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Roy Nelson on UFC's new drug policy: 'Is it really going to make a difference?'

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

DALLAS -- Roy Nelson could be accused of a lot of things, but being a drug cheat isn't one of them. Three years before increased testing was the topic du jour in mixed martial arts, Nelson was leading the drug-free campaign largely by himself, attempting to sway opponents Shane Carwin and Matt Mitrione into signing up for Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) testing in late 2012, then signing himself up anyway once both men balked at the opportunity.

So one would assume that Nelson would be pleased by the recent efforts the UFC has made to clean up the sport, highlighted by the announcement of a sweeping overhaul of its drug testing policy, which will take effect on July 1 and see all 500+ fighters on the roster subjected to year-round random testing. Nelson is certainly content in the attitude shift around him, but at 38 years old, it's hard for the heavyweight to drum up any excitement after shouting into the wind for so many years.

"It's kind of one of those things that, I've been there, done that," Nelson told "I've been doing the random drug tests and out-of-competition kind of drug tests for over three years, so it's not anything new. Like, I did VADA, which is Voluntary Anti-Doping. I did that two or three years ago, so it's like, it's not new. It's not new technology. The program has been around, available, for the longest time. So, all of a sudden moving that way? It is what it is."

The UFC's announcement arrived after a string of high-profile drug busts and blunders -- one which crested into a nightmarish month of January that saw Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, and Hector Lombard all pop positive for one form of dubious substance or another.

Whispers have continued to stream out ever since from both fighters and coaches, indicating that this rash of drug failures is only the tip of the iceberg. So while the UFC's improved drug policy is an undoubtedly historic step forward in the battle to clean up the sport, Nelson wonders whether the new measures will actually be as effective as many assume.

"It's just one of those things that, I'm happy, but is it really going to make a difference?" Nelson asked. "Because with some of the policies, it's not really set in stone. Like, you can do cocaine one day and that's cool because it's not in-competition... but you're getting ready for a fight, so it is (in-competition)? It's just one of those things. You get popped for a steroid beforehand, before the fight actually starts, but we're still going to let the fight go on? So it really doesn't really matter -- if you catch me, we're still going to have a fight? So what's even the sense of having a policy? A policy is just like, 'hey, I can still fight and just be suspended for a year?' If I only fight once a year anyways, who cares?

"If it'd be like, first offense, you're banned for life, or you're banned for five years, [then] you're taking somebody's money a lot. A year is like, 'oh, I fight once a year anyways.' But if you're fighting once every five years, then you might think about it. It's one of those things that it's definitely, you could put some sting onto it."

Through of all of this, it's not lost on Nelson that his upcoming opponent at UFC 185, Alistair Overeem, has a history of drug abuse himself. Overeem, once a middling 205er, ballooned up to an Adonis-sized heavyweight several years ago and embarked on a relentless campaign of destruction across Japan and through Strikeforce. But the wheels fell off that train in 2012, when Overeem tested out for elevated levels of testosterone in a pre-fight UFC drug test.

Since then, Overeem has lost three of his five contests and his once-superhuman physique has noticeably shifted.

When asked, Nelson said that he believes Overeem is currently clean, but that his anecdotal belief is all he really has to fall back on, since the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation ordered zero pre-fight drug screenings for Saturday's event in Dallas.

"I mean, he got busted before," Nelson said. "I believe that was his doctor's fault, which, whatever. But it's just one of those things. I can't tell you what's right and what's wrong. I just know that if Texas didn't test him, or UFC didn't test him, he could still be on them. I don't know.

"People who fight in Japan, it's pretty rampant over there," Nelson added. "I remember just going when they did the drug tests, there was more, ‘hey, as long as you're not on any amphetamines, we're okay.'"

Ultimately, whether it seems like it or not, Nelson has moved on from the drug testing debate and only answers questions about it when asked. He admitted that his self-removal from the politics of MMA has actually helped him to enjoy the sport more now than he did in his younger days, and he having more fun now than he ever has before.

Nonetheless, with the science of cheating perennially staying one step ahead of those trying to clean it up, Nelson maintains that a lifetime ban will ultimately be the only punishment severe enough to sway fighters away from taking that plunge.

"I think it's more rampant that (people think)," Nelson said. "More money, more problems. The more money that's out there, it's easier to do drugs, it's easier to bypass the situation, and I think it's easier to test yourself and get off, cycle off. It's a lot easier.

"Science has improved, and hey, I can take a little of this, and hey, I feel like a 20-year-old again. So it's just one of those things that definitely is rampant. Everything can be better with better rules -- not necessarily better testing. I think if they just had a straight up rule, like you get banned for life on the first offense, I don't think you would ever try it."

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