USADA banned a UFC fighter for life and the message is clear: No more free passes

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Ruslan Magomedov is the first UFC fighter to be issued a lifetime ban for repeated drug test violations. (Getty Images)
Ruslan Magomedov is the first UFC fighter to be issued a lifetime ban for repeated drug test violations. (Getty Images)

There’s never a proper time to cheer the loss of another person’s job, even when said person has failed so many anti-doping tests he receives a lifetime ban from his sport as a result.

If you’re playing “Jeopardy!” at some point in the future and the answer is Ruslan Magomedov, here’s a tip: The correct question will likely be, “Who is the first UFC fighter to receive a lifetime ban from the United States Anti-Doping Agency?”

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Magomedov managed to accomplish that ignominious distinction on Monday, when after he had failed two previous tests, he refused to submit to an out-of-competition test on Feb. 5. That was considered another violation, which was his third, and by terms of the UFC’s anti-doping agreement with USADA, triggered the automatic lifetime ban. Magomedov is the only UFC fighter to have three violations. Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, George Sullivan and Ricardo Abreu have two apiece.

The sport is better off without him, frankly, but he served a useful purpose during an undefeated UFC run in 2014-15.

Chances are, the first time that most mixed martial arts fans ever heard of Magomedov was on Monday, the day his lifetime ban was announced.

Magomedov, 31, is from Dagestan in Russia, the same republic that produced UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. Magomedov was 3-0 in his UFC career and 14-1 overall in MMA, though probably 99.9999999 percent of MMA fans would be hard-pressed to pick him out of a lineup.

For the record, though, Magomedov scored three-round decisions over Viktor Pesta on May 31, 2014, in Berlin, Germany; over Josh Copeland, on Nov. 22, 2014, in Austin, Texas; and over Shawn Jordan at UFC 192 on Oct. 3, 2015, in Houston. Most notably, all of his fights prior to his UFC career were in Russia. Two of his victories came over ex-UFC heavyweight champions who were long past their primes when he defeated them, Ricco Rodriguez and Tim Sylvia.

It’s a stretch to believe that Magomedov’s MMA career is over. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic was suspended by the UFC and later fought in Bellator, even though he wasn’t under testing during the period of his suspension. By the rules, that means his suspension did not end, but the Mohegan Sun commission allowed him to fight anyway.

But USADA’s ban means Magomedov’s done in the UFC for life, and the impact of the world’s largest MMA promoter deeming a fighter unfit for competition is significant.

Performance-enhancing drug usage was rampant in the UFC — and, indeed, throughout all of combat sports — before the UFC partnered with USADA in 2015. And while the system has its flaws, it’s the best system for catching cheaters yet developed.

It changed MMA for the better because it rooted out those who ignored the rules and tried to give themselves a competitive advantage by chemically enhancing themselves.

I don’t really care much if there is drug test in golf or in baseball. If some juiced up lunkhead can hit a drive 425 yards as a result of PED usage, it will be entertaining to see. And I’m not outraged when someone hits tons of home runs in baseball, because his PED usage isn’t endangering others.

Yeah, I’d rather have a clean sport, but let’s be practical: With the amount of money available in professional sports these days, a certain percentage of athletes will be willing to bend or outright break the rules in order to get their share of it.

But in sports in which there is physical contact, such as fighting or football or even basketball, regulators have to stay vigilant and do their utmost to prevent PED usage.

Magomedov’s ban sends a significant message to his peers who remain in the UFC, that they’re not going to be given free pass after free pass.

A fighter who has already cheated and been caught should have incentive not to cheat again given the stiff penalty structure in the USADA deal with the UFC. But knowing that they will take the ultimate step, as they did with Magomedov, and prevent these kinds of cheaters from ever competing again, is about as significant of a deterrent as can be had.

He’s not a guy who will be missed. He’s not a guy who did much for MMA, or the UFC, and the fact that he so willingly cheated speaks to his character. The sport is better off without guys like that.

His one positive contribution will be the knowledge other fighters carry with them now, that in a moment of weakness when facing a potentially tough or significant fight, that if they cheat, they could lose their ability to earn a living in a sport they profess to love.

Magomedov will be remembered as a talented guy who decided to look for shortcuts in order to compete. But if the severe penalty he received as a result of his repeated failures has the impact of making other fighters think twice about using a PED, Magomedov will become, in an odd sort of way, one of the more significant fighters who ever competed in the UFC.

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