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MMA needs to address steroids problem

Sean Sherk had the gall to go on a national television show and brag about his training routine when he knew it was all fake.

Hermes Franca had the temerity to ask those he perpetrated a fraud upon for forgiveness.

They should, and will, be punished severely for testing positive for anabolic steroids following their July 7 match for the UFC lightweight title in Sacramento, Calif.

The California Athletic Commission released the results of tests on Thursday that showed Sherk tested positive for nandrolone and Franca tested positive for Drostanolone after their title match at ARCO Arena, in which Sherk retained his title via unanimous decision.

The commission fined each man $2,500 and suspended them both until July 5, 2008. The Fight Network reported that Sherk will appeal the findings.

The issue, though, is much bigger than the fighters. Nearly every mixed martial arts card, it seems, has at least one fighter who fails a test for steroids.

The sport is dirty. And don't be surprised to find that the problem is much more widespread than it's seemed.

This isn't, after all, just a few isolated miscreants. I suspect a lot more of those sculpted bodies are chemically enhanced.

UFC president Dana White is on vacation in Tahiti, but he released a statement saying the company did not condone illegal drug use and would support the commission.

Well, duh.

Of course it will.

It has to, because the UFC is trying to get itself regulated in all 50 states. A little more than a year ago, the UFC hired the highly regarded Marc Ratner away from the Nevada Athletic Commission to be its vice president of regulatory affairs.

Imagine the reception Ratner would receive were White not to publicly support the commissions in their drug-testing endeavors.

And while it's important to note that this is not a UFC problem, as the largest and most powerful entity in the sport, the burden falls squarely on the UFC to find a solution.

The first step in that solution has to be random drug testing not only after a fight but also at any point a fighter is under contract to the UFC. If a fighter won't sign a waiver and agree to random testing, then he doesn't fight for the UFC. Period.

Steroids users who know they're being tested cycle on and off in order to maximize the benefits and avoid detection, which is why the true percentage of users in MMA is undoubtedly much higher than is known.

And while fans may debate the impact of a baseball player using steroids, the simple fact is this: In the fight game, a fighter's body is a weapon. And if he is able to artificially enhance that weapon through the use of illegal drugs, he has the potential to seriously harm an opponent.

Imagine what will happen to the sport if a fighter later found to be steroid-addled seriously injures – or kills – an opponent with a punch.

Any chance the sport had at mainstream acceptance would be ended on that day.

One of the great things about MMA fighters is that they seem to appreciate their role in the sport's growth. These are not illiterate cavemen beating each other to the death with clubs.

They are, for the most part, intelligent and articulate athletes who are committed to growing the sport. The sport is not the barbaric exercise many of its critics who haven't tried to learn it like to believe.

Whether one enjoys MMA is a personal choice, but it's flat ignorant to ignore the fact that the athletes are highly skilled who have undergone years of training. The sport has a far better safety record than boxing, both in deaths (zero in sanctioned competition) and in significant, long-term injuries.

It's hard to believe that, just as the sport is getting widespread acceptance among the media, fighters would continue to use steroids.

Sherk could not be reached for comment, but Franca released a self-serving statement to the MMA Weekly Web site on Thursday in which he admitted taking the steroid to help an injury heal faster.

He said in his statement that he injured an ankle two months before the July 7 bout and asked UFC officials if it could be postponed. He said he was told that would not be possible, so Franca said he needed to fight because he lives paycheck to paycheck.

"As a fighter, though, even at this level, I live a simple life and I literally live from fight to fight," Franca said in his statement. "Not getting a paycheck for another few months and losing my chance to fight Sean for the title was overpowering."

And so Franca went on to explain how he painfully made the decision to use a drug he knew was illegal.

He did it, he said, so he could fight and provide for his family.

It's a noble intention to want to provide for one's family, but Franca conveniently misses the point that he made himself much more dangerous to his opponent by using steroids and could have significantly injured him as a result of the increased power he gained.

White needs to address the situation immediately. Not only did he have Sherk and Franca test positive on the card, but two others fighting at UFC 73, Nate Marquardt and Stephan Bonnar, had tested positive for steroid-related offenses in the past.

That means that four of the 18 fighters on the card, or 22 percent, had used steroids at some point in their career.

Does anyone doubt that there were more but who just haven't been caught yet?

If White doesn't take strong, decisive action to address this rapidly growing problem, he's essentially condoning the fighters' usage by turning the other way.

Historically, UFC has stripped champions of titles when they've turned up on the juice. Both Josh Barnett and Tim Sylvia were stripped of the heavyweight belt after testing positive. Following precedent and stripping Sherk of the title would at least be the right first step.

Too many states don't test for steroids. The UFC has to administer drug tests itself for any of the fights it stages in the United Kingdom because MMA is not regulated there. The UFC holds too many cards in too many venues for White to take any chances.

He needs to spend a lot of time on his vacation formulating a plan to attack this epidemic.

No less than the future of the sport he loves is at stake.