MMA

Is Bellator MMA’s Severe Lack Of Drug Testing Putting Fighters At Risk?

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UFC rightly receives a lot of scrutiny over major issues like fighter health and safety, which comes with the territory of being the top MMA company in the world. There have been some missteps, such as Paddy Holohan hiding a blood condition in order to continue fighting, and only revealing it after his retirement. However, UFC seems committed to keeping fighters as safe as possible while still competing in a combat sport. Pre-fight medical checks found heart conditions in Dan Hardy and Stefan Struve that kept them from fighting, at least temporarily in Struve’s case. Last year, UFC announced a partnership with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that would make drug testing practices far more stringent and punishments more severe.

Unfortunately, as the No. 2 MMA organization — at least in the U.S., if not the world — Bellator MMA appears to be less concerned about health and safety. Even more troubling, the scrutiny they receive is far less severe than UFC’s. When Brock Lesnar was scheduled to fight at UFC 200 in July, much was made of the fact that he would be exempt from USADA’s four month testing protocol for retired fighters. Some took this to mean he had carte blanche to take each and every one of the steroids in the known universe, as if he wouldn’t be tested at all. In reality, Lesnar was tested four days after the announcement, and has already undergone at least five drug tests.

On the other end of the spectrum, former Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren has stated that he was only tested once during his eight fight stint in Bellator, despite being in four main events. While Bellator isn’t obligated to partner with USADA or any other anti-doping group, it would appear that Bellator has strategically kept fighters from even needing to be tested.

While it could be simple happenstance and a desire to build fan bases in underserved markets, Bellator chooses questionable locations for a bulk of their events. UFC holds nearly 40 percent of their U.S. bouts in Las Vegas, and the newer and smaller World Series of Fighting has had one third of their events in Vegas as well. Bellator has only held two shows in the entire state of Nevada, both in 2014, about seven months before the Nevada Athletic Commission implemented serious drug testing and punishment reforms. In fact, Bellator has had roughly 35 percent of their 130-plus U.S .events on some form of Native American facility, typically in the form of a tribal-run casino.

Here is the testing done at those facilities, as verified by various colleagues:

Mohegan Tribe, Dept of Athletic Regulation, Verified by Mike Mazzulli

1. Blood Work: HIV, Hepatitis B Surface Antigen, Hepatitis C Antibody. Prefers to have results with the verbiage, “Negative,” but will accept, “Non-Reactive.” Blood work is good for 6 months of the fight.

2. Physical: Physical must be administered by a licensed M.D. only. Physical is valid for one year from the date of the fight.

3. Eye Exam: Dilated eye exam must be administered by a licensed ophthalmologist only. This eye exam is valid for one year from the date of the fight.

4. EKG: Must be administered by a licensed M.D. EKG is valid for 3 to 4 years of the date of the fight.

5. Radiological Exams: Fighter’s choice of an MRI, CT Scan, or Neurological Exam.

6. Neurological Exam: Fighter’s choice of an MRI, CT Scan, or Neurological Exam.

CHICKASAW NATION (OK) – confirmed by Haskell Alexander & Jeff Keel Professional ONLY: Boxing, Kickboxing, MMA, and Wrestling

1. Blood Work: Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV. Blood work cannot be more than 90 days old when competing in a bout.

2. Physical: A physical performed by either an M.D. or a D.O. is required and is valid for one year.

3. Eye Exam: An eye exam is only required on a case-by-case basis, all depending on the fighter’s health history, injuries, age, etc.

4. EKG: An EKG is only required if the ringside physician deems necessary and will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

5. Radiological Exams: Radiological exams are only required if the ringside physician deems necessary and will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

6. Neurological Exam: A neurological exam is only required if the ringside physician deems necessary and will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

7. Urinalysis: A urinalysis will be given randomly for drug screenings.

8. Female Fighters: females must take a pregnancy test the date of the event.

9. Older Fighters: Fighters 36 and above may be required to submit additional tests and exams as deemed necessary by the ringside physician.

10. Additional Requirements: Additional lab work will be required on a case-by-casebasis when requested by the ringside physician. Most additional exams required by the commission on a case-by-case basis will be valid for one year, unless the fighter has sustained an injury after the exam has been performed.

CITIZEN POTAWATOMI NATION BOXING COMMISSION (OK)

Blood Work: unconfirmed
Physical: unconfirmed
Eye Exam: unconfirmed
EKG: unconfirmed
Radiological Exams: unconfirmed
Neurological Exam: unconfirmed
Urinalysis: unconfirmed
Older Fighters: unconfirmed
Additional Requirements: unconfirmed

COMANCHE NATION SPORTS COMMISSION (OK) – confirmed by Jill Peters

Blood Work: unconfirmed
Physical: unconfirmed
Eye Exam: unconfirmed
EKG: unconfirmed
Radiological Exams: unconfirmed
Neurological Exam: unconfirmed
Urinalysis: unconfirmed
Female Fighters: unconfirmed
Older Fighters: unconfirmed
Additional Requirements: unconfirmed

MASHANTUCKET PEQUOT GAMING COMMISSION (CT)

Blood Work: unconfirmed
Physical: unconfirmed
Eye Exam: unconfirmed
EKG: unconfirmed
Radiological Exams: unconfirmed
Neurological Exam: unconfirmed
Urinalysis: unconfirmed
Older Fighters: unconfirmed
Additional Requirements: unconfirmed

Instead of a full athletic commission from a state government overseeing things, a tribal council is in charge of governing MMA, and these councils often lack the experience and resources to oversee a multitude of events. Many don’t require much in the way of medical and drug testing.

