Rules can be frustratingly arbitrary things.
Sometimes all that makes the difference between a given behavior having disastrous consequences or being regarded as perfectly innocent is the flick of some bureaucrats' pen.
Take for instance the Nevada State Athletic Commission's recent decision to raise the acceptable threshold for a marijuana drug test failure. Up until last week a marijuana metabolite level of 50 ng/mL was enough to land a fighter with a penchant for hot boxing in some serious hot water with the commission. Now the NSAC has raised the acceptable limit to 150 ng/mL, which puts Nevada in step with both the World Anti Doping Agency and the UFC's recently-adopted policy on marijuana. With the NSAC being something of the vanguard in athletic commission testing, it wouldn't be surprising to see commissions in other states soon follow their lead.
This is great news if you're a fighter for whom hits from the bong are as much a part of your daily routine as hitting a heavy bag. Under the new rules you can now consume enough THC to recreate Cheech and Chong's van made entirely out of weed as long as you go straight a little over a week before your fight.
One imagines a thick cloud of smoke rising over the 209, as the mayor of Stockton declares a city wide holiday to be heretofore known as "Diaz Day" in celebration of the NSAC's ruling.
And while this news is doubtlessly more welcome to a dope smoking fighter than a bag full of Doritos-flavored tacos delivered while he's in the throes of the munchies, it must bring mixed emotions for guys like Pat Healy and Matt Riddle.
A few puffs of a joint at a friend's birthday party a few weeks before UFC 159 ended up costing Pat Healy $135,000 in bonus money, not to mention erasing the signature win of his career over perennial top-ten lightweight Jim Miller. If the fight had taken place just half a year later and in the state of Nevada rather than New Jersey, Healy's bank statement would likely have a few more zeros at the end of it than it ldoes now.
Then there's the case of Matt Riddle. The former UFC welterweight was let go by the company following his second post-fight test failure for marijuana following the UFC on FUEL: Barao vs. McDonald card back in February. After the firing Riddle, a medical marijuana patient who claims the drug helps him cope with serious anxiety issues, expressed optimism for his post Zuffa career, likening his free agent status to a "fresh breath of air."
Turns out the air outside the UFC is about as fresh as that inside a stoner's bedroom after he finishes ripping a tube. Yesterday Riddle announced his retirement following a rib injury suffered in training for an upcoming bout with Bellator, citing financial hardship due to the company's apparent inability to line him up with a fight before their next welterweight tournament. Needless to say Riddle's life would likely be drastically different today had his second test failure come under the new guidelines.
Although it's too late to help fighters like Healy and Riddle, the NSAC should be applauded for reevaluating a rule that didn't serve any purpose other than to penalize an innocuous recreational behavior. After all, it's not like THC helps fighters make drastic physical gains during training camp.
However, there is a drug that athletic commissions and the UFC alike both accept that does give fighters who use it a distinct physical advantage: synthetic testosterone.
Every time we turn around it seems another fighter has been added to the ranks of testosterone replacement therapy recipients. It's awfully curious how so many ostensibly healthy, high level athletes' bodies have suddenly stopped producing a sufficient amount of testosterone over the past couple years.
What's even fishier is that low testosterone is supposedly a lifelong condition, yet we've seen fighters who once were on TRT eventually quit using the treatment but continue fighting. One would think the rigors of a training camp, let alone a fight itself, would be an all but impossible feat for these men to pull off if indeed they possessed such dangerously low natural levels of testosterone that medical intervention was necessary.
Which is why it's so disheartening to see athletic commissions and the UFC still handing out therapeutic use exemptions like they were Halloween candy. There are number of troubling questions posed by the continued acceptance of TRT in MMA that don't look to be going away anytime soon.
First, does it make sense for athletic commissions and the UFC alike to allow fighters to take a performance enhancing drug, even if those who use it have testosterone levels "within acceptable limits?" Given that these limits are still on the high end of what a normal man would naturally produce, even with regular tests isn't there still plenty of leeway for a clever fighter who wants to use TRT to game the system?
Some athletes may have a legitimate need for synthetic testosterone, but if someone's body has undergone such significant damage it can no longer produce testosterone -- whether it be from weight cutting, blows to the head, or past anabolic steroid abuse -- should they really be allowed to keep fighting and thereby potentially exacerbate their underlying problem?
Perhaps most importantly, is it fair for a clean fighter to be expected to put his health and livelihood at greater risk by facing an opponent who has been granted permission to shoot up with synthetic hormones?
Like I said, rules can be frustratingly arbitrary things.