MMA Roundtable: Women in the UFC, covered-up drug tests, VADA and more

Ronda Rousey - Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

We want answers. That's really what it comes down to. We're at our happiest when those answers are offered quickly and succinctly, like when Bellator's Bjorn Rebney answered a question on why women's champ Zoila Gurgel would appear on the undercard of an event, or when UFC president Dana White confirmed that women are on their way to the octagon.

The thing is, even those answers led to follow-up questions, which is why we fire up the old Roundtable each week. This time, Luke Thomas and I ponder Gurgel's spot on the prelims, wonder when exactly we'll see women fighting in the UFC, and take a look at two big questions surrounding drugs in MMA.

1) Late last week, two positive drug tests from July's UFC 149 came to light. With an anti-drug policy in place, does the UFC owe some sort transparency on positive tests even when they are not the ones in charge of testing?

Thomas: I wouldn't want the UFC or states (or whatever the relevant provincial territory in question is) to release medical info on some shady grounds that may or may not violate medical privacy. I don't expect the state agencies or the UFC to violate privacy laws, but I wouldn't want the issue to even be gray or unclear. If it's perfectly legal, great. If not, them's the breaks.

In most places, though, those legal considerations aren't relevant. And if they aren't relevant, the central question is this: is the UFC committed to transparency or not?

Either the UFC cares about policing their own ranks and being committed to a drug policy that is open and honest or they aren't. I'd say they do a better job than they legally have to when they travel abroad, and that's very commendable. They know someone like Chris Leben, who has an admitted addiction issue, is better off not fighting for his sake as well as the UFC's, so acknowledging his issue, offering to give him help and doing all of this when they have no legal obligation to do so speaks to some of the important values by which they operate.

But on issues like Matt Riddle or Tyson Griffin (who popped positive after UFC 123) where the fighters test positive for something as innocuous as marijuana, they remain silent. I'm the first person to note athletic commission testing for marijuana is a vice cop charade masquerading as safety enforcement. Athletic commissions don't even have the tools to measure impairment or establish a window of use and yet act as if they do. It's one of life's more cruel jokes played on professional athletes. Yet, not acknowledging drug test failures because they're inconvenient or relatively meaningless or whatever the case is not acceptable.

The rule is simple: post the results of every drug test administered to every UFC fighter after every event. They already have the capacity to do this. The UFC knows if a fighter is suspended in a state even if the public doesn't. This easy-to-follow guideline is a step in the right direction towards transparency and fairness.

Chiappetta: The promotion has been very vocal about its intent on cleaning up the sport. In fact, just a few months ago, they publicly announced a formalized written policy against PEDs and other banned substances. Now they need to take it one step further and publicly announce all of their athletes who fail tests. It would seem to me that the two things would go hand in hand.

As Luke mentioned, they are quite capable of doing so, and have done it in the past. But the UFC seems to take a hand's-off approach in places where testing is conducted by a local commission. That's a mistake. Those governments are often beholden to privacy laws that the UFC can bypass.

When results don't go public, here's what can happen: in a Monday interview on the MMA Hour, Matt Riddle seemed to suggest there was no consideration given to overturning his UFC 149 win to a no contest until his test result was publicly revealed. Instead, he was simply going to have to serve a suspension. That would mean that the opponent of a fighter who tested positive for a banned substance would never know of it, and worse, his fight result could have stood as a loss.

The UFC has made some positive steps forward, and while the sport may never be completely clean, transparency offers a strong sign that violators are being properly addressed.

2) Staying on a similar subject, Roy Nelson, B.J. Penn and Rosi Sexton have been among the few vocal proponents of VADA random testing. Does the relative silence of other fighters say anything about the problem of drugs in MMA?

Thomas: Most likely, although note how Washington, D.C. boxer Lamont Peterson, fresh off of his major upset of Amir Khan and headed into the rematch, requested VADA testing only for the organization to determine he had elevated levels himself. Peterson later claimed it was due to medically administered testosterone pellets, but we should be just a bit cautious about those who embrace VADA: they could be bluffing, inadvertently committing errors themselves or some mixture of the two. After all, the supplementation, augmentation or alteration of body chemistry is no simple matter.

And I don't necessarily find silence about VADA to be a tacit signal of something else, but outright and vocal repudiation of them is strange. Jason Genet, the manager of Shane Carwin, found a way to avoid the whole matter of having Cawin tested by them either by intentionally stonewalling the process or parading ignorance. Take your pick. Either way, that sort of behavior is, at best, negligent.

Athletic commissions are necessary components of fight regulation, but they are not sufficient. They have neither the resources nor ability to be the beginning and end of things. VADA's growth, popularity and product are a direct response to that regulation gap. Those who dismiss them as redundant services are either misinformed or misleading others.

Chiappetta: It does say "something," but what exactly that is, is not easy to compute.

There are a few options here. First, there are those who are simply undereducated on the topic. As Luke suggests, athletic commissions don't have the resources or time to test athletes in the most effective ways. Unfortunately, you probably wouldn't know that unless you took the time to delve into carbon isotope ratio (CIR) testing, PED cycling, drugs that traditional tests miss, and more. If you're just of the mindset that if an athlete is clean at fight time, then he's clean, well, that's simply naive.

There's also the possibility that there are plenty of athletes that are looking away from VADA, afraid of random testing. VADA busted Peterson, for example, because he didn't realize they would test him through CIR. If he did, you can bet he never would have signed up. Fighters that cheat generally aren't going to try to work with an organization with a goal of cleaning up fight sports, but some might think they can game the system. That's fine. We've seen it with plenty of other sports, too, but those are the outliers. Most of those who enter the VADA program are doing so because they're serious about competing while clean.

