Thursday 18 January 2018

UFC must deal with drug problem in MMA

In his weekly column Fergus Ryan looks at the thorny issue of drugs in the sport and what could be done to rectify the problem.

Jon Jones tested positive for cocaine use last month.
Jon Jones tested positive for cocaine use last month.
Fergus Ryan

Fergus Ryan

In his weekly column Fergus Ryan looks at the thorny issue of drugs in the sport, UFC Broomfield, Cork man Graham Boylan's departure from MMA and Aisling Daly's next fight.

UFC need to deal with the drugs problem in MMA

The biggest story of the UFC so far this year should be about title fights and incredible feats in the Octgaon. Unfortunately, the UFC and probably the wider sport of MMA has a serious problem with both performance enhancing and recreational drugs.

No contest: Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz fight in UFC183, but were later found to have been taking steroids and marijuana respectively Photo: GETTY IMAGES
No contest: Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz fight in UFC183, but were later found to have been taking steroids and marijuana respectively Photo: GETTY IMAGES

What’s most troubling about the drug scandals is the fighters who have been caught. Jon Jones (cocaine) and Anderson Silva (steroids) are not just two of the greatest fighters around but may be two of the greatest fighters the sport has ever seen.

They were joined by other main event fighters Hector Lombard (UFC) and Jon Fitch (World Series of Fighting) with all four men failing drug tests in January and February.

In recent years the UFC has flip flopped between a no-tolerance policy on drugs and then claiming not to have the resources to deal with problem effectively. However,  a press conference for February 18 has been called and some uncomfortable questions are likely to be raised.

“We won't be talking about fun things," UFC president Dana White said. "We'll address all the things that have been happening lately, what we're going to do, and what's going to happen from here on out."

This is a pivotal time for the UFC and MMA. While it's not their responsibility to do so, the UFC as the dominant force in global MMA need to institute proper testing procedures and tough measures on the drugs cheats. The onus should be on regulatory bodies like the State Athletic Comissions’.

The UFC has taken MMA into the global spotlight and benefited greatly from their efforts. If they can now take an effective stance against performance enhancing drugs and cheating athletes they’ll have achieved and given back to sport more than any other organisation before them.

UFC Broomfield - David beats Goliath once again

Nobody expected much from UFC Broomfield last Saturday night. The fight card had been ripped apart by withdrawals and injuries. The main event was hit hardest and ended up with a former lightweight champion battling a young welterweight tipped for greatness.

At the previous Friday's weigh-in, the massive size advantage that Brandon Thatch (6ft 2in) had over Benson Henderson (5ft 6in) poured even more scorn on UFC Broomfield event. The lack of big name fighters was now coupled with a main event that seemed to be a mismatch.

What happened in the main event is the whole reason the Ultimate Fighting Championship came into being. The UFC originally was about finding the most effective fighting system. Could a well-trained smaller man beat a hulking behemoth with no fighting experience?

Thatch is definitely more than just a hulking behemoth, which makes the outcome in Broomfield even more fantastic.

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Benson Henderson

In 1993 the Gracie family from Brazil created the UFC to platform their family martial art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Royce Gracie was selected to represent the Gracie family to fight bigger men and prove technique beats muscle; which it did, as Royce won three of the first four old style UFC tournaments.

Back in Broomfield, the first two rounds went in favour of the bigger Thatch as he bossed Henderson around the Octagon for the first ten minutes of the bout. At the end of the second round, Henderson returned to his stool looking annoyed and frustrated, but crucially, not beaten.

He may have been questioning the logic in taking this fight only four weeks after his decision loss at UFC Boston, especially given the fact he was on a two fight losing streak and a third loss would be a huge set-back to a once glittering career.

Henderson is a former UFC lightweight (155lbs/70kgs) champion and a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He stepped up to take a fight at welterweight (170lbs/77kgs) to stay busy and try and return to winning ways sooner rather than later.

Though Henderson looked dejected after the ten minutes of fighting, Thatch looked like the one getting beat up as both eyes were looking puffy and surrounded in purple.

