The UFC's debut on Fox Sports 1 was the absurdist spectacle it was always going to be. The main and co-main events were headlined by arguably the UFC's two most notorious and audacious steroid cheats. Given that, there wasn't much else the show could be other than an insult to sports, even as it launched a sports network. Imagine Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun in the roles of Chael Sonnen and Alistair Overeem and you'll start to understand the subtext.
If either of them has earned some bizarre brand of sympathy, it's Overeem, maybe the most imposing MMA fighter of all-time (no, really, it's really preposterous). A former light heavyweight who magically bulked up to 265 pounds of muscle meat in a couple years' time, Overeem got busted for an unnaturally high testosterone ratio before what was scheduled to be his second UFC match. He's lost about 10 pounds of weight since and gone 0-2, the most recent coming Saturday night via front snap kick KO against replacement level prospect Travis Browne.
The sympathy Overeem elicits is the same sympathy offered to anyone in a rough spot of their own making. Stuck with an unnatural body that requires unnatural means to fuel it, he mauled Browne for virtually the entire fight -- and then his body drowned in its own lactic acid. Browne, somewhat athletic and marginally less tired as he was, knocked him out shortly thereafter. It was improbable only in the sense that it seemed too obvious, the broken titan falling apart under the strain of his own mass. Considering what Sonnen did that same night, it was pretty dumb, and unfair.
Sonnen has his own delightfully twisted steroid saga involving unimaginably ballsy lies and flimsy faux-medical rationales. The only difference is that he's a lot smarter than Overeem -- he got himself a therapeutic use exemption for testosterone replacement therapy. The exemption is supposed to counteract the hypogonadism that Sonnen was diagnosed with in 2008. He claims he'll die without the twice-weekly testosterone injections, a painfully strained story since hypogonadism is typically diagnosed in pubescent children and its negative impact on muscle development would have made an athletic career impossible without early intervention. While hypogonadism is sometimes diagnosed later in life, it's typically in men over the age of 40 who are experiencing the natural side effects of aging.
How Sonnen ended up with hypogonadism at such a young age is anyone's guess, but anabolic steroid abuse is one of the condition's acquired causes. Keeping in mind that Sonnen's prior failed test saw him post a testosterone to epitestosterone ratio more than four times the allowed limit, it's not hard to understand why his peers are pretty well pissed off that he's got a hall pass for anabolic steroids. His opponent on Saturday, a threadbare Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, lasted less than a round before getting choked out. He did not have a steroid hall pass.
Look, steroid moralizing is the most played out nonsense there is. On their own merits, steroids are pretty awesome, in that anything that accelerates muscle gains and recovery time is going to be attractive to anyone, especially athletes, and no amount of wailing from the America Bootstraps Reagan crowd will change that. The only sensible stance on steroids in sports is that either everyone gets to use them or no one does. Since steroids are controlled substances, sports leagues and promotions all but have to ban them. To what extent the efforts to ban steroids and other PEDs have been successful or even done in good faith is a case-by-case matter, and the UFC is setting a high standard when it comes to dimly shaking one's head and pretending as if there's nothing to be done.
UFC president Dana White is fond of saying the company's fighters are tested by THE GOVERNMENT, as if such a fact carries any greater meaning. It's the government that allowed one fighter out of the 26 who fought on Saturday night to use steroids. It's the same government that has given exemptions to at least five other fighters. Sweet system, bro.
It's clearly the system White prefers since he's called fighter-driven plans to undergo rigorous VADA testing "weird" and "stupid." Not even MMA fighters being linked to Biogenesis got the human logic loop off-message as he responded to questions about the controversy with, "These guys get tested by the government; I don't give a s--- about Biogenesis."
Clearly, White and the UFC don't care about keeping steroids out of MMA. It's little wonder that so many of their fighters feel the same way.
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Tomas Rios is a freelance NYC-based writer who has covered MMA for The Classical, Deadspin, The Pacific Standard and Slate. You can find him @TheTomasRios.