by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
In a sport where having the most skill and having the most talent doesn’t always translate into victories, every fighter in the world of mixed martial arts is always looking for the best way to get an upper hand on his opponents. With camps stretching across North America and all over the world, fighters today have a very even playing field when competing against even the most novice of opponents. But with every competition out there comes a dark side of trying to get a leg up on your opponent and the recent trend of fighters testing positive for performance enhancing drugs has started to sky rocket and the numbers are starting to get scary.

Not only are the performance enhancing drugs becoming more prevalent than ever before but recreational and very illegal drugs like marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines are starting to show in more and more drug tests after fighters compete in their respective promotions.

Recently, Armando Garcia, the executive director of the California State Athletic Commission, joined MMAWeekly Radio and talked at great length about this growing and dangerous problem in the world of mixed martial arts.

“People are using drugs,” said Garcia. “People are unfortunately uneducated that drugs will kill you, they’ll greatly damage your quality of life as you get older, and its cheating. I don’t care how you much you candy coat it…it’s cheating. Performance enhancing or not, an athlete who is looked up to by kids should not be using drugs”

The cheating aspect has been looked at in many aspects of professional fighters using drugs around their respective fights. Many times, fighters who have tested positive for varying kinds of steroids have mentioned injuries en route to their bouts that have taken the drugs to help with rehabilitation, but regardless of the reasons given, the drugs are illegal and every fighter walking into an organization has to know there is a possibility they will be tested yet on seemingly every show that has been publicized of late, a drug related suspension has resulted.

Recently at the K-1 event that took place in Los Angeles, even the so called royalty of MMA had a positive drug test when MMA legend, Royce Gracie, tested positive for a performance enhancing agent. Gracie, who originally denied the claim and then later dropped his appeal for the suspension, tested positive for Nandrolone Metabolite. The shock around the MMA world was great considering what a name Royce Gracie holds in the sport.

Also after a main event fight that saw him come up short against Frank Shamrock, perennial bad boy, Phil Baroni, tested positive for two separate steroids (Boldenone Metabolite and Stanozolol Metabolite, two common anabolic steroids.) Baroni’s manager, Ken Pavia made a statement to MMAWeekly after the positive drug test as follows.

“While we respect the process and intent of the tests, we are disappointed with the results as they are completely unexpected. Phil did not knowingly ingest these drugs, which we are told are veterinary in nature. We intend to explore all rights that are afforded by the state commission and Armando Garcia [executive director of the CSAC]. Phil Baroni feels that worse than any fine or suspension is the disgrace to himself, his family and his fans. As such, he asks that judgment be withheld until all facts are in evidence,” said Pavia.

Baroni is just the latest in a line of fighters who have tested positive for steroids and then have vehemently denied the claim afterwards. As of late, no fighter that has filed an appeal with a state athletic commission has had their drug test results or suspension overturned.

As previously mentioned, a great many fighters have also been testing positive for drugs such as marijuana and cocaine and this disturbing trend is being noticed by the athletic commissions as well. Armando Garcia addressed this subject as well.

“They’re abusing street drugs,” Garcia said on the fighters testing positive for the recreational drugs. “Cocaine, marijuana, painkillers and methamphetamines…all of those things are greatly damaging to athletes. What happens is, people go out, they have friends who are not athletes, they party you know, hang out with the ladies, and hey, everybody grows up at some point. When you’re an athlete you can’t be doing those things.”

Positive drug tests have become a steady part of almost every MMA show and an even scarier statistic is the ratio of positive tests to fighters competing on a given show. From the K-1 show that was previously mentioned, beyond Royce Gracie, fighters Johnnie Morton and Tim Persey also tested positive for illegal substances. On a card with only a total of 20 fighters on it, to have 3 come back with positive tests is simply unacceptable.

“If this was baseball, we’d be having Congressional hearings,” stated California State Athletic Commission executive director, Armando Garcia on the rising number of positive drug tests around MMA. “Last year if I remember the stat correctly, it was 25% (of fighters that tested positive for illegal drugs in California MMA events)”

The state commissions are only one piece of the puzzle as they are really the last line of defense in this war on drugs in MMA as they are the sanctioning body and the judge, jury and executioner when it comes to testing fighters after the event and handing down suspensions. But when do the organizations get involved and start doing more independent testing of their fighters to if nothing else protect a huge investment and avoid scandal once the drug test results are revealed and talked about by journalists and fans nationwide?

“The integrity of the testing is vital. Are we an independent body? Absolutely, we’re a state agency. Is a promoter an independent body? No. They have a financial interest in every single thing that happens. Do I want to see them take a more proactive role? Absolutely,” said Garcia about the promotions own responsibilities with the testing.

Another aspect of the drug related testing going on are the suspensions that fighters face after testing positive and it looks as if lately the state commissions are cracking down with longer penalties to let everybody know that they will hit them where it hurts most…in the wallet and not let them fight. The afore mentioned positive drug tests by Royce Gracie and Phil Baroni resulted in a 1 year suspension for each fighter, a standard the California State Athletic Commission seems very comfortable with, and if a fighter comes back for a 2nd offense, they may not get to return…ever.

“I’m going to get you where it hurts and that means you won’t be able to fight,” Garcia stated. “We’re a very forgiving society and I’m good with that. You come back a 2nd time for steroids, my recommendation will always be revocation of license and that’s it, I’m done with them.”

The growing list of fighters testing positive is overwhelming and time will only tell if the problem of drugs in MMA will solve itself or will the promoters finally get involved and start independently testing their fighters? The trends are frightening and the “head in the sand” routine won’t work forever, because it is an obvious problem in the sport and hopefully we will soon see the numbers decrease and while the problem with drugs will never ever just go away, hopefully it will stop hitting the headlines very soon.