Henderson headed out into round three looking to nullify the size advantage by taking Thatch down to the mat, which he did. Once the takedown was secured Henderson unleashed the power of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu like Royce Gracie had in the early UFC tournaments.

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Henderson disguised the takedown attempt with a punching combination. Once Thatch tried to respond with punches of his own, Henderson changed levels and ducked under the wailing fists of Thatch to secure the takedown. Once down, Henderson then secured a dominant position at the back of Thatch and began working to sink in chokes to submit his opponent.

Though he wasn’t successful in the third round, this was merely a dress rehearsal for the fourth.

Henderson got off his stool for the fourth round and to rinse and repeat his actions in the third. His fourth round rear naked choke submission victory was the icing on the cake for a better than expected UFC Broomfield event.

The ‘size of the fight’ isn’t limited to bravery and ability to withstand a beating but more so about strategy, technique and patience.

While many UFC fans may have opted to give this event a miss I believe many of those same fans spent most of Sunday scrambling to try and find a replay of a truly exceptional fight.

Boylan’s departure is the end of an era

Last week it was announced that Corkman Graham Boylan would step down as CEO of Europe’s largest MMA promotion Cage Warriors Fighting Championship.

Since Boylan took over in 2010, Cage Warriors proved to be a happy hunting ground for many Irish fighters. Of the eight Irish fighters currently plying their trade in the UFC all of them were contracted to Cage Warriors at one point in time.

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Conor McGregor blasted his way into the UFC as a dual weight (featherweight and lightweight) Cage Warriors world champion. Neil Seery was the Cage Warriors flyweight world champion when the UFC asked him to take a fight with two weeks' notice.

Many felt the Cage Warriors welterweight champ Cathal Pendred was worthy of the UFC but the call was slow in coming. He forced the UFC’s hand by entering their reality show and losing narrowly in the semi-finals.

The UFC’s latest Irish signing is Joe Duffy who was the Cage Warriors poster boy before giving pro boxing a try. After going seven fights undefeated in boxing Duffy returned to MMA and only needed to win twice before the UFC came calling.

Likewise Paddy Holohan, Paul Redmond and Aisling Daly all graced the Cage Warriors cage. Though Norman Parke was signed to Cage Warriors he never fought for the promotion.

There is some speculation about the future of Cage Warriors without the powerful Boylan at the helm. This would be a huge blow for MMA this side of the Atlantic as European fighters won’t have the springboard to the UFC that Cage Warriors had provided in recent years.

We’ll have to wait and see what the future holds for Cage Warriors.

Daly’s got eyes on the gold

SBG’s Aisling Daly is currently ranked at number nine in the UFC women’s straw-weight division. Last week it was announced that she’ll face Brazil’s Claudia Gadelha at UFC Fight Night: Gonzaga Vs. Cro Cop 2 in Krakow, Poland on April 11.

Daly is delighted at the prospect of taking on the No.2 ranked female in her division, but she is well aware of the challenge that Gadelha presents.

“I think a lot of girls would shy away from her but I was really excited to get this fight," she told Independent.ie. "I didn’t think I would get offered a fight like this for a while so I was really happy to get Claudia.”

Despite the lofty ranking, the Irish fighter isn’t over-awed by the task ahead.

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Aisling Daly. Picture credit: Esther Lin/Zuffa LLC

"I wouldn’t say it’s a huge step up in competition but it is good for me to come up against somebody like her. In my mind, there are three of four of us in the division that are up there and she’s one of them. So I’m delighted - sometimes you get what you ask for!"

Daly, whose training partners include Conor “The Notorious” McGrgeor, Cathal Pendred and Paddy “The Hooligan” Holohan will prepare for the fight with her teammates back at SBG in Dublin.

A commanding performance against Gadelha can propel Daly towards a title shot.

“A win over Claudia – I’m hoping it would put into title contention. She was going to fight for the belt if she beat Joanna (Jedrzejczyk), you know. They are short of title contenders after March, so me vs. Claudia puts the next title contender forward.”

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