As the rash of performance-enhancing drug related headlines continue to ravage the daily MMA newscycle, it’s easy to remember that Georges St-Pierre effectively called his shot on the issue, championing a push for increased drug-testing in the UFC long before USADA ever entered the picture and often in a way that was at odds with the promotion itself.
Back in 2013, St-Pierre went to great lengths to attempt to secure drug-testing overseen by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) for his UFC 167 defense of the welterweight title against Johny Hendricks. The attempt ended up failing for myriad reasons, and UFC president Dana White was quoted at the time as saying both St-Pierre and Hendricks looked “stupid” as a result of St-Pierre’s quest to ensure increased drug-screening for the bout. But St-Pierre never abandoned the cause. The former two-division UFC champion has continued to be a vocal advocate for more stringent drug-testing in mixed martial arts, even citing the presence of USADA as one of the reasons he returned to the sport in 2017 following a four-year layoff — though St-Pierre admits USADA has plenty of its own flaws.
Still, it feels as though nary a month can pass without a drug failure smacking the sport in the face since the inception of the USADA/UFC partnership in mid-2015, and that problem has pervaded the absolute highest levels of MMA, sidelining former champions and future Hall of Famers like Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Fabricio Werdum, and more. It’s also made debates about the Greatest of All-Time (GOAT) that much more difficult to have.
Can a fighter with a checkered PED past be included in GOAT discussions?
St-Pierre is one of only a few fighters commonly thrown into any greatest of all-time conversation, and he has some thoughts on the subject.
“It makes such a difference,” St-Pierre told MMA Fighting regarding performance-enhancing drug use. “People have no idea how much of a difference, and I know it because I’ve trained with people who are using peak performance-enhancing drugs. I’ve trained with a lot of them, that I know for sure. I’ve trained with them, and you could see a huge difference. Like, when you grapple with them, it’s not even the same guy. It’s like if you’re taking two different human beings. It’s completely insane.
“Just look at the difference with some of the — I’m not saying any names, because I don’t want to attack an individual, I want to change the system — just look at the difference with some people. Look, I remember there was a fight between two opponents, and one guy said, ‘Oh, it’s not the performance-enhancing [drugs] that threw the kick. It’s me.’ Actually, it’s not true. That’s the performance-enhancing drugs that threw the kick, because you wouldn’t have thrown the kick [like that] if you would have not taken them. You know what I mean? So to give you an example, it makes you more creative, it makes you more hungry. It changes the physique.
“Also, not only the physique, it changes the mind of the person. So with people, they think it’s only affecting strength and conditioning and stuff like that. No, it doesn’t. It’s not only recuperation — it changes the person entirely. It makes him a better athlete. And yes, I think they should be removed from the [GOAT discussion].
“It’s very hard to say that,” St-Pierre added, “because a lot of people, they work hard. We know if they got caught once or twice, but we don’t know if they’re all taking it for all of their life or not, so it’s a hard topic to say. It’s not black or white. It’s grey.”
The drug-testing issue that has overtaken the MMA world lately is the fate of Jones, the former UFC light heavyweight champion. In a decision that reverberated throughout the fight game, Jones received a 15-month suspension from an arbitrator in relation to his UFC 214 failed drug test for a steroid metabolite. Because the failed test marked his second UFC anti-doping policy violation, Jones faced a maximum four-year suspension, but ultimately only received 15 months in part because of his willingness to give USADA “substantial assistance” in other potential cases involving a UFC anti-doping policy violation.
Jones’ case was the first time a fighter took advantage of the UFC’s “substantial assistance” clause — article 10.6.1.1 in the UFC anti-doping policy — and now that the clause is overtly in the public eye, St-Pierre, who recently partnered with Hydrorevolution, a company that provides training programs for individuals using drag-resistance aquatic equipment brands Aqualogix and Aquastrength, told MMA Fighting he is interested to see how things play out from here.
“So that’s the thing: If you look at the American justice system, the crime system, when they catch one bandit, when they catch someone for a felony, the guy has a chance to reduce his sentence normally if he’s talking,” St-Pierre said. “That’s how the crime system is made in the United States. USADA is from the United States, they’re using the same thing.
“I believe in second chances. I believe every individual should have a second chance. It’s not black, it’s not white; it’s a grey zone. I just don’t know what to make out of it.
“If it helps the system to get better — I don’t know if there’s that much restrictions or what he did for them, but there’s compromise to be made. But I don’t know. Like I said, it’s a grey zone; it’s not black, it’s not white. My knowledge of Jon Jones’ case is not good enough to make a comment on this, but I think it’s a good solution to go back up the ladder and catch people cheating, catch other people. It’s like the crime [system], the criminal justice [system]. That’s how they do it in the U.S.”