Yahoo! Sports Opinion: Chael Sonnen Should Lose More than Fight Career Over Positive Drug Tests

June 30, 2014
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The following article was written by Kevin Iole and was originally published by official MMAWeekly.com content partner Yahoo! Sports in its Cagewriter blog.

Chael SonnenTestosterone Replacement Therapy is gone, and hopefully soon, so is Chael Sonnen.

On Saturday, Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting broke the news that the former UFC middleweight contender and current Fox Sports mixed martial arts analyst failed yet another random drug test issued to him by the Nevada Athletic Commission.

If you’re counting at home, that’s five banned substances that were found in his system between his first random test, on May 23, and the second, on June 5: Anastrozole, Clomiphene, EPO, hCG and HGH.

Sonnen went on Fox Sports 1 when news of the first positive test was announced and lied several times while discussing the test, most notably saying that Anastrozole and Clomiphene were only banned out of competition. That is demonstrably untrue, as found on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s web site, where it notes that they are both banned in and out of competition. In other words, an athlete is not allowed to have either in their body 24/7/365.

Sonnen did a lot of fast-talking and tried to gain sympathy by noting he took Anastrozole and Clomiphene to aid in fertility. While it doesn’t change the fact that he took substances that are banned, he had at least some argument at that point because they’re occasionally used to assist in fertility. He also said he was taking them as part of his post-cycle therapy to get off Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT), which was banned by the Nevada commission on Feb. 27.

News of that failed test broke on June 10, nearly three weeks after the May 23 test was ordered by Francisco Aguilar, chairman of the Nevada commission. What the media did not know at the time it reported on June 10 the results of Sonnen’s May 23 test failure was that he had been tested again by Nevada on June 5.

The June 5 test showed the presence of EPO and HGH (Human Growth Hormone) in his system, which Sonnen said he is not going to dispute. Neither EPO nor HGH are used for fertility or in any way to cycle off TRT. EPO helps increase the body’s production of red blood cells and aids in delivering more oxygen to the lungs and muscles. That helps increase endurance and aids in recovery after workouts.

HGH helps muscle growth and assists the body in losing fat and adding lean muscle.

Curiously, the same tests that are used to detect Clomiphene and Anastrozole are used to detect the presence of EPO and HGH. No EPO or HGH was discovered in Sonnen’s body in the May 23 test, but their presence was found in his body following the June 5 test.

At the time Sonnen was tested on June 5, he was still an active fighter. He did not announce his retirement until June 11, the day after the news broke of his May 23 test failure.

Somehow then, the EPO and HGH got into his body after the  May 23 test and before June 5 one, prior to his June 11 retirement announcement.

There are many galling aspects to Sonnen’s case, including his comments on Fox Sports 1 excoriating Wanderlei Silva for refusing a May 23 test. Sonnen alleged that Silva, whom he was supposed to fight at UFC 175 on July 5, had been using performance-enhancing drugs in Japan.

Sonnen also said that disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, who admitted to taking EPO and HGH, gave himself cancer.

In an interview with Larry Pepe of Pro MMA Radio in 2010, shortly before his middleweight title fight in Oakland, Calif., against Anderson Silva at UFC 117, Sonnen said the following:

When you screw up, you have to own it. That stuff really gets under my skin. Take Lance Armstrong. Lance Armstrong did a number of things and he gave himself cancer. He cheated, he did drugs, and he gave himself cancer. Well, instead of saying, ‘Hey listen, I cheated and gave myself cancer, don’t be like me.’ He actually made himself the victim and then went out and profited something like $15 million dollars from this ‘Hey, poor me, let’s find a cure for cancer’ campaign instead of just coming clean and saying, ‘Look, here’s what I did, I screwed myself up, and I hope people learn from my mistakes.’ You just watch these guys and can’t help but think, God, what a fraud.

The same, of course, could be said about Sonnen, who later in what he apparently thought was a joke denied making the comments about Armstrong.

As terrible as what Armstrong did was, winning multiple Tour de France titles while cheating regularly, he was riding a bike. He wasn’t training to punch or kick someone.

Fighting is a very dangerous sport under the best of circumstances, but it can have potentially lethal consequences when one of the competitors is jacked on banned substances.

The UFC’s stance has not been nearly strong enough against performance enhancing drugs and it’s cast a stain over the entire sport.

Sonnen and Vitor Belfort have become the poster boys of the MMA cheaters, but it’s hardly as if they’re the only ones who have used PEDs.

