This week's MMA Roundtable goes to extremes, showcasing the good and bad of the sport. On one side, you have the "Rally for Mark Hunt," a feel-good movement designed to mobilize around an unlikely possible contender to the UFC heavyweight title. On the other, we have more about the ongoing PEDs in MMA situation, with Alistair Overeem preparing to meet with the Nevada state athletic commission and explain his elevated T/E ratio.
What case is he going to present? Who knows? He's been completely mum since the results were released -- not even a single Tweet -- but from the information we know, we have our suspicions about his possible explanations.
My colleague Luke Thomas and I delve into Way-Overeem, discuss whether Hunt fanatics are on the Mark, and much more. Take it away, Luke.
1. What will Alistair Overeem's defense be during his NSAC hearing on April 24th?
Luke Thomas: I can't possibly imagine, but I suppose there's no harm in trying. What's baffling about this was that he was clearly over the legal limit in terms of testosterone coursing through his body. And he was able to be tested as part of a conditional license regimen he also agreed to prior to the Lesnar fight. So we have clear legal threshold being crossed and legitimate grounds under which to test. The case seems air tight to me, especially since Overeem never elected to have the B sample tested.
Perhaps he'll challenge the legal basis under which he was tested. Maybe he'll suggest he didn't know he couldn't be above 6:1 T/E. It could be that since English is his second language and commissioner Pat Lundvall never 'laid a foundation' about his English language proficiency, Overeem can claim he never understood the legal documents presented to him.
Either way, I'm expecting a pretty novel defense. When you're clearly breaking the rules and yet asking for things the government grants only as a privilege, you better have one very special ace up your sleeve.
Mike Chiappetta: Let's go through this logically. Overeem is not asking for his B-sample to be tested. There has to be a purpose for that. What is it? Well, it basically means that he is conceding that the results are accurate. A B-sample test would trigger a carbon isotope ratio test, and NSAC would be able to determine whether the testosterone was synthetic. By not going through that, he is admitting the original results are correct. So from there, there are only three options. He can say: 1) his testosterone levels are naturally high, 2) his epitestosterone levels are naturally low, or 3) he took testosterone.
Let's examine each. We can basically throw the first option out the window immediately because he took three urine tests in the leadup to UFC 141, and his ratio was within normal range each time. A drastic change would be unlikely from then until now. The second option is nearly the same thing. Nevada has tests results that prove his T/E ratio normal as recently as three months before his failed test. That leaves option three. I believe Overeem is going to argue that he was recently diagnosed with low testosterone.
NSAC's Keith Kizer recently shared the commission's therapeutic use exemption procedures with MMA Fighting, and those procedures only require a fighter to submit a TUE application within 20 days of his scheduled fight. That means Overeem can argue that he wasn't obligated to inform them he was on testosterone at the time of his March 27 random test, and planned to do so after collecting all the relevant information.
After the December testing fiasco, I don't expect NSAC to give him the benefit of the doubt this time around, but that's the likely direction it's headed.
2. "Rally for Mark Hunt." Is this idea pure genius or totally insane?
Chiappetta: At the risk of offending an entire movement, I'd say they've gone a bit loony, but at least it's for a good cause.
Like them, I appreciate Mark Hunt's strong kickboxing resume, the fact that he turned his MMA career around, and how he's become the sport's feel-good story. I also admire his willingness to scrap anytime against anyone. Those are all wonderful qualities he brings to the table. But I can't say he's the most qualified heavyweight to face Junior Dos Santos, and that's a problem when you're handing out something as important as a title fight opportunity.
While he has won three in a row, none of those opponents were top 10 at the time. I think former champs Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez are simply more deserving whether you're basing a pick on recent history or overall success.
"Rally for Mark Hunt" has become MMA's "Linsanity" or "Tebow Time," a cause célèbre that excites many but doesn't seem likely to have real long-term legs. Then again, Tim Tebow did win a playoff game, so I suppose anything is possible. If Hunt gets the call, I won't object, but for now I'll let the Hunt war wagon pass along without me and wish them luck in accomplishing their goal.
Thomas: I'm with Mike on this one. I suppose I admire the fervor, but this is not a ride I'm trying to catch.
The movement for Hunt is as much about fan enthusiasm as it is an act of desperation. There are other, more qualified candidates. Werdum could possibly be shuffled despite his itinerary. Mir and Velasquez are also infinitely more deserving. Hunt's on the list after three wins, but he's much closer to the bottom than the top. And he's only even at the bottom of the list because of the mess Overeem has created.
