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How MLB's handling of Biogenesis scandal makes combat sports look like a joke

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

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A-Rod's suspension shows the need for more stringent PED regulation in combat sports. (Getty)


The rules in boxing and mixed martial arts are designed so that it is vastly easier for fighters to get away with using performance enhancing drugs than major team sports in the U.S.

On Monday, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig suspended 15 players who were clients of Biogenesis, a Miami anti-aging clinic, for periods ranging from 50 to 211 games. Almost all associated with the clinic effectively admitted guilt by accepting their punishment. The lone exception was Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who didn't exactly deny the accusations brought against him.

Rodriguez is eligible to continue playing pending an appeal, but if the 211-game suspension is upheld, he will lose $34 million in salary and may never play again.

No matter how you feel about Rodriguez – and he may be the most hated man in the sports world right now – contrast it to what is happening in the fight game.

Yuriorkis Gamboa, the interim WBA lightweight champion, was one of the athletes named in the original Miami New Times report in January. Gamboa fought in Montreal in June and didn't have to answer a single question about his appearance in the Biogenesis report.

Subsequently, Porter Fischer, the ex-Biogenesis employee who provided the information to the New Times about the PEDs that Biogenesis was supplying to star athletes, told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" that there are more athletes who were Biogenesis customers than have been publicly named. 

Among them, Fischer said, are boxers and MMA fighters.

No one in a position of power in either sport is proactively trying to root out the cheaters, as Major League Baseball did, frustrating anti-doping advocates and those who simply wish for combat sports to be clean. 

[Video: Why Major League Baseball came down hard on Alex Rodriguez]

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Yuriorkis Gamboa got little more than a slap on the wrist for his involvement with Biogenesis. (USA Today)

Gamboa defeated Darleys Perez in Montreal in June and likely will be able to continue his career without being fearful his Biogenesis ties leading to a suspension.

Todd duBoef, the president of boxing promotional company Top Rank, called the situation a "Catch-22."

"Our sport is administered by the government and state agencies. They earn revenue from it, they administer the sport and enforce the rules and regulations. They should be more involved."

It's a similar stance to the one taken by UFC officials. UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta failed to return a message from Yahoo! Sports to discuss the Biogenesis situation as it relates to fighting.

UFC president Dana White made comments similar to duBoef following a fight card in Seattle on July 27. White's stance toward drug testing has always been that UFC fighters "are tested by the government," with the insinuation that government testing is the most thorough testing out there.

As White answered questions about Biogenesis, he said the various state athletic commissions, whom he referred to as "the government," are eager to catch chemically enhanced fighters.

He suggested the fighters are facing more stringent testing than baseball or NBA players.

"This is one of those things, man," White said. "It's so much different than baseball and basketball. Our guys get tested by the government, man. It's the government. It's how they make their money. They bust these guys on this stuff. That's how they get paid. They fine them, they this, they that. It's what they do. It's what they're there to do.

"They want to catch people. It's not like they don't want to catch people. They want to. Trust me. Athletic commissions aren't doing me any favors."

In actuality, though, numerous experts say that PED testing run by state athletic commissions in the U.S. is generally of a low quality. It is better to have it rather than not, and the more vigilant states are catching cheaters.

[Jeff Passan: Sad road to Alex Rodriguez's suspension]

However, several experts have said the number of cheaters far outpaces the number who are caught by state athletic commission tests.

In a statement produced during the investigation of cyclist Lance Armstrong, Dr. Larry Bowers, the chief science officer for the United States Anti-Doping Agency, said, " … it is not possible to equate a 'negative test' with the absence of doping at the current time. It would be relatively easy to avoid detection for doping if the anti-doping program is not as rigorous as it should be."

Random testing done by state athletic commissions, in which the fighter is caught by surprise and theoretically wouldn't have had an opportunity to hide potential PED use, is extremely rare. However, Nevada caught UFC fighter Alistair Overeem with a random test done last year at executive director Keith Kizer's insistence and suspended him for nine months.

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Alistair Overeem's Hulk-like physique drew questions long before his positive test. (Getty)

Most states can't afford to run such testing and very few have the interest.