UFC president Dana White inexplicably went on Fox Sports on June 10 to defend Sonnen. White didn’t know at the time about the EPO or HGH that was in Sonnen’s body, but he made Sonnen sound as a victim as he was trying to transition off TRT.

Let’s say that that was true — Though the presence of EPO and HGH in his body suggest it hardly could have been — and that Sonnen did take Anastrozole and Clomiphne in an attempt to cycle off TRT. Still, there should have been no defending him because both of those substances are banned at all times and it was Sonnen’s responsibility not to have banned substances in his body.

White was way out of line in defending Sonnen on June 10. He should have kept quiet and allowed Sonnen to defend himself, and not put the weight of the UFC behind an obvious rules violation.

The UFC simply needs to do far more than it’s doing to combat PED usage among its athletes.

A good first step would be for White and UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta to use their influence to have Fox Sports fire Sonnen from his role as an MMA analyst and co-host of UFC Tonight.

The UFC, and Fox Sports, would be a laughingstock if it allows a guy who had five banned substances in his body to go on the air and act as if nothing occurred.

In a statement to Helwani about his June 5 positive test, Sonnen said:

Yes, the Commission is aware of other prescribed medications I was taking and I will not challenge their allegations. I will cooperate with the Commission and look forward to having a dialogue about how fighters who transition off TRT can avoid violating any rules.

In that last sentence, he’s again trying to play fast and loose with the truth and use his considerable verbal skills to minimize his failure. He can look forward to having a dialogue about how fighters transitioning off TRT can avoid violating rules all he wants, but the hard truth is that there is zero verifiable documented evidence that links EPO and HGH to transitioning off TRT. EPO and HGH are simply performance-enhancers.

What he’s doing with that statement is talking fast and trying to obscure the fact that he can not answer why he had EPO and HGH in his system. Thus, he tries to make it look as if he’s going to volunteer to help.

Sonnen failed a drug test given by the California State Athletic Commission following his 2010 loss in Oakland to Silva, when his testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio was 16.9:1, or more than four times the allowable limit of 4:1 in California. The average male’s ratio is 1:1, so Sonnen’s T/E ratio was 17 times higher than average.

He was taking TRT because he suffers from hypogonadism and his body doesn’t produce  enough testosterone.

Don Catlin of antidopingresearch.org thoroughly discredited MMA fighters who got Therapeutic Use Exemptions for TRT because they have hypogonadism during a June 13 appearance on “Inside MMA” on AXS TV.

During an interview with show hosts Kenny Rice and Bas Rutten, Catlin said athletes who say they are hypogonad “are fibbing.” Here is a brief exchange on the topic between Catlin and Rice:

Catlin: I know this field. I’ve been doing it for 25, 30 years. And I know that all the men who come in and say they have hypogonadism are fibbing.

Rice: It doesn’t exist?

Catlin: No, and that’s why for the Olympics, we say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. Say whatever you want. You still can’t take it.’

The incidence of hypogonadism in males with no history of previous steroid usage between the ages of 18 and 40, roughly the age range of MMA fighters, is less than one percent. But when a person takes anabolic steroids, the body surpresses natural production of testosterone.

It was thus almost malpractice to give TUEs to fighters for TRT, because even if it were true that these fighters were suffering from hypogonadism, the likely reason was because of prior steroid use.

It’s long past time to get rid of Sonnen, who has repeatedly been able to fast-talk his way out of trouble over the last four years.

But once again, the burden shifts to the UFC. Whatever efforts the company has made to combat PED usage among its fighters aren’t nearly enough. It needs to do far, far more to prevent a tragedy. If it doesn’t take action to rid its sport of PED abusers, you can be sure that eventually, a juiced up fighter will cause serious injury, or worse, to an opponent.

And that’s a lot worse than an MMA analyst lying about the facts on national television.

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  • Don Bivens

    Agreed with the article except for the nonsense about “juiced up” fighers killing someone. “Juice” just makes them beef up and train better. They still have to come in at a specific weight so they shouldn’t necessarily have any more mass or power than another person who obtained said muscle mass the old-fashioned way. Thus, the “juiced up” fighter is no more a threat than the next big guy.

    • MuayThaiFood

      Nonsense unless you consider the aggression factor and the fact that the “someone” who may get killed may not be another fighter but rather the athlete’s girlfriend or some other innocent caught up in a roid rage.

      • Don Bivens

        Ignorance

        • MuayThaiFood

          Care to elaborate O enlightened one?

