UFC Fight Night 44: Cub Swanson vs. Jeremy Stephens Review
The second half of the UFC’s doubleheader looked like the better card, if just slightly, on paper. A surprising talent from the Ultimate Fighter in the co main supported an interesting main event between two relevant featherweights at the top of the card. The rest of the card was filled with slightly better slop than the morning show.
And the fights weren’t bad. Cub Swanson and Jeremy Stephens lived up to expectations. Kelvin Gastelum, weight issues aside, made up for a slow start with a convincing final two rounds. And the undercard wasn’t bad, either, Cezar Ferreira and Andrew Craig aside.
The difference between the two shows was the length and pacing. The Auckland show featured 10 fights and wrapped up in four and a half hours. The San Antonio show featured 11 fights and took a full six hours. I’m not sure what, if anything, the UFC can do about this if Fox Sports 1 wants to broadcast 10 of the 11 fights of a card. It’s a problem nonetheless, especially for cards starting at 10 p.m. ET that don’t wrap up until well after 1 a.m.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY THE SAME
Unfortunately for the fighters on the card and also unfortunately for a UFC brass who so publicly defended him, Chael Sonnen tested positive for both human growth hormone (HGH) and recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO) as reported by Ariel Helwani of MMAFighting.com. According to WebMD, the body naturally produces HGH through the pituitary gland, which “spurs growth in children and adolescents.” Athletes typically stack HGH use with anabolic steroids for various performance-enhancing effects (muscle building, recovery, etc.). EPO, meanwhile, is a chemical method for increasing blood’s oxygen transfer capabilities, improving aerobic performance (i.e., endurance).
MMAFighting.com published the report during the UFC telecast, and the news overshadowed the in-cage action on Twitter (and now, this article). This lead to speculation about when and how the UFC and Fox Sports would address the issue. Sonnen, who retired after news of a positive test for anastrozole and clomiphene last month, has maintained a role as a UFC analyst for Fox Sports.
Sonnen claimed that he used anastrozole and clomiphene to transition off testosterone replacement therapy after the Nevada State Athletic Commission voted to refuse to allow therapeutic-use exemptions. That now looks suspect, given the clear “performance-enhancing” nature of both HGH and EPO.
Sonnen’s not the story here, though. He’s retired from active competition (a flismy state of being in the world of prizefighting, for sure), and his role for Fox Sports is innocuous, unless you subscribe to the notion that taking drugs is the worst possible thing for an athlete to do. (Hi, Kevin Iole!)
The real story here is that 1) the Nevada commission is apparently testing for HGH and EPO (in some cases, anyway) and 2) the Nevada commission caught an athlete taking HGH and EPO.
Testing for HGH is a relatively new thing, and a quick Google search suggests only two cases of an athlete testing positive. British rugby player Terry Newton popped in 2010, and minor league baseball player Mike Jacobs followed a year and a half later. Sonnen is joining an exclusive club.
This, and not NSAC’s decision to outlaw TRT TUEs that set all of this in motion, is the moment anti-drug zealots should celebrate as a watershed moment for MMA. Outlawing TRT did little for cleaning up the sport as much as taking away a medical procedure for athletes that need it. (Which is not to say that TRT wasn’t abused.) The test that caught Sonnen, in addition to the test that caught Vitor Belfort and the test that caught Wanderlei Silva off guard, was random, well out from the event Sonnen was scheduled for, and thorough. That’s what is necessary to “clean” up the sport, and it sends a powerful message to fighters competing in the state of Nevada.
WE’RE GOING STRAIGHT.TO.THE WILD WILD WEST
Speaking of commissions, San Antonio falls under the jurisdiction of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, which has as good a reputation as an athletic commission as Chael Sonnen has as a conduit for describing what’s in his body. The commission did not fail to live up to its reputation, with a bevy of officiating errors.
The most egregious and controversial of which occurred during Cody Gibson’s fight with Johnny Bedford. Bedford landed a flying knee which looked to have Gibson hurt against the fence. Gibson fired back, and a right hook caught Bedford square on the jaw. The latter did nearly a full bend to his toes before whiplashing back toward the mat. His head bounced off the canvas as Gibson pounced to follow with punches. Referee Kerry Hatley ran over, started to step in, thought about it a second, and then decided, yeah, I want to step in here.
Some took issue with Hatley’s decision to stop the fight so quickly, but the bigger issue is his indecision. Conscious fighters don’t react the way Bedford did, and it seemed pretty clear to me both live and on replay that the ground impact “woke” Bedford up. So, Hatley stepping in, in my opinion is fine. He messed up when he second guessed himself, giving Bedford legitimate room to gripe.
Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter.