The only pastime Americans love more than sex and violence is getting high.
No matter what side of John Law your drug of choice falls, there is no doubt that you probably have a pretty steadfast opinion on the topic. Very few are laissez faire when it comes to intoxication and how it should be regulated.
But rest assured, America loves itself some drugs.
I was a child of the 1980s and that means the first person to have a conversation with me about drugs was Nancy Reagan. The "Just Say No" campaign seemed to make sense to me at the time. She kept Arnold straight and guilted that Donny Most wannabe, Robbie, to come clean before the real heat came calling.
But as the calendar progressed, Reagan Youth became more influential than Nancy Reagan. Arnold grew up to become a bitter security guard and Todd Bridges got name-checked on Ice Cube’s "Death Certificate."
The reality of First Lady endorsements became laughable, as did the many misconceptions that surround our silly relationship with mind-altering substances.
Even as a teenager without the assistance of the internet, I was still able to identify the many health risks that accompany alcohol, the legal and socially acceptable drug on the menu. Not that I paid it much mind; but I knew about the risks nonetheless.
Invariably (OK, what’s the gateway now?), Schlitz in the garage led to cannabis, a drug far worse than a beer, I was told.
As baked as I was, I could see clear as day who the liars were. And if they lied to me about booze and weed, did they also lie about LSD, coke, heroin? And who can I ask? Who should I trust?
Forget it, let’s just get hammered. We pretend like we’re war-weary but we’re not.
We continue to cling to the War on Drugs, as if it’s going to take us back to June and Ward Cleaver’s hood. So many victims – incarceration, the breakup of the family, street violence, and addiction. Those casualties are immediate, existential, and easy to identify.
The nebulous casualties loom even larger, as research, evolution, and conversation continue to be stifled by this failed social endeavor.
And it extends for sports, as well.
Yeah, I too got caught up in "steroid anxiety" as we marched into the new century. I was all too happy to diagnose Barry Bonds as everything that was wrong with baseball.
I vilified Lance Armstrong and took pleasure in him finally admitting fault.
I even turned on local hero Ryan Braun (bedazzled jeans, Ed Hardy shirt, throwing people under the bus notwithstanding).
And I was wrong.
Just as the "war" has crushed dialogue pertaining to recreational usage, performance enhancing drugs have been exploited by the everyman watching sport. Drug test failures assist us in reducing our most hated rival’s accomplishments. As positive tests for "the clear" became public, we could feel better about how out of shape we were, justifying our own athletic failures.
It’s Sunday afternoon in October. Already six beers in and a dozen chicken wings deep. You could be like those guys, if only you used steroids, right?
What we see in high-level athletics are people that have already won the genetic lottery. Without medicinal assistance. We then ask these humans to do superhuman feats.
Perhaps there is no sport where this is more relevant and the conversation more urgent than the world of combat.
It doesn’t not have the history and pageantry of baseball, with its sacred records and unspoken rules. It lacks the national supremacy that the NFL and football still retains. It’s an individual endeavor that forgoes any civic fairytale heaped upon us by team owners and naming rights.
Change can and should happen quickly here.
What we do know is that the fight game is horribly destructive to the human body. From beginning of training camp to the final bell, fighters put themselves through an inordinate amount of conflict with themselves.
"But someone is going to die in there," critics cry. "They’re punching each other in the head!"
What we also know is that steroids of all kinds have been utilized in fights since Day 1. Japan’s exalted Pride Fighting Championships, at one time the world’s premiere fighting promotion, encouraged performance enhancers. They were the rule. The norm. No one died. Fights stayed intact. The sport survived.
In June 2015, the UFC instituted an anti-doping program through USADA with absolutely zero input from the athletes being tested. Clear-cut numbers are hard to come by, but since the program has been instituted, dozens of fighters have popped for dozens of substances. From curtain jerkers to headliners, no one has been safe.
Including today’s greatest talent, light heavyweight Jon Bones Jones.
The guy has made some bad decisions, no doubt – nothing that most of us haven’t done, especially in our 20s – but time lost outside of the cage due to drugs that deal with recovery and testosterone (Jones tested positive for the anti-estrogen agents Clomiphene and Letrozol last year) is absolutely ridiculous considering what we are asking him to do … or be.
None of us want athletes walking into the cage high. And no one desires squash matches pitting roided-out freak shows against rank curs.
However, if we are going to ask the Jon Joneses of the world to do Jon Jones-types of things, then an honest conversation needs to be had. It needs to be ongoing. Fight promotors, athletes, commissions, referees, managers, and doctors should all be involved.
Fighting will always be dangerous. If we can use candor and intelligence to improve the health and longevity of the participants, then, by all means, start today.
News and notes
On Saturday, the UFC will present the most talent-rich card of the year. On paper, we’d probably have to go back to last Nov. 12 to find a card that matches, both in star power and intrigue. Although overshadowed by the May-Mac circus, connoisseurs of the mixed rules fight game have had the evening of July 29 circled on the calendar for a while now.