  • Stephen Quadros

    Good article

  • Darin

    Some will say, “He’s retired now. Who cares?” Because: 1. This shows that he has likely been a habitual cheater (and liar) his whole career. 2. He should be banned from MMA altogether, not just competing. No analyzing, commenting, etc. He’s a disgrace to the sport and should not be allowed to continue cashing in on it. Besides, I’m sick of hearing him always shouting into the mic like he doesn’t know that a mic is to amplify your voice so you don’t HAVE to yell.

    Too many fans have been swayed by his fast talking and sense of humor and have cut him far too many breaks. He deserves nothing less than to go away in shame and stay gone. My fear is that Dana will be predictably forgiving, or will try to make it appear this is all being blown out of proportion. What all of us here know is that it isn’t all about the rules with Dana. If you’re his buddy you can get away with murder, if he already doesn’t care for you…..better not make any dirty jokes on twitter….

  • Willie Makeit

    Lets not get on our perfect little thrones and throw rocks at Sonnen. I have done MMA and Semi pro football. Ive seen many people use and that didnt just make them an instant success. you can take as much juice as you want and still be a lousy fighter. Sonnen is not that guy, he is a great fighter who chose the wrong path. Not only is it easily available for top pro athletes but it helps you heal faster in a sport where time is money and waiting to heal up can cost you serious money. MMA fighters fight everyday. Training is harder than the fight. So he made a bad choice that i know for a fact many ex champions have used and current fighters use. So before you hang him out to dry just keep in mind he is just a fighter that got caught. There WILL STILL BE USERS!!

  • TheCerealKiller

    Ban him from MMA, he deserves that. As for his post fighter career, his past actions have nothing to do with his future. I want to hear from someone with experience and be entertaining. Guys like Ariel Helwani have no business speaking about fighting. I want to hear from the guys that did it.

    • Gambino

      So Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg shouldn’t be commentators either? Most MMA journalists and experts don’t have professional fighting experience but that doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified to speak on the subject.

      • TheCerealKiller

        Ariel is not entertaining. He brings nothing to the table. He is the same as the women on the sidelines of the NFL.

        • Matte

          Okay, if you “the CerealKiller”, dislike a person, he or she should not be allowed to comment or do their work.

          Your deep analysis and expertize really convince me.

          I really like Ariel Helwani (with crew) and think the MMA Hour is the best show about MMA there is. And I also find him both educated and entertaining.

          Then again, I’m no CerealKiller.

          • TheCerealKiller

            No, you are not.

    • MuayThaiFood

      In what parallel universe do you live that past actions have nothing to do with your future? Not the one I live in. I’m a tugboat captain. Do you think if I got drunk and ran my vessel into the side of an oil tanker causing a major spill I could just lose my job as captain and transition to a job as the company’s safety coordinator, or any other company for that matter? I’ve got 27 years of experience with first hand experience in maritime disasters, seems like a good match….not. Get real, there are plenty of better candidates for Chael’s job that are more deserving.

      • TheCerealKiller

        If you crashed a ship, of course you would loss your job as captain. That wouldn’t mean you couldn’t have another job within the company. Last I checked, they don’t test commentators for drugs. If they did, Rogan would be screwed.

  • Tran Bronstein

    While I normally like Kevin’s writing, I’m sorry, the holier than thou attitude in this column that reeks of hypocrisy and incredible naivete. First of all, it is wrong to call for anyone to be fired in these though economic times. Second, if you’re going to call for people to lose their jobs to be using PEDs why don’t you call on all others to lose their jobs who have been caught in the past as well? Why does Chael get singled out, because he is successful as an analyst on TV? I don’t read you calling for Vitor Belfort or Cristiane Santos to lose their jobs (which I’m all for, by the way). Third, if you truly believe your own written drivel, then why not call out the fact that virtually every MMA fighter is a user? Everyone in the industry knows they are, they just haven’t been caught yet. Yet, you write like Sonnen has violated some purity or sanctity when no such thing exists in sports and has not existed ever since German Nazi scientist created steroids and Germany began using that knowledge at the Olympics in the 60’s. It certainly does not exist in MMA by any means. (Most if not all of those German athletes that used are dead or are dying horribly, by the way). So cut the b******t and stop acting as if some great justice has been served and the sport will now be cleaned up. He was an idiot to turn his body into a walking pharmacy but the punishment should fit the crime, no more and no less.