Part of me just feels like Hunt's fans are sadists. That isn't to say he has zero chance of winning, but if we're talking about the most likely outcome, it's the kind where Hunt gets hurt significantly more than JDS. Did people forget a middleweight in Melvin Manhoef turned Hunt's lights out in under a round? Sorry, but if you're a real Mark Hunt fan, you want to see him in competitive affairs, not the bad end of a Mortal Kombat fatality.
3. Should Cris "Cyborg" be cut from Strikeforce after her year-long suspension was upheld?
Thomas: Probably not. Is Strikeforce really in a position to be cutting people, especially those with some measure of name value or who can contribute in potentially lucrative fights?
I don't know what the right punishment is. Is it six months and a fine? Just a fine? What about a stern talking to? It feels like there's really never any consistency athlete to athlete, promotion to promotion when it comes to testing positive for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). There's precedent to go in virtually any direction.
The sad reality is MMA exists in a space where it cannot be absolutist about PEDs. It's irrational to think you can run a high-level MMA organization and simply cut those who pop positive, no questions asked. I'm not saying we have a responsibility to tolerate outright drug abuse or that there isn't a tipping point. But major promotions who risk losing major fights do not have the luxury to jettison those who run afoul of commissions for using testosterone, steroids or whatever else is banned. These people are necessary for keeping the organization afloat. What's the old saying? Don't cut off your nose to spite your face.
Chiappetta: The hard thing about answering a question like this is the double penalties that would be involved. Cyborg faced the California state athletic commission and received a one-year suspension and was fined $2,500. Those are pretty significant penalties. Beyond that, she was stripped of her Strikeforce featherweight championship.
For the promotion to also fire her would be understandable. It would send a much-needed message that no one is untouchable, but it's the same stand they could have taken with Chael Sonnen or Thiago Silva or Alistair Overeem or Chris Leben, and the list goes on. At some point it's going to have to be a card they have to play.
Employing a one-strike-and-you're-out policy is a powerful statement but it also may be excessively punitive. Even the internationally recognized World Anti-Doping Agency sides with a bit of mercy, with a two-year ban from competition its punishment of choice. That seems about right.
4. Dana White said this week that UFC 146's Cain Velasquez vs. Frank Mir will still happen. If neither of them replaces Overeem, who will?
Chiappetta: Four words: "Card subject to change." That applies to White's mind as well. Perhaps the UFC boss is trying to stay positive with Overeem's NSAC hearing coming up. The UFC, which submitted Overeem's licensing application to NSAC, is seemingly supporting his bid for licensure. They're not ready to throw in the towel and say Overeem vs. dos Santos isn't happening. That's their prerogative, but you can bet your last dollar that they're making contingency plans if Overeem's bid is, as expected, denied.
I still contend that the most obvious pick, Frank Mir, will get the call. He's already voiced a willingness to take the fight, even on short notice. But since this question is hypothetical, and in this scenario neither of them does get the call, I'm going to guess it's Fabricio Werdum. White does follow his emotion at times, so if he's moved by the "Rally for Mark Hunt" movement, maybe he goes with the ultimate dark horse. Or maybe he gives Dan Henderson a chance to win a major title in a third weight class. But Werdum is the highest-ranked heavyweight after the Dos Santos-Overeem and Velasquez-Mir pairings, and so he probably deserves the call before anyone else.
Thomas: The maxim everyone should remember is this: the UFC needs to put on fights the fans want to pay money to see. That makes the case for a virtual unknown to the casual fanbase in Mark Hunt almost impossible, but in fairness, it's not like the other choices are pop culture superstars.
Again, I'll have to tip my hat to my colleague Mike. I say Mir gets the call. He's got some casual fan recognition, is 'deserving' of the placement all things considered and can carry the responsibilities (media and otherwise) of a headliner.
I'm not the biggest fan of the Dan Henderson option, although I don't think it's the worst option either. And if Mark Hunt did get the call, that's obviously great news for him. But I'm betting White has suggested Mir vs. Velasquez is still on because a) he hasn't cancelled it yet and b) UFC is helping Overeem obtain a license in Nevada. Until Overeem's situation is definitively changed, why wouldn't White say Mir vs. Velasquez is still on?