A few years from now, when memories of UFC 146 must be spurred by a quick Wikipedia scan, it will be remembered as a strong event filled with decisive finishes. It may be recalled as the night when Junior dos Santos first solidified himself as MMA's undisputed heavyweight king, or perhaps as the moment the heavyweights seized attention as combat sports' most exciting division.
If we're lucky though, the event will have a very different legacy, and a far more important one. It will be the turning point for drug testing in MMA.
Think about this: as good as the card turned out, how much better might it have been if Alistair Overeem hadn't visited a quack doctor and injected himself with testosterone before being busted by the Nevada state athletic commission? Because of that burning question, for me, it will be remembered for what might have been as much as for what actually transpired.
The overall product was undeniably entertaining, but as many expected, the main event was not particularly competitive. After the fight, Mir admitted he had no interest in participating in striking exchanges with dos Santos but was left with no other option before being knocked out. Because of his style, Overeem would have provided a very different test.
We might never know how a dos Santos vs. Overeem fight would play out. The massive Dutchman is still under suspension, and when his nine-month sidelining runs out in late December, he'll still have to go in front of an NSAC hearing to pacify any of their concerns in hopes of obtaining a new license. By the time he's ready to fight again (likely around March 2013), who knows if dos Santos will still be the champion?
And even if he is, there's no guarantee that Overeem will get an automatic title shot. Even though UFC president Dana White said he would likely keep his place in line as a title challenger, there's a lot of time between now and then, and that means plenty of opportunities for a new contender to rise or UFC brass to simply change their minds.
You know this sport: one injury, one problem and the window to make the big fight is gone forever. That's why we never saw Anderson Silva vs. Georges St-Pierre or Fedor Emelianenko vs. Randy Couture. So regardless of White's comment, we don't know if dos Santos-Overeem will ever happen.
But if there is any silver lining to the Overeem cloud, it's this: after months of insisting the UFC could do little more to complement the existing drug testing done by state commissions, White finally acknowledged the promotion could and would take a more proactive approach, and in fact, emphasized what a crucial step it might be.
"You have to do this to save the sport," he told The Los Angeles Times.
Not long afterward, heavyweight Roy Nelson upped the ante, saying he would challenge his next opponent to take part in voluntary random drug testing and would out anyone who declined while placing them under suspicion of using.
"I'll be the guy who says it and then say, "That guy doesn't want to test. I wonder why," he said.
Nelson shouldn't be forced to take that kind of position, but at least he has determined that somebody needs to do something proactive.
The loss of Overeem off the card probably cost the UFC millions. After knocking out Brock Lesnar at last December's UFC 141 -- an event that drew approximately 800,000 pay-per-view buys, tied for the largest number of 2011 -- Overeem was at his peak drawing power.
He certainly would have been paraded in front of the mainstream media as the man who ended Lesnar's MMA career, and given that he was the last Strikeforce heavyweight champion, the UFC also could have promoted the event as a unification bout. It could have been a doozy.
Instead, it all got thrown away due to Overeem's injection.
Perhaps the UFC realized that the cost of implementing some sort of random testing plan, even with fighters around the world, would be less than the money lost when major fights like Overeem-dos Santos are scrapped. Or perhaps they realize there is a credibility problem when main event stars are getting popped for PEDs and drugs.
Either way, if it affects business and it affects the viewer, it's an issue worth addressing, so taking steps to enact true random testing can only be considered a positive. Many will suggest that the UFC policing itself in such a program is not an ideal situation, but they will most likely have to partner with an organization that conducts the testing and can act as its administrator. It may not be the best setup, but it's better than what we have now.
I can't help but feel that Overeem vs. dos Santos would have been a more interesting and more exciting bout than what ended up in its place. That's no knock on Mir, but the style matchup was not to his benefit. But if we had to sacrifice one major fight in order to give the sport the wakeup call it needed when it comes to drug testing, at least it will not have been in vain. Overeem's presence would have made UFC 146 seem even bigger than it was, but his absence might have a greater long-term impact than his presence ever would have.
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