    • joe

      I am (or was) a big sonnen fan, but he should lose his job, and so should everyone that is using PEDs. hard economic times or not, this guy was dishonest up and down. He’s keeping a job from a non-cheating honest man who is unemployed. This article was well said. If you want to ignore the facts and give this guy another break because you got a boner for him, then go ahead, he’s still a piece of s–t.

      • Tran Bronstein

        Hey Joe, I hear what you’re saying and in fact, if you re-read what I said about Belfort and Cyborg, I’m actually in agreement with you that all PED cheaters should lose their jobs as fighters, at least. Are we as fans prepared for the reality that if that were to actually happen that the sport would self-destruct due to how many fighters would actually be gone? MMA certainly isn’t because if they were ready Vitor Belfort and Cyborg would be unemployed already and they still have jobs. And if all PED users should lose their jobs, I think you might be surprised at how many firefighters, soldiers, athletic trainers, and police officers would lose their jobs as well. Unfortunately, PEDs are far more rampant in many other walks of life than we’d like to face up to as a society.

      • GForce92

        Really the holier than thou attitude some fans put on is sickening. Calling for someone to lose their job in these times is BS.

        The fact is most of the people commenting on these articles about Sonnen aren’t completely free of any sin. I’m sure somewhere everyone has their dark secrets they keep to themselves but for these pious fans that say “I’m glad he lost his job, screw him!” are a$*es.

        Don’t act like you went through life being a goody god d*mn two shoes. Pious pissants. He deserves punishment yes, but not losing a livelihood.

    • Tran Bronstein

      Just to be clear to everyone — Kevin is absolutely right to call out Sonnen on his pattern of crooked behavior. I am a fan of Sonnen’s but I acknowledge this was just completely ridiculous on his part. I just didn’t think it was right to call on him to lose his livelihood (which has now actually happened) while other cheats get away with it and act as if a major step has been taken forward by the sport to clean itself up when we all know that it hasn’t but Sonnen has been made an example of in order for those in power to claim that it has. Especially so since as an MMA journalist, Kevin is likely to have off the record under the table info as to who actually is using and getting away with it that we regular MMAWeekly readers and posters will never even know about. Since he can’t call those guys out without getting sued for libel and defamation, he seems to be calling for a much harsher penalty for Sonnen than is actually deserved in order to make up for that. Well your wish has been granted but remember that MMA journalism isn’t exactly the most secure job either so hope that karma doesn’t return to you.

    • George Sperry

      You object to Iole’s “holier than thou” attitude but not Sonnens “holier than thou” attitude toward Armstrong and Silva. Interesting.
      Perhaps as a fanboy you should refrain from comments about your fan crush.

      • Tran Bronstein

        George, I’m not saying that Sonnen wasn’t or isn’t a hypocrite. Obviously he certain was and is. You’re absolutely right to point that out. It is somewhat bizarre that Sonnen doesn’t equate himself with Armstrong. Then again Armstrong embarrassed his country, cheated fans out of millions for his charity, and ruined the reputations of those with integrity who called him out earlier. Read my post again, there is no fanboy love or crushing in there. I absolutley agree Chael should be banned from MMA as a competitor. He knew that was coming, that was why he retired. What I am saying is that 1. The punishment far outweighs the crime and 2. It is an utter fantasy for Kevin to act like this was a major step towards cleaning up the sport when he knows much better than we can or ever will as an embedded MMA jorno just how much bad s**t actually goes on in MMA.

        • George Sperry

          TY for your reasoned response, perhaps I assumed too much and was to hard on your comment.
          If you would like to see Armstrong comment on bicycle racing or any other felons, cheaters and liars profit from their crimes and misuse of their fans then fine let him keep his fox job.
          Personally I think he should be assigned to the garbage bin of humanity where he has earned his place in the hierarchy.

          • Tran Bronstein

            George, I’ll be completely honest, your comment on Armstrong as a bike race commentator literally put a chill down my spine at the thought of it. That certainly put it in a different perspective for me. My major issue is the seeming overseverity of Sonnen’s punishment to his crime but honestly your comment makes me see it somewhat from FOX’s professional viewpoint. They may have literally not had a choice in the matter. I still don’t agree with it but let’s be clear about one thing — Sonnen may not have deserved such a harsh punishment in my eyes but he did deserve SOME repercussions. Bottom line: he placed himself in a position to be nailed in the first place and bottom line and he is solely responsible for that and I certainly have to acknowledge that. There would’ve been no overpunishment without wrongdoing to begin with in the first place. Thanks for that different viewpoint. Hmmm. A reasonable, intelligent, non-hate filled comment discussion on the Internet between two complete strangers on the Internet?!? What’s going on here? What has the Internet come down to?!? :)

    • HeavYMetaL65

      Yeah, let’s keep a guy who calls Armstrong a Fraud, then gets busted himself. If I owned a company, I sure as hell wouldn’t want him to have any part of it. and I WAS a Sonnen fan.