Idaho (ID) – confirmed by Cherie Simpson

1. Blood Work: HIV, Hepatitis B Surface Antigen, Hepatitis C Antibody. Blood work is valid for 6 months. Additionally, all fighters will have to produce a blood test indicating no prohibited drugs. The commission will accept a 5 panel.

2. Physical: fighters must submit a physical administered by a licensed M.D. or D.O. The commission will accept physicals administered on other athletic commissions’ forms. Physicals are valid for one year.

3. Eye Exam: The only eye exams that are required are the ones performed during the physical and/or the pre-fight physical.

4. EKG: Not at this time.

5. Radiological Exams: None at this time.

6. Neurological Exam: Not at this time.

7. Urinalysis: Not at this time.

8. Female Fighters: No additional requirements at this time.

9. Older Fighters: Fighters 36 and over may have additional requirements deemed necessary by the commission. Fighters will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

10. Additional Requirements: None at this time

Missouri (MO) – confirmed by Tim Lueckenhoff

1. Blood Work: Hepatitis B Surface Antigen, Hepatitis C Antibody, HIV.

2. Physical: Must be administered by a licensed M.D. or D.O. The physical needs to be submitted within 30 days prior to the event. When the fighter is licensed, the physical will be good until the end of the licensing year.

3. Eye Exam: None at this time.

4. EKG: Not at this time.

5. Radiological Exams: None at this time.

6. Neurological Exam: Not at this time.

7. Urinalysis: Not at this time.

8. Female Fighters: unconfirmed

9. Older Fighters: Fighters 36 and over must contact the commission.

10. Additional Requirements: None at this time

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In addition to tribal lands, Bellator holds a lot of events in states that don’t see much MMA outside of small local and regional shows. Idaho, for example, boasts a mere 169 registered MMA fighters, with 26 coming from Bellator 155 in May. If a state isn’t used to sanctioning many events, it stands to reason that they aren’t equipped to handle proper testing and licensing of the fighters. Missouri isn’t a major hotbed for MMA, but Bellator has put on seven events in the Show Me state. Missouri’s commission doesn’t require fighters to be drug tested, their licensing requirements simply state that a fighter has to comply with all medical procedures ordered by the office, which may include drug testing, but just as well may be nothing more than a routine physical.

Even in states that see a lot of MMA, the oversight is often lacking. Bellator has gone to Texas seven times, compared to UFC’s 11 outings in the Lone Star State, despite UFC holding nearly double the number of events in the U.S. Texas has a regulatory body in the loosest sense of the word, as it once announced that no pre-fight, out of competition drug testing would be done on any fighters in the lead up to an event. More recently, at Bellator 149, when Kimbo Slice tested positive for steroids, he was simply given a $2,500 fine and had his license revoked in Texas. Ken Shamrock also failed a drug test for steroids in that Bellator 149 event, and despite this being his second failure, was also given a minor punishment.

Bellator has held a lot of events in California, though most are at the Pechanga Resort in Temecula, which loops back into issues with tribal councils. However, California does put a little more effort into drug testing, as both Mike Richman and Alexander Shlemenko have tested positive for PEDs while competing in California. Shlemenko, who failed with an obscene amount of steroids in his system, was given a three-year suspension, but the California Athletic Commission has said it doesn’t care if he fights outside of the state during his suspension, which explains why he now fights exclusively in his native Russia.

It doesn’t get much better when Bellator goes overseas. With their upcoming London card in July, Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos was slated to fill in on short notice to fight Michael Page. However, Santos fought in May, suffering a first round TKO loss. According to the commentary, he took over 60 unanswered strikes before the referee stopped the fight and yet Santos, who is 38 years old and now has 11 knockout losses on his record, is scheduled to fight a mere 63 days after his latest stoppage loss. Additionally, at Bellator Dynamite 2, Matt Mitrione was dropped early in his fight with Carl Seumanutafa, though he did recover and won by first round KO. However, immediately after the bout, it was announced that Mitrione would face Oli Thompson at Bellator 158, a mere three weeks away. This is despite the fact that Mitrione, hours after his fight, stated he didn’t remember anything about the contest.

While England does boast an unofficial commission called Safe MMA, Bellator is not a part of it, so any potential precautions won’t have to be followed. This post might read as being too harsh on Bellator, and maybe if this was written before June, there would be a small amount of truth to that claim.

However, Kimbo Slice’s tragic death should have cast all of Bellator’s medical practices (or lack thereof) into new light. Slice was scheduled to face James Thompson on that London card before he passed. If he was booked to fight, proper pre-fight medical testing might have discovered the mass on his liver or the congestive heart failure that ultimately killed him.

Additionally, Slice had a past drug test failure for steroids and Thompson admitted to dabbling in them in the past as well, so perhaps London was chosen as an ideal location for their rematch to avoid excess testing, or even any testing at all.

Let’s also not forget that Dhafir “Dada 5000” Harris, Slice’s opponent back in February, had to be hospitalized after their contest due to dehydration, heart and kidney failure. He luckily managed to recover, but it’s not out of the question to think that pre-fight medical testing would have raised enough red flags to keep him out of the fight. Of course, that means legitimate testing, and not falsified documents that a former Bellator employee has alleged.

Ultimately, MMA fans will likely continue to watch Bellator, but in light of all of this information, it would behoove Bellator to make some changes. While these issues could all simply be coincidental, Bellator could do more to alter the perception that these are planned tactics to avoid safe testing practices.

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