An athlete in the Steroid Era can never escape the situation that now surrounds Cung Le, a UFC middleweight contender who never aroused even a second of suspicion previously in his illustrious fighting career.
Suddenly, though, a picture of an extraordinarily jacked Le hit the Internet and, inevitably, the suspicions skyrocketed.
The photo of Le shows him posing with larger, more defined pectoral muscles and a washboard-like abdomen. It was out of character for a 42-year-old who previously was one of the few non-heavyweights to be considered pudgy.
Now, as Le prepares to fight Michael Bisping in the main event of a UFC Fight Pass streamed card on Saturday in Macau, he’s smack in the middle of a performance-enhancing drugs controversy.
Le told MMA Junkie’s John Morgan the other day that the photo was one of those things, taken at the perfect moment in the perfect light, and that it portrayed him with more of a bodybuilder’s physique than he actually has.
Le has been an honorable man throughout his fight career and hasn’t been considered one of the (very many) fighters who cheat. One of the many results of the Steroid Era is that even those who do things the right way are eyed suspiciously.
That’s just one of the many reasons why the UFC desperately needs a full-time policy regarding performance-enhancing drugs.
Random, unannounced testing must become a priority.
The UFC is supposedly working on developing a policy that would include a series of surprise tests. Even though the Nevada Athletic Commission bungled a few of the surprise tests it administered by testing fighters who weren’t yet licensed, those tests proved one thing: A lot more fighters are using PEDs than UFC executives are willing to admit.
And this is not just a UFC problem, or an MMA problem. It crosses boundaries through all sports. Football players cheat. Baseball players cheat. Sprinters cheat. Yes, even golfers cheat.
The problem is particularly acute, though, for fighters. Fighters who reached the UFC level are already lethal without the benefit of enhancement drugs. But the use of enhancement drugs then pushes a fight from a sporting event to assault and battery.
The UFC rightfully takes a lot of heat for its failure to adequately respond thus far to the longtime (and growing) PED problem. Bellator and new president Scott Coker need to address this issue as well.
I operate under the assumption that Le’s improved physique is nothing more than what he says it is, the result of hard work in the gym and more attention to his diet.
Of course, anyone 42, as Le is, or older knows how much more difficult it is to get into better condition as the years pile on.
At Bisping’s request, both fighters’ both blood and urine will be tested Saturday.
But that’s unlikely to quell the skeptics. When athletes know a test is coming, they know how to beat it. And UFC fighters are regularly urine-tested before the fight.
The reason it’s important to randomly test athletes is to try to catch them while they’re using during training before it’s out of the system and before they get into the cage and fight chemically enhanced.
It’s easy for someone sitting on the back porch watching the world go by to say the UFC should implement random testing. But the reality is, testing is a difficult process that will cost millions of dollars a year and won’t catch all cheaters.
That’s the sad reality: Even if the fighters are randomly tested multiple times a year, some are going to continue to use and be able to hide it from the testers.
It’s why Lance Armstrong was able to win seven Tour de France titles after beating cancer. Armstrong, of course, is perhaps the most notorious drug cheat in history. He lied for years about his use and viciously attacked those who suggested, correctly, as it turns out, that he was using EPO and human growth hormone, among other banned substances.
Armstrong was a bully who sued numerous people who spoke out honestly, ruining lives in the process.
So the sad truth is this drug game has many victims.
Cung Le is just the latest. No matter what he says now, no matter how many drug tests he passes from now until the day he leaves this Earth, he’s going to be viewed skeptically by a lot of people.
A win over Bisping, which would be one of the greatest of his career, will be slightly diminished because of that picture and the belief of many he didn’t get that way by, as Hulk Hogan once said, saying his prayers and taking his vitamins.
The UFC drug testing policy can’t come soon enough, both to catch the cheaters and to help the innocent.
Regulatory bodies need to increase the penalties on cheaters, both in the amount of fines and the length of suspensions given. And when the UFC self-regulates, as it does so frequently when it goes outside the U.S., it needs to be just as rigorous as the toughest athletic commission regulations will allow.
The Bisping-Le fight is an interesting one that, in another place and time, would have commanded a great deal of attention and analysis.
But in this day and age, during a time the sport is filled with steroid cheaters, the talk is about the number of PED users Bisping has lost to and how unusually large Le has gotten.
That’s unfair, and it’s time for it to change.