    • smedrano0206

      Then it would be ok for Armstrong to be an analyst for cycling?

      • TheCerealKiller

        I say yes. He still knows more about the sport than most.

    • MuayThaiFood

      I don’t believe the punishment is overboard in fact I don’t think it goes far enough. He still gets to keep his ill gotten gains. Also, why should tough economic times have anything to do with it? There are plenty of people who get fired every day some deserving and some unfairly. An employer doesn’t have any responsibility to keep a worthless employee due to economic times. You can definitely make a case for Chael being fired. He has a history of lying and breaking rules. Having a felony on your record is enough to keep many employers from touching you in the first place. I’m not saying it’s fair but Chael has proven he is unrepentant because he continues to cheat whatever system is in place whether it be the rule of law or the rules of athletic commissions. Combine that with his bully pulpit hypocritical bashing of others and I have no sympathy for him.

  • Anthony De Nigro

    He is retired, why should he be fired as an analyst and/or commentator because he used PEDs? That is silliness. UFC is a business and people like to listen to and watch him. This writer is silly as f—.

    • chap

      it wasn’t even PEDs.

      • TwoFirstNames

        HGH is definitely a PED…

      • HeavYMetaL65

        Did you even read the damn article? PED’s is EXACTLY what he was busted with the second test. Fairweather MMA fans

    • MuayThaiFood

      If you have to ask then you’re too dumb to understand why he should be fired.

  • Tony

    Kevin Lole is a horrible mma writer. I stopped reading yahoo articles because of this hack. Definitely needs more education on the sport.

    • Manuel Lopez

      Usually I would agree with you but Lole was right on the money with this one. And he called it… Sonnen has been FIRED from FOX and UFC and that is good! And please note the title of the article, there is a key word in it… ‘opinion’.

    • MuayThaiFood

      Haven’t read any other articles from him but he was spot on here. You make no counter points so I assume you have none and are just sore because you’re a Chael worshiper.

  • Liam O’Keefe

    I really miss journalism.

  • Matte

    Why do so many defend Cahel no matter what he does? Chael DOES have a special place with Dana and the UFC (unlike for example Vitor and Wand.).

    I found many good points in this article.

    That said, I still don’t mind Chael as a commentator or analyst, it is not the same as fighting and Chael still is a smart guy with a great charisma. His aura of course somewhat tarnished with the later events and that is something he has to deal with.

    Dana though… It is very strange he defends Chaels actions no matter what. Makes him seem unreliable and might come back at him later.

    Because I think most of us understand why so many fighters need TRT or similar at higher age.

    (Yes you are right, english is not my native language and I can tell the poor quality of the language myself, no need for you grammar nazis to comment.)

  • Manuel Lopez

    GREAT article. You called it man.

  • Mackojr35

    No this article isn’t misleading at all! Catlin also said the substances in his system during the first test absolutely should have been there with him coming off TRT. Second Chael has owned his mistakes. He owned the first and second failed drug test. Who the hell are you to say what the UFC should or shouldn’t do? Dana was asked a question and he answered. This crap is why I don’t visit yahoo or MMAweekly.com. Full of typical modern day hack “Journalist”. It’s obvious the writer and this website have big time distain for Sonnen on a personal level.

    • smedrano0206

      Yeah it’s tough for some people to handle the truth

  • smedrano0206

    Why would anyone want to hear from an MMA analyst that has cheated most of his MMA career? Because he’s entertaining? Really stupid..

  • Nate “THE CHEAT” Marquardt

    Best thing UFC and Fox could have ever done was get rid of the biggest lying, cheating, fraud and disgrace to ever set foot in MMA. Whats even worse is how much of a fricken hypocrite Sonnen is after all the sh’it he said about Lance Armstrong. Sonnen is the lowest form of scumbag ever

  • Nate “THE CHEAT” Marquardt

    Dana should have never tried to defend Sonnen. I have feeling Dana knows damn well that Sonnen has been cheating his entire career. All Dana cares about is making money