At the height of the Barry Bonds steroid scandal contrarians would always bring up the tangential point that his success is not entirely due to the juice. If breaking records only required steroids, excessively tan body builders would have surpassed Ruth and Maris years ago.
On Monday, California State Athletic Commission Executive Officer George Dodd told sherdog.com that Chael Sonnen had tested positive for a “steroid substance,” an example of the precision we have come to expect from the CSAC. Surely, many of Sonnen’s newly found fans will be devastated. His “Fight of the Year” caliber performance against champion Anderson Silva was enhanced.
However, just like a body builder wielding a baseball bat, Sonnen and his elixir vitae could not best a record-setting athlete. After dominating most of the fight, Silva ended the contest with a triangle-choke submission.
Silva’s victory over his chemically enhanced foe highlights the intricacies and wonder of the sport of MMA. To an outsider “human cock fighting” or “homosexual skinhead fighting” is nothing but an unskilled romp.
In reality, it is a contest on par with mainstream sports, such as baseball, in terms of difficulty. In fact, the success rate of known* performance enhancers is relatively low in MMA.
After defending the UFC title against Gan McGee and getting popped for Stanozolol, Tim Sylvia returned. Frank Mir promptly broke his arm.
Josh Barnett, MMA’s quintessential doper, has been popped three times. He has maybe three quality wins on his resume, Randy Couture, Aleksander Emelianenko and a split decision over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. He will never beat another top fighter. He will only talk about it.
Royce Gracie showed everyone at UFC 1 that technique will almost always triumph over muscles, and yet it is a lesson that MMA fans can never be reminded of too often. While the current “debate” rages about boring wrestlers doing nothing and winning, in fact there is a great deal of technique there. Silva was universally blasted for keeping his distance from Thales Leites and Demian Maia, but can you really blame him after Sonnen worked him over so bad on the ground?
Fans, and even some fighters, will continue to try to boil the sport down to two guys “standing and banging until one hits the deck.” It will always be more than that. Basketball is more than dunks. Baseball is more than the long ball. Football is more than flashy skill players.
USA Today ranked hitting a baseball as the hardest thing to do in sports. Perhaps taking five-straight rounds from Silva should be the new number one. Sonnen peaked at the right time, had the fight of his life and took illegal performance enhancing drugs. In the end, he still submitted.
*The word known must be used, because commission testing is not thorough enough to catch most users.