Who would have thought a Bellator suspension would set the example for how to tackle performance-enhancing drugs in MMA?
Bantamweight fighter Mike Richman failed a drug test after his Bellator 137 fight with former Bellator champion Eduardo Dantas. Richman was popped for the anabolic steroid drostanolone, if you want to get into the real specifics. The 29-year-old fighter also infamously becomes the first person to fail a test due to steroids under the new penalties in place under California regulations. That suspension? Two years away from competition.
The suspension is a proper step for MMA. Two years effectively takes Richman into his 30s and possibly out of his prime fighting years. The penalty is necessarily harsher than ever before and rightfully so. However, Richman took a different route than the normal excuses fighters make after a positive test. Typically, after a failed test, they’ll say they took something prescribed that they didn’t know was banned. Maybe a coach gave them something and they didn’t know what was in it. Perhaps some magic dust from a passing asteroid gave them superhuman abilities that would cause them to fail a drug test. It has always been something.
Instead of giving a reason for the failed drug test, Richman simply owned up to it. He admitted that he cheated. In a Facebook post, the former Marine did the honorable thing and owned up to taking steroids before his fight. After losing integrity for taking steroids, he gained a little back by simply for confessing to the deed.
Now, I know that just saying, “I’m sorry I took something that I shouldn’t have,” doesn’t really justify doing it in the first place. Apologies don’t make up for the fact that an athlete cheated. They still broke a rule. However, owning up to it is a step in the right direction. The admission is refreshing to hear in sports after denial after denial has spilled from the mouths of others who have been caught.
This is a great step for the commissions. After Nevada set in place its own revised set of penalties, California followed suit. Now, Richman is the example for the rest of the fighters. If you fight in California, dope and get caught, you won’t be fighting for a very long time. That penalty has all the potential to be career-ending for some fighters, especially those nearing the end of their prime athletic years.
The commissions need to be committed in their response to steroids. It’s dangerous in a combat sport to have people juiced out of their mind and receiving blows to the head. A tough penalty needs to follow to ensure that fighters don’t try to take shortcuts with little fear of real consequences. In a time like this, where fighters don’t get paid a lot of money — especially outside of the UFC — those two years could turn into huge layoffs that force fighters to secure a full-time position away from the cage. Furthermore, it gives them time away from competition in a sport that changes a lot with each passing year.
The move is even good for Bellator. Richman’s suspension shows a change in the promotion that seemed to very rarely have its stars fail a drug test. Now, in the last few months, fighters like Alexander Shlemenko have tested positive, and even another fighter at Bellator 137, Fernando Gonzalez, failed for marijuana. Why is this a good thing? Well, it erases any doubt that Bellator might be protecting its fighters in any way, and that’s a doubt that’s sure to arise when there aren’t any positive tests from the world’s No. 2 promotion in an era where PED use has been a widespread problem.
The sport needs to clean up as a whole, but for Bellator the step is a necessary one if the company wants to compete at the top level. If Bellator wants to be the No. 2 organization in the world or ever contend for that No. 1 spot, it needs to clean house.
Bellator has its own problems now with its two headlining fighters at Bellator 138, Ken Shamrock and Kimbo Slice. Shamrock posted a photo on social media the other day that led many people to think the 51-year-old allegedly has been taking something. Until the drug tests come back, the jury is still out and the definitive answer is he hasn’t taken anything. Meanwhile, Slice has also come out on the bad end after an answer to a question about steroids led to a seemingly pro-steroid rant that eventually got cut off mid-thought on a Bellator media call. Who knows what he would have said next, but it didn’t look good.
The steps are being taken to ensure the sport cleans up. Richman’s own admission was a breath of fresh air for the fans that have heard excuse after excuse for failing a test. The penalty itself is good for both the promotion and the commission. We may be looking at a new age for the sport.