For all he’s accomplished in his nearly 13-year mixed martial arts career, Mark Hunt is destined to be remembered as the one fighter who took action against his peers’ rampant drug usage.
It’s hardly a secret that MMA fighters have cheated for years, using all manner of performance-enhancing drugs in the hope of gaining, or maintaining, a competitive edge over their opponents.
This has been an open secret that’s been true even before fighters had the ability to make significant money from the sport.
Even within the UFC, which has the most comprehensive and all-encompassing drug-testing plan in sports, fighters continue to cheat. Since July 2015, when the UFC implemented its anti-doping policy – run by the United States Anti-Doping Agency – 15 fighters have been suspended for use of banned substances.
Five of these fighters – Gleison Tibau, Mirko Filipovic, Chad Mendes, Ricardo Abreu and Adam Hunter – have received suspensions of two years from USADA. Three others – Carlos Diego Ferreira (17 months), Lyoto Machida (18 months) and Abdul-Kerim Edilov (15 months) – have been suspended for more than a year.
The positive tests continue to occur despite the fighters’ knowing there is a possibility they can be tested anywhere, at any time, for any reason. That they continue to cheat shows that in their eyes the potential rewards outweigh the risks of getting caught.
Hunt on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit in Las Vegas against the UFC, president Dana White and former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar alleging racketeering, among other things.
Hunt’s suit, first reported by ESPN.com, alleges that the UFC has “affirmatively circumvented and obstructed fair competition for their own benefit, including being complicit in doping proliferation.”
Hunt raised concerns about Lesnar’s potential doping at an open media workout at Xtreme Couture MMA in Las Vegas in June. After telling Fox Sports Australia in early June that he felt Lesnar was “juiced to the gills,” at the Las Vegas open workout he said: “I don’t care. Everyone should be on a level playing field, to be honest, but it is what it is.”
An ex-UFC fighter who wants to come out of retirement to compete in the UFC has to be enrolled in its USADA testing pool for four months before fighting, though the UFC has the ability to waive that provision.
Lesnar signed with the UFC on June 3 for the July 9 bout against Hunt at UFC 200. He entered the USADA testing pool on June 6 after being granted a waiver from the four-month rule under paragraph 5.7.1 of the UFC/USADA testing policy.
It states: “An Athlete who gives notice of retirement to UFC, or has otherwise ceased to have a contractual relationship with UFC, may not resume competing in UFC Bouts until he/she has given UFC written notice of his/her intent to resume competing and has made him/herself available for Testing for a period of four months before returning to competition. UFC may grant an exemption to the four-month written notice rule in exceptional circumstances or where the strict application of that rule would be manifestly unfair to an Athlete.”
On June 7, the UFC released a statement to Yahoo Sports, explaining its position in granting the waiver.
“On June 6, 2016, UFC heavyweight Brock Lesnar was registered by USADA into the UFC Anti-Doping Policy testing pool. As part of the UFC Anti-Doping Policy, UFC may grant a former athlete an exemption to the four-month written notice rules in exceptional circumstances or where the strict application of that rule would be manifestly unfair to an athlete. Given Lesnar last competed in UFC on December 30, 2011, long before the UFC Anti-Doping Policy went into effect, for purposes of the Anti-Doping Policy, he is being treated similarly to a new athlete coming into the organization.
“While conversations with the heavyweight have been ongoing for some time, Lesnar required permission from WWE to compete in UFC 200 and only agreed to terms and signed a bout agreement last Friday. He was therefore unable to officially start the Anti-Doping Policy process any earlier. UFC, however, did notify Lesnar in the early stages of discussions that if he were to sign with the UFC, he would be subject to all of the anti-doping rules. Lesnar and his management have now been formally educated by USADA on the policy, procedures and expectations.”
Lesnar tested positive for two banned substances in an out-of-competition test on June 28, though results of the test were not returned in time for him to be pulled from the bout. Lesnar also failed his post-fight drug test and was suspended for a year by both USADA and the Nevada Athletic Commission. The Nevada commission also fined him $250,000, or 10 percent of his $2.5 million guaranteed purse.
Hunt would seem to face an uphill challenge against the UFC, which has an indemnification clause in its contract with its fighters, as well as against White.
But Hunt, who has repeatedly asked for all of Lesnar’s purse as recompense because he fought while on banned substances, may be eyeing Lesnar as the weak link in the chain.
Lesnar still competes with the WWE, and his drug-test suspension hasn’t impacted his wrestling career. But Lesnar is a private person who isn’t likely to want to fly to depositions and court hearings in Las Vegas to litigate the drug-testing matter.
Given that, Hunt may simply be angling for a settlement with Lesnar that would lead to him dropping his suit in exchange for money.
Hunt has agreed to fight Alistair Overeem at UFC 209 on March 4 in Las Vegas, the same Overeem who failed a Nevada Athletic Commission-administered drug test prior to UFC 146.
Hunt also accepted a rematch with Antonio Silva in 2015 even after learning that Silva had failed his post-fight drug test following their memorable bout on Dec. 7, 2013, in Brisbane, Australia.
Hunt, of course, has the right to make a living, and he shouldn’t be the one coming under scrutiny here.
Perhaps he simply got fed up – Hunt defeated Frank Mir last March, only to find out later that Mir failed his post-fight test – and decided he could take action.
But it’s also just as likely that he senses a strong likelihood of a financial settlement with Lesnar. If you’re fearful for your career, why fight Lesnar when you’ve said a month before the fight you believe he’s “juiced to the gills”? Why fight Silva when he was artificially enhanced the first time you fought him?
Performance-enhancing drugs are a scourge on this sport, and I couldn’t agree more with Hunt in his effort to rid MMA of them.
Somebody, some day, is liable to get seriously injured, or worse, by an artificially enhanced fighter, and any effort to prevent that is welcome.
Perhaps, though, it should start with this: Don’t take fights against those who have tested positive in the past, or whom you suspect of having cheated. Take bouts with the many fighters who have been clean throughout their careers and who passed repeated drug tests.
If the Hunt case ever goes to trial, which seems highly unlikely, it will be fascinating theater.
This suit, though, seems less a moral argument against the use of PEDs than a maneuver to land a large financial settlement from the well-heeled Lesnar.
I’ll root for Hunt in that regard, because drug cheaters can’t be punished harshly enough.
It’s just that it’s hard to credit him for taking some sort of moral high ground given the repeated instances in which he knowingly agreed to face enhanced opponents.
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