In a recent comeback fight in the UFC, Anderson “Spider” Silva, considered by many to be one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time, tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. The news has been met with expressions of shock. Silva himself has denied any doping. And maybe, just perhaps . . . But when are we going to stop being surprised by stories like this? Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong . . . and these are only to name a couple of titans. Rumours have circulated for years about other major figures, even in sports like golf. But of course little has been proven. The reason for this is simple. Aside from the fact that people don’t really want to know (hey, some people insist that professional wrestling is “real to them”), doping is almost impossible to prove. Testing is expensive and easy to beat. The legal process is even more expensive, ultimately less conclusive, and interminable (the long-drawn out Roger Clemens story being one example). Armstrong often roared that he was “the most tested man in sports,” which was probably true. And he was doping all the time. It’s common knowledge that you have to screw up or be really stupid to get caught, which is why Armstrong could lie about it so loudly and for so long. Or why UFC president Dana White could berate journalists only a year ago for suggesting that any of the organization’s fighters were juicing. From Kevin Iole’s report:
Nearly two dozen reporters sat silently around a long conference table as Dana White challenged them. Give me a name of any fighter you think is on steroids, the UFC president spat, and I’ll have them drug tested today.
He held his flip phone open in the palm of his hand, ready to dial.
No one said a word as White shot hard glances at the reporters staring at him.
Give me a name, he demanded, and I’ll test them today, or don’t ever say it to me again. He was yelling, his face reddened, the fury evident. He sounded more like he was looking for a fight than trying to promote one.
“Give me one [expletive] name right now, I’ll get them on the phone, and somebody will drive to their [expletive] house today and will test them,” White said. “Say it. Say it.”
After pausing for a second to silence, he resumed.
“Then don’t ever [expletive] say it to me again,” he said, defiantly. “You guys like to play these [expletive] games. Let’s do it. I’m ready. I’m down. Let’s do this right now. Give me one name. Give me 10 names. Give me all the names you want; I’ll test all these [expletives] right now.”
The reporters remained silent. It’s not a reporter’s job to make news; it’s to report the news. But White was gunning for a fight.
He raved on, often shouting loudly, as he defended his fighters against claims their ranks are full of performance-enhancing drug users and his company against allegations that it turns a blind eye to their usage.
The best defence is a good offence, as they say. Given this state of affairs, it’s only reasonable to be sceptical. As a general guide, here are the big three tip-offs that someone is doping:
(1) The eye test: Much derided as unscientific, in fact it’s a pretty good diagnostic. You know what an impossible physique looks like. Just think of a professional bodybuilder. Forget about good genetics, a healthy diet, or a non-stop training regimen — the usual excuses that are trotted out. That’s all smoke.
(2) The fountain of youth: Physically, an athlete is in his prime in his late 20s. Sometime after 30 you start to go into a decline that gradually picks up speed, with no reversals. Drugs can arrest this inevitable effect of aging. So when you hear about a sports star who is experiencing a career “resurgence” or who is described as “ageless” and is still competing at an elite level against people ten or even twenty years younger than he is . . . that’s probably the drugs talking.
(3) Quick recovery: Has an athlete come back at spectacular speed from a gruesome/catastrophic/(supposedly) career-ending injury? Have they come back even stronger? No doubt that’s all due to their superstar doctors, or X-men mutant healing powers! Or maybe not. Perhaps it was the drugs. All of which is pretty obvious. But then, we only believe what we want to believe.