Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Just another boring week in MMA. Nick Diaz and Chael Sonnen faced the unpredictable hands of Nevada state athletic commission justice, Jon Jones was arrested for a drunk-driving infraction, Daniel Cormier announced himself as a major heavyweight threat, and Bob Sapp admitted his International Tour of Surrender is to be judged only by his rising bank account balance.
To make sense of all the madness, I invited my colleague Luke Thomas to another edition of The MMA Roundtable.
1. Is the punishment handed to Nick Diaz by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) just and fair?
Luke Thomas: Under no circumstance was the punishment even rational, much less fair.
Here are the facts. The NSAC has a system of laws that allow for out-of-competition use of marijuana, even if commissioners like Pat Lundvall aren't even aware of the very rules they are asked to enforce. The method the NSAC uses to gauge marijuana use is a urinalysis, which has a detection window of up to six weeks. There is no dose correlation outcome on a test and an ability to determine when a person was under the euphoric affects of marijuana. Meaning, the NSAC has no idea when Diaz used. If he says it was at least eight days prior, they are in no legal, medical or other capacity able to challenge that. None of what I've said previously is up for debate.
This nonsensical discussion about Diaz's second offense is a complete nonstarter. Second offense of what? I'd like for any one person on the commission, reading this or anywhere else to show me precisely which law Diaz broke here, much less broke for the second time.
The reality we live in is a commission in Nevada doesn't understand their own rules and the limitations they bring. They believe they are above reproach and are unwilling to recognize something is amiss even when evidence is hitting them in the face like Shane Carwin's ground and pound. What happened on Monday is absurd, grotesquely unfair and yet further proof Nevada's commission will do what it wants, when it wants and how it wants, your airtight legal case and evidence to the contrary be damned.
Mike Chiappetta: I don't think this is quite the open-and-shut case Luke is suggesting. For one, I think the terms "in-competition" and "out-of-competition" are being misunderstood. They refer to testing, not use, a subtle but important difference. I researched WADA's International Standard of Testing, which was updated in January 2012, just one month before Diaz's test, and it clearly states that an "in-competition" test is one "commencing twelve hours before a competition" and through the end of the competition and any test collection process. Diaz's sample was collected within this window, so should, under that code, be considered "in-competition."
His marijuana use might have come eight days before, but that's where the "strict liability" standard comes into play. It was in Diaz's body at the time of his test; he's responsible for it.
Now, all that said, is his penalty fair? Because that is the purpose of these regulations, after all, right -- to keep the sport safe and fair? I don't believe it is quite fair when you compare it to the case of say, Alistair Overeem, who seemed to duck one random drug test, then admit to testosterone use after another, and received a lesser penalty than Diaz.
Athletic commissions are often hammered for their seeming inconsistency, but they are stuck in a difficult spot. Despite changing social norms and state-by-state medical marijuana laws, the drug is still illegal under federal laws. With all these legal gray areas involved, that doesn't exactly make their job easy. Is one year too much? Yes. But Diaz took his chance by weaning himself off so close to the fight knowing what was possibly at stake, and so must live with the consequences.
2. Will Jon Jones suffer any long-term effects from his weekend DWI incident?
Chiappetta: If it is a one-time incident, no. Jones still has a lot of stress ahead though. A police report will be released, he'll probably issue some sort of public apology, he'll have to face a hearing or trial, and based on the result, he may have to face a fine, probation and/or potential jail time. None of that sounds any fun, and it's certainly not ideal for a still-developing image, but they are things that will mostly pass in time.
The U.S. is a very forgiving country, especially for those with special talents. We only have to go back two years for proof. About two years after being released from prison, NFL quarterback Michael Vick signed a $100 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles and a major endorsement deal with Nike. Among athletes arrested for infractions related to drinking and driving: football's Braylon Edwards and Hines Ward, and baseball's David Freese. None of them have been negatively impacted over a long period of time, with Freese last year winning the World Series most valuable player award.
The key thing here is for Jones to accept any punishment that might be handed down, apologize and keep himself on the straight and narrow. If he keeps on winning and wowing fans, all will be forgiven in time.
Thomas: I agree there probably won't be any long-term effects to Jones' recent indiscretion. Athletes have committed crimes from the mundane to the heinous and over time with enough contrition come out on the other side mostly not worse for the wear.
The only thing that concerns me is Jones' post-arrest attitude. This isn't even me positioning myself morally above Jones. I'm ashamed to admit I've gotten behind the wheel of a car two times in my life when I had too much to drink. Of all the acts about which I am ashamed in my life, that's probably at or near the top.