Competency of state-run drug testing varies widely. In addition, because the tests are almost always done after the competition is over, they are unable to prevent a PED-enhanced fighter from competing and then potentially seriously injuring or killing an opponent.

"The commissions I work with are proactive and are trying to catch the people who are using these substances," said Dr. Michael Schwartz, a Darien, Conn., based internal medicine doctor who founded the American Association of Professional Ringside Physicians.

"But they're not the norm. There are a lot of places where testing isn't done. It's not taken very seriously by some of the various commissions and there are plenty of flaws in the tests in the places that do in fact regularly test."

Dr. Margaret Goodman, the former chairwoman of the Nevada Athletic Commission's Medical Advisory Committee who now operates the non-profit Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency, was asked if drug-testing run by the state athletic commissions was rigorous and sufficient enough to catch the majority of PED users.

She laughed before answering.

"No. No. No," she said. "You know the answer to that as well as I do. In some circumstances, it's sufficient, but under 98, 99 percent of the cases, it is just not [enough]. … It's just not rigorous enough."

It is not believed that any boxing or MMA promoter has reached out to law-enforcement officials who are handling the Biogenesis case to find out if any of their athletes are among those that Fischer said were customers.

[Related: MMA isn't alone in judging controversies]

The problem with policing the Biogenesis situation in boxing and MMA is that because there are not standardized rules from state to state, fighters and/or promoters can venue shop to find a state that will license them despite their ties to PED usage.

If the names of the fighters who Fischer says were Biogenesis clients ever becomes public, the states where they currently hold licenses could demand that those athletes come to appear before the commission to explain their PED usage. In that scenario, the state commissions would have the ability to mete out punishment.

However, licenses are given for a calendar year and expire on Dec. 31.

So, a fighter whose name appears in the Biogenesis records would only have to answer to the states that he or she fought in this year. However, if a fighter applies for a license in a state, that would give the commission the authority to bring the applicant in for a hearing.

Kizer normally approves or denies most fighter license applications made to the Nevada Athletic Commission on his own. The five-member commission to whom he reports would only get involved in unusual circumstances, such as this.

But even in that circumstance, the only hammer the state would wield would be to deny a license. The rules prohibit a suspended fighter from attempting to be licensed in another state, but that does not apply to a fighter who was simply denied a license. A fighter who is denied a license by one commission has the right to go to any other state, or country, to seek licensure.

Boxer Antonio Margarito did that twice before he retired, and commissions in Texas and New York subsequently licensed him each time after he had been denied a license elsewhere.

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Vitor Belfort tested positive for 4-Hydroxytestosterone in 2006. (Getty)

Kizer said Nevada would demand any fighter whose name appears in the Biogenesis records to appear in person before the commissioners, who are appointed by the governor, in order to be licensed.

Nick Lembo, the counsel for the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, said options are limited for punishment. Unlike Major League Baseball, which has a Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association that spells out policies and procedures for drug testing and issuing penalties, nothing of the sort exists in fighting.

There is no central authority that could punish athletes who came out in the Biogenesis report or other such reports. Regulations vary widely from state to state.

"If someone's name comes up in a report and then they come to your jurisdiction, it's definitely going to be a consideration for licensing," Lembo said. "You wouldn't be able to punish them for past conduct, I would doubt, because the licensing period had expired. Now, if they were under current licensure then you could review that and perhaps [take action], but if they were expired, I don't think there would be an ability to punish."

There has been much debate over the last few years about the need for a federal commission that would oversee combat sports.

[Related: Princeton grad quits Wall Street for MMA career]

Lembo suggested that in lieu of an actual federal commission, the government could come up with minimum standards that states are required to enforce. State-rights advocates, though, insists the federal government doesn't have the ability to tell states what to do.

But because of the rules are now, those fighters who cheated and took performance enhancing drugs at the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic are likely going to be able to walk free with no punishment.

They'll get to continue to compete with no fine and no suspension, while baseball players such as Ryan Braun and, ultimately, Rodriguez, will lose millions.

Until the rules change, it's just more evidence that cheaters often win in the fight game.

More suspension coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
Watch: Alex Rodriguez passes on denial when asked about PEDs
Jeff Passan: Bud Selig's overzealous handling of A-Rod is more about legacy preservation
Desperate Yankees need Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod booed before first at-bat in Chicago

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