LAS VEGAS – There are a number of similarities between cyclist Lance Armstrong and Alistair Overeem, the UFC heavyweight who on Tuesday received a license to fight from the Nevada Athletic Commission.
Both men are world-class athletes who have been dogged throughout their careers by rumors of performance-enhancing drug usage. Both vehemently denied such claims.
In October, the United States Anti-Doping Agency released a 164-page report with two addendums totaling another 33 pages that detailed Armstrong's usage. Armstrong, though, still hasn't admitted his guilt, though there have been reports that he's considered doing so.
Overeem failed a surprise drug test by the Nevada commission in March 2012 on the morning of a news conference to announce a planned fight with then-heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos.
The heavily muscular Overeem's testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio, or his T/E ratio, was more than double Nevada's limit of 6-1 and more than triple the limit of the World Anti-Doping Agency's standard of 4-1.
Keith Kizer, the executive director of the Nevada commission who often comes under attack from journalists and the public for not doing more to stem the tide of PED usage, deserves a huge amount of credit not only for ordering the random test that caught Overeem but then for subsequently testing Overeem repeatedly during his commission-imposed suspension.
In an era when those seeking to circumvent drug testing are far better funded than those trying to catch them, Kizer did yeoman's work to ensure, as best as possible, that Overeem is clean.
Overeem was testing himself throughout his nine-month suspension and forwarding the results to Kizer and the commission. This is where Kizer made a brilliant move, and showed his commitment to keeping PEDs out of the fight game.
On several occasions, shortly after Overeem had voluntarily submitted a blood and urine sample to prove his innocence, Kizer ordered him to submit to another test. An athlete who uses PEDs will often use them right after he or she has passed a drug test. The thinking is that they'll be clear for a while and can cheat with impunity.
Kizer knew that and ordered Overeem to be tested within a few days of when Overeem had had himself tested.
Overeem passed all of the tests, both the ones he did on his own and those ordered by Kizer. He rightfully was given his license by the commission on Tuesday via a unanimous vote, allowing him to fight Antonio "Big Foot" Silva at UFC 156 on Feb. 2 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
The real work, though, has just begun.
Unlike in cycling, where the only harm of taking PEDs is to the long-term health of the user, there can be dire consequences in a fight.
Whatever the percentage of fighters who are using PEDs actually is – several fighters over the year pegged the total as at least 50 percent – there is a reason they are using them.
It allows them to train harder and recover more quickly from workouts. It allows them to put on muscle mass they almost certainly would not be able to do naturally and it allows them to move those muscles more quickly.
All in all, it makes them far more dangerous as fighters. More dangerous fighters do more damage and score more knockouts. And fighters who score more knockouts get bigger fights and make more money.
That's why many of those who knowingly cheat choose to do so. Others cheat because they suspect that many of their peers are cheating and they want to attempt to even the playing field.
Overeem will be tested rigorously by the Nevada commission for as long as he fights in the state. Hopefully, other state athletic commissions will do the same and put Overeem through a rigorous testing process that includes unannounced tests.
At Tuesday's hearing, Overeem admitted that his nine-month suspension was fair, though he never admitted to cheating. He stuck to his previous position that he relied on faulty advice from a doctor.
Perhaps that's true, and given his record, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
I'm not going to call him a liar at this point. I'm going to believe he made an unwitting error.
He's not a cyclist, however. His job involves hurting his opponent.
And so, because of that mistake, a precedent should be set. Overeem, and every fighter who tests positive for PEDs in the future, should have to do the same thing:
The only way to lessen the possibility of a tragedy is to force those who have been caught to be tested early, and often, at their own expense.
Commissions that consider licensing Overeem should require him to, at his own expense, submit to a carbon isotope ratio test that would be administered randomly during his training camp. The CIR test, which is the only foolproof way to catch usage of synthetic testosterone, is expensive, going for $450-$600 a test.
If they can't afford to pay for the tests, then they don't fight – a hefty price to pay, but safety dictates an abundance of caution.
The onus is on the fighter to know what is going into his body. If he takes something that is a performance-enhancer, even unknowingly, there needs to be long-term consequences.
If they're allowed to fight again without additional testing and a tragedy occurs, the consequences are going to be a lot more dire than paying for a $600 CIR test.
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