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Performance-enhancing drug usage remains a significant problem in mixed martial arts despite the UFC's intensive testing program run by the United States Anti-Doping Agency since last year.
No other combat sports promotion takes PED usage as seriously as the UFC, and yet it still has fighters test positive regularly. At least, however, there is a serious program with teeth in place to address the issue.
By its actions on Sunday in booking Kimbo Slice against James Thompson for a July 16 show in London, Bellator acts as if it isn't concerned about the issue.
Slice, whose real name is Kevin Ferguson, tested positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone after his Feb. 19 fight with Dada 5000 (real name Dhafir Harris) in Houston. He also had an elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone (T/E) ratio after that bout.
But if he was going to test positive, he did it in the right state. Texas is one of the most lenient states in the country when it comes to assessing penalties for PED usage, with its standard penalty being a 90-day suspension and a $5,000 fine.
Bellator president Scott Coker, who announced the Slice-Thompson fight on "SportsCenter," told ESPN that Slice's suspension ends in May.
He was put on a 90-day suspension outside of Texas, which will be ending some time in May. So he'll be cleared and ready to fight by July. We go by what the athletic commission says. We don't want to get into the rules and regulations and testing procedures because every state has its own regulations and punishments. So it's a little tricky. If there was a national federation or national association with rules and regulations across the board, that every state abided by, that'd be one thing, but for us, every state is different.
The 90-day suspension is a joke under any circumstance, as it in effect means a fighter won't miss even one fight. Since there is no prohibition against training while on suspension, it's easy for a fighter to come back on the 91st day, if he or she so chose, and essentially compete without a suspension. It is extremely rare that a fighter, particularly a headliner like Slice, will fight more often than once every 90 days.
Texas is the state that once "forgot" to drug test boxer Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. following a bout, despite the fact that Chavez had a history of testing positive.
By simply going along with Texas' minimal penalty, Coker is essentially sticking his head in the sand and abdicating his responsibility as one of the sport's most visible leaders. MMA is not regulated by any authority in the U.K., so Slice would have fought there whether Texas had suspended him for 90 days or 10 years.
In that case, it's up to the promoter to regulate itself, and this decision ranks as arguably the worst of what has been an outstanding career for Coker. He's under no obligation to book Slice, but by doing so, it's as if he's telling his fighters he's not bothered by PED usage.
UFC announced its drug testing program more than a year ago, and there has been no response from Bellator.
Now, such wasn't the case when the New York state assembly voted last month on a new law that lifted the ban on MMA in the state. The UFC spent millions of dollars lobbying New York officials, and was the only promoter registered as a lobbyist in the state. On the day that the 113-25 vote came down to end the ban on MMA that had existed since 1997, Coker praised the vote in a statement and said his company looked forward to promoting in New York.
If only he were so eager to follow the UFC's lead when it came to drug testing its athletes.
If a fighter who is later found to be on PEDs seriously injures or kills an opponent in the cage, it will shake the sport to its core. And if that happens to be a fighter who tested positive in his previous fights and is allowed to fight again without penalty or a very minor one, it would seem logical that a slew of lawsuits will be filed in the wake of it.
A vigorous drug-testing program with significant penalties is a fighter safety issue.
The fact that Coker has done little in this regard is astounding, and by allowing Slice to headline so soon after testing positive for a steroid says much how seriously he takes the issue of PEDs in MMA.