His 'apology' released on Facebook wasn't a formal declaration of how he feels, but it's an important illustration of his sense of self in the middle of his first career crisis. And in that apology I saw something I don't think will do Jones any favors: burning animosity at critics and a marginal acknowledgement that a heinous act was committed. It's understandable he'd be frustrated critics would pile on, but that is hardly something you want to make public. Moreover, if he really feels as if this was a relatively minor mistake, then he's not positioning himself in the future to stay out of trouble. I'm not suggesting he has an alcohol problem nor am I even qualified to do so. But getting behind the wheel of an automobile after drinking turns that vehicle into a deadly weapon. That is not a 'big mistake'. That's a monumental one and only when you grasp the gravity of the act are you situated to make proper decisions related to risk management.
Sadly, I know that's true because I speak from experience.
3. Although Daniel Cormier has one more fight to go in Strikeforce, project his place in the UFC HW division.
Chiappetta: First of all, I love the fact that we'll actually gain some clarity on this question. This won't be a hypothetical like it was with Fedor Emelianenko or Alistair Overeem for so many years. Cormier is coming to the UFC; it's just a matter of time.
Let me make this very clear: Cormier is a top three heavyweight in the world. The most impressive thing about him is his confidence. Despite little experience against true top-flight opponents, he came into his fight with Josh Barnett believing he was the baddest man in the cage, and that allowed him the focus to succeed. But his tools are impressive. His footwork is good; he's quick; he has power and takes smart angles. And the threat of his takedowns only opens up more opportunities. Obviously he also showed he has good submission defense, and he managed to hurt Barnett on the ground at times, which is no small achievement.
As a result, I see few unwinnable matchup for Cormier. Junior Dos Santos would certainly pose his toughest test because he has the takedown defense to stay upright, and the boxing to put anyone's lights out. I think Cormier would beat Overeem up on the ground. He won't fight Cain Velasquez so that's not even worth projecting, but Frank Mir is something like a left-handed Barnett, so I think that result would be very similar to the Cormier-Barnett fight. Whether he stays at heavyweight or moves down to 205, Cormier is going to be a major player. At 33 years old, let's hope he gets that opportunity ASAP instead of being left to wonder how good he would have been in his prime.
Thomas: I think Mike's probably right here. At the moment, Cormier is top five among all heavyweights. When you narrow the field at the top, you begin to see there might be a few stumbling blocks for the former Olympian.
I personally believe Cormier would eat Frank Mir's lunch, but I also agree with Mike it's hard to see a way at the moment Cormier can get passed Junior dos Santos. Overeem is a bit of a wild card, although if Cormier managed to take the fight to the ground (and there's probable cause to believe he would) that would be his fight to lose. That's especially true now that we know Cormier has a the gas tank to put the pressure on wind suckers like Overeem. As for other top talents like Carwin or Werdum, I suspect Cormier would have his way, but I do think Werum's ground skills would make for a reasonably intriguing bout.
Against Velasquez, it's hard to say. Mike points out he and Cormier are teammates and would probably never fight. Even if they did, I'm not sure Cormier can beat him. But here's what I do know: the guy's ability to improve fight-over-fight is utterly remarkable. He's 33, so time isn't on his side, but if he can keep the momentum he's got going, there's really no telling how far he can go. He's an extremely special athlete.
4. Who is more at fault for the Bob Sapp circus: the fighter, or the promoters who hire him?
Thomas: I'd say there's shared blame here. I've been seeing Internet chatter that blame now squarely rests on promoters who hire Sapp. The argument is essentially that Sapp's got enough of a track record of flopping after getting flicked in the ear such that when you hire him, you know that's what you're going to get.
I'd say that's fair, but can we also talk about Sapp for just a moment? Is there a more disgraceful, unprofessional and ignoble way to ply a trade? I don't know if Sapp has children or if his parents are still alive, but I find it hard pressed to believe what's happened to his career is something he's able to even talk to them about, much less proudly share.
Sapp developed a fair amount of popularity equity in his athletic career. He's cashing it all in now and for the time being can get away with it. That's his right to do it and if he gets paid, so be it. But I'm not going to stand around and pretend this is some sort of activity that deserves praise or even an acknowledgement as an activity that humans should ever engage in. This is Sapp cashing in on the Bob Sapp business while he still can. If this is the buffoonish way he'd like to deplete his reservoirs, I can't stop him. I'm also not going to pretend it's a laudable idea.
You may find this laughable now, but once upon a time, he was a dignified athlete, who while in college at the University of Washington won an award as the "most inspirational athlete" on his football team. As a senior, he was one of the team captains and was named as the outstanding offensive lineman in the Pac-10 conference. While he flamed out in the NFL, he made major paydays in kickboxing and MMA through credible performances in Japan.
But somewhere along the line, sports became no longer about honor, integrity and winning, and became simply about money. Sapp doesn't care about offering an honest performance or representing himself with class; he's simply there to cash a check. He's an athletic prostitute. Promoters? Most of them should know that by now. And if they didn't before, they certainly should after Monday's MMA Hour interview in which he basically admitted his disinterest in any legitimate effort.
I previously called his current jaunt around the world, The "Bob Sapp International Tour of Surrender," but really it should be his "International Tour of Disgrace."
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