Last Friday, as part of a continuing conversation about snuffing out performance-enhancing drugs in MMA, the Nevada Athletic Commission held a symposium to discuss its drug-testing policies (via MMAFighting.com). No changes were made or even officially proposed to Nevada's guidelines, but the experts in attendance kicked around plenty of ideas, from years-long suspensions to penalizing promotions for their athletes' drug failures. At the meeting, Commissioner Anthony Marnell III also offered a suggestion as novel as it was simple: when a fighter fails a drug test after winning a bout, the result should be overturned to a loss instead of a no contest.
If MMA's authorities want to make clear their intolerance for PEDs, they should take Marnell's idea and run with it.
A fighter's record contains multitudes, and the numbers in the win and loss columns serve as shorthand for their career. In a zero-sum sport like MMA, no contests usually go overlooked, even though they often represent a range of bizarre circumstances, like when the Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission reversed Drew Dober's submission that never happened, when James Irvin and Bobby Southworth fell out of the Octagon, or when Renzo Gracie faced Eugenio Tadeu, the fight spilled into the crowd, and the only suitable result was "No Contest—Fans Rioted"
No contests also cover drug cheats' overturned victories, and in light of Commissioner Marnell's suggestion, that's a weird place for them to be. It's certainly better than doing nothing: it gives vindication to the vanquished, and makes it clear that foreign substances made for unfair circumstances. No contests also help cope with the cognitive dissonance of watching a fighter beat their opponent, then finding out that because of a syringe-happy doctor or a steroid-sprinkled supplement, they didn’t win.
But no contests stemming from PED tests are different animals. A ref fucking up, fighters falling out of the cage, spectators rampaging—those are all things that happened during the fights themselves. They were accidents in the moments between bells. Meanwhile, a fighter rarely uses PEDs by accident. And except for puffing on angel dust while warming up backstage, most banned substances benefit fighters in the weeks and months before fight night, helping them get stronger, avoid injury, make weight, and smash their opponent. Winning a fight while on PEDs isn’t a fluke: it's the whole point of taking them.
From this angle, PEDs have more in common with disqualifications—the eye pokes, groin shots, and other fouls that end fights—and DQs are labeled as defeats for the offending athlete. A fighter's wins and losses should reflect the fact that they broke the rules, whether they kicked someone in the balls or stuck a syringe in their ass.
Of course, the true punishment comes from suspensions and fines, and reclassifying no contests as losses for PED users doesn’t do much to clarify the longstanding issues around drug testing. It also raises a few questions: does it make sense to declare a fighter that initially lost the winner? If regulators overturn the result of a fight like Anderson Silva versus Nick Diaz, are they both losers? Should recreational drugs like marijuana receive different treatment than performance enhancers?
And if Commissioner Marnell's idea ever becomes a rule in Nevada (or anywhere else), it would largely be a symbol. But symbols have power—if they didn’t, fighters wouldn’t care about their records at all. The old sports adage says, "You learn more from a loss than from a win." If there's any truth behind that cliché, the fighters that use PEDs shouldn’t have their repealed victories lumped into a separate category: they should be branded as the losers that they are.
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