himself to be, if you think the Chael Sonnen story in MMA, the UFC or even Fox Sports, is over … you haven’t been paying attention. Our money is on “Chael – The Resurrection” coming to an Octagon and foxy sports desk near you … just as soon as enough time has passed for the market to forgive, and the pressure of popularity has The Gangster from West Linn Oregon reinstated on the throne of big fight hype.