The Savage Truth: Heady Issues

By Greg Savage Aug 12, 2014
Mark Bocek has walked away from mixed martial arts. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com



Another fighter has retired early and has laid a big part of his thought process at the foot of the performance-enhancing drug door.

That’s right: Mark Bocek came out and said that PEDs and their rampant use in MMA weighed heavily in his decision to retire.

Now, let’s be clear: PEDs weren’t the only reason Bocek hung up his gloves. He also cited the potential for brain damage and a lack of motivation as factors in his decision to leave the sport, much like his former Tristar Gym teammate Georges St. Pierre.

Drug and concussion issues have been long-standing concerns for many fighters, but it is very interesting to hear the matters being discussed publicly by fighters who feel they have nothing to lose anymore.

Bocek spent years toiling around the fringes of the top 10 in a very tough UFC lightweight division. He fought some of the division’s best talent and finished with an 8-5 record in the sport’s top promotion. He is a person who has dedicated his life to his art, and like most fighters, he recognized that he probably put more into it than he’ll ever get out. There are few fighters who rise to the level of a “GSP.” Only a very limited number of people who enter combat sports’ arena will gain the notoriety or earn the kind of money on which they can comfortably retire.

Those are the carrots that attract so many to combat sports, or any athletic profession for that matter. The ability to carve out your own destiny, be a star, gain fame and fortune. Waking up and doing something you love is a powerful motivator for most.

The only problem with this is most people leave the sport in a much worse state than they entered it. Quite a few are disillusioned mentally, busted up physically and in tatters financially when they call it quits. Broke and broken is a tough starting line for retirement.

I know a lot of people get mad when they see what fighters are making in MMA. Ultimately, the athlete has to decide if the risk is worth the reward. For most of them -- in their minds, anyway -- it is.

I would argue that MMA is not a great investment of time and energy for most of the people who line up to take a crack. Add in the fact that you may feel forced to cheat just to compete with everyone else, and your parting gifts at the end of your career may be some very real medical issues. To me, it is amazing there aren’t more Mark Boceks deciding to pull the ejection handle a little early.

Over the last couple days, there has been quite a stink made about Bocek’s comments on PEDs, the widespread nature of their use in MMA, and his thoughts on whether the promoters of the sport really want to catch those who cheat. But, to me