The fact that only a handful have come forward doesn't mean that everyone else is dirty, but on the other hand, if there's no downside to enrolling in VADA, it makes you wonder why more aren't doing so.

3. On Thursday, Dana White told Sports Illustrated that he was "committed" to creating a UFC women's division. Is there enough depth to do it, and what seems like a realistic timeline?

Chiappetta: As Invicta has shown, it is possible to showcase quality women's MMA on a regular basis. One of the problems with White's plan is that Invicta has a lot of the top talent, and Zuffa generally prefers to sign talent to exclusive contracts.

There's a wrinkle in White's plan though, and it's this: the addition of a women's MMA division requires one person above all else: Ronda Rousey. And fighters can't just jump from Strikeforce to the UFC, that's been established. So either Zuffa makes some type of deal with Showtime that brings the women's division to the UFC, or that promotion is going to fold and their assets will be absorbed into the UFC. I don't see any other ways for it to happen.

Which one seems more likely? Well, Showtime has already given up Alistair Overeem, Dan Henderson, Nick Diaz, and soon, its entire heavyweight division. To remain a viable brand, they can't be surrendering any more assets, and Rousey is one of its biggest remaining chips. So I don't think they'll voluntarily agree to give up promoting women's MMA. They're still on the hook for at least one more show in January, but their contract with Zuffa is up for an option soon, and that decision is going to determine the fate of all the women. If Showtime extends the deal through 2013, the women are likely to stay with Strikeforce. If not, it's on to the UFC's octagon.

White's not just going to stick his toe in the water; he's going full belly-flop, and that means it's Rousey or bust.

Thomas: Mike's right. Short of a one-off (and even that is incredibly tricky), for White's vision to happen it requires the dissolution of Strikeforce. That may be good or bad depending on your perspective, but it's the truth.

I'd like to add two more concerns, though, that should also be considered: roster space if women come to the UFC and the role of Invicta.

Bringing women over to the UFC either requires hosting nearly twenty fights to the occasional card, cutting some portion of the existing roster of men or adding yet more shows. There's no other way to do it. I'm told that if you see an event, typically ones built for television, where there are nine or ten preliminary card fights, it's because the UFC contractually owes certain fighters a certain amount of fights by a certain time. To fulfill that obligation, they stack the preliminary portions of whichever card they deem appropriate. If you throw women into the mix, then all of a sudden you have yet more fighters and fights that need space. And Ronda Rousey ain't fighting on the prelim card, so that means something has to give, be it roster space or the number of shows.

In terms of Invicta, I am glad to see the UFC has a positive relationship with them. I'd also like to see them not buy Invicta out. I don't think there's ever been a case of the Zuffa effectively managing two organizations they own at the same time. The UFC either inevitably gets preferential treatment or the usefulness of the separate brand gets called into question. Invicta's value-add right now is clear and while the resources might be nice, doesn't "need" Zuffa's control.

4. Bjorn Rebney states women's champion Zoila Gurgel is on the preliminary card because she's getting re-acclimated to MMA after a long layoff. Did Bellator make the right call?

Chiappetta: I respectfully disagree with Bellator's placement of Gurgel on the undercard, mostly because hey, she's still the champion. Even though she has been on the sideline a long time, Bellator didn't strip her of her title due to inactivity. The belt brings with it some prestige and yes, some perks, and one of them is to be on the main card. I would have been fine with Gurgel anywhere in one of the top four TV slots.

Bellator decided to feature the welterweight tourney semifinals, which are fine, as well as two Ohio-based fighters. But Gurgel is also based in Ohio, and could have taken one of those last two spots.

I guess the question that comes from this is, Just how committed is Bellator to women's MMA? Since Gurgel captured that belt in October 2010, there has been no other women's tournaments, so there still isn't a title defense anywhere in Gurgel's near future. That means she'll have to continue on in non-title bouts where the same could happen.

I guess there are two positives from all of this: 1) given Rebney's statement, it seems that if Gurgel goes out and blows away expectations, she'll be featured more prominently next time, and 2) she might have received more attention due to this mini-controversy than she might have without it. It isn't much, but it's something.

Thomas: I think Mike hits all the right notes here. Gurgel is fighting at flyweight for this bout, which is understandable, but she's doing so against deeply outmatched competition. If this is a tune-up fight - and it is - then Gurgel is being given an opponent who will provide a reasonable test, but one who should ultimately lose. If there is any fight you want to showcase, it's that one. Sorry, I am glad Bellator is giving opportunities to top female fighters, but they made a profoundly bad call here.

I also am glad Mike raised the issue of Bellator's commitment to women. Maybe they have internal metrics that tell them the audience just isn't there for them when they showcase female fighters, but if there aren't, someone there needs to do some rethinking. I have no idea why Bellator thinks it's better to have a very poor heavyweight division, yet sideline some of the top female fighters in their stable. Gurgel vs. Megumi Fujii, while controversial, is one of the best fights Bellator has ever staged. I know the heavyweight men have knockout power and that's great, but on balance, the highest-level female fighters are going to give better fights than the mid to low-tier heavyweights.

Bellator has a good thing going with the ladies. And the Sports Business Journal pointed out this month that side of the game could prove to be a boon to the sport in creating lasting popularity. The organization should focus its energies where it has the best talent. In many cases, that's with the ladies.

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