The modern era’s greatest fighter, Jon Jones makes his long-awaited return to the cage against current light heavyweight (205 pounds) champ, Daniel Cormier. Both future Hall of Famers, both resumes par excellence, above 155 pounds there is not a more pertinent fight to make in the sport.
This is the second go-around for these gents, with Jones winning a unanimous decision way back in January of 2015. Car crashes, parole violations, positive drug tests aside, there is a little reason to think that Jones’ time away from the cage has helped him in any large degree. Couple that with the fact that the last time he finished an opponent decisively was in April of 2013, against a very slow and worn down Chael Sonnen.
Jones, however, is a special athlete. Ten years younger than Cormier and much more creative, Jones will serve as the favorite in this affair, with good reason, as he stacks up better in just about every category, both in talent and technique.
If the heart isn’t there though, then all could be for not. Cormier needs to do what he does best. Slow things down, close distance and crash the boards. Cormier’s heavy top game can and will stifle any Jiu Jitsu that Jones could employ off his back, if – IF – he can get the youngster down.
These are two of the very greatest sportsmen of their time. Should be fun.
The co-main event features Ferguson, Missouri’s uber-talented son, Tyron Woodley, defending his welterweight (170 pounds) belt against old-school Jiu Jitsu everyman, Demian Maia.
Woodley, a wrestling standout at the University of Missouri and former teammate of Wisconsin’s own Ben Askren, has spent a considerable amount of time training at Roufusport in Milwaukee. He’s held the title for almost a year now, in large part because of his sturdy wrestling base and ferocious hands. He is a very worthy champion in a talent-stacked weight class.
For longtime fans of the sport, it’s quite easy to nerd out on Maia and what he represents when you compare him to his contemporaries. A Jiu Jitsu specialist that has continued to modify and stay true to his art, Maia is a relic of the past, a precious antique, an heirloom that should be passed down from generation to generation with reverence.
I’ve compared him to Koufax in the past, in terms of production and tenor – congenially pitching no-hitters with class and the utmost respect for his opponents. He’s not out there to hurt anyone. In fact, he’ll use his ground game to inflict as little damage as possible. He’s everything a martial artist should be.
All that said, this fight could turn out to be a somewhat pedestrian affair.
No way Woodley wants to explore the deep waters that Maia presents on the ground, and the champ does have the hands to keep this standing. In turn Maia will have zero interest in trading shots, therefore keeping back and looking for takedown opportunities when available. But Woodley’s wrestling acumen should stall any deep penetration that Maia could present. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, different outcomes branch out as I write. Good times.
A third title fight? Why the hell not? I saw you crushing that third burger when you thought no one was looking. It’s summer, and what else do we have to do?
Finally, the UFC has made a women’s featherweight (145 pounds) division, and the consensus best female fighter on the planet, Christine "Cyborg" Justino, gets a crack at the vacated title against the undersized Invicta bantamweight (135 pounds) champ Tonya Evinger.
Admittedly, I don’t watch a ton of Invicta (all-women’s MMA promotion); I only have so much time in the day, people. But, from what I have seen of Evinger, she has all the guts and tenacity to hang with one of the sport’s most violent individuals, man or woman.
Evinger will be smaller, though – much, much smaller – and there’s no reason to believe that Cyborg will be unable to unleash the ferocity for which she is known. If Evinger’s chin can hold up and this gets dragged into later rounds, it could become the fight of the night. If for some reason the "People’s Main Event" (PME) somehow doesn’t live up to everything it should.
The PME of the night is unquestionably Robbie Lawler versus Donald Cerrone. This, my friends, is violence for the sake of sweet, sweet violence. The brutality in this fight should overflow like the Carnation Instant Breakfast my kid just made that’s in need of serious cleanup.
If you get the pay per view and have a few friends around, this is the squabble that mandates attention. No belts, no stakes; just a couple of guys who love the exchange, respect the game, and lay everything out for you and me.
Enjoy the weekend and the fights.
Precise precision takes
- The ABC approved four new MMA weight classes this week: 165 pounds, 175 pounds, 195 pounds and 225 pounds. Promotions can choose whether to use them, and they would be wise to do so. Weight management continues to be a problem and this will help.
- Although we lost Chuck Berry recently, his latest release is above solid. We still have two left in the sacred Rock ‘N Roll trilogy, Little Richard and Fats Domino. Take a trip down memory lane and respect the originators.
- Losing Gegard Mousasi via free agency was a major blow to the UFC and a huge win for Bellator. With the UFC’s No. 1 middleweight (180 pounds) contender, Robert Whittaker, injured and champion Michael Bisping looking for an opponent, Mousasi would have been a perfect matchup.
- ICE and the DOJ did a fantastic job of recruiting and running publicity for MS-13 on Thursday. I ran with a street crew back in the olden days; we loved when we’d see our names in the press and it did bring in new members. They cannot be this dumb.
- A card featuring Conor vs. the winner of Khabib-Ferguson and as the headliner and a co-main event of Jon Jones vs. Brock Lesnar would fill Dallas Stadium and do north of 3 million PPVs. Strong possibility of seeing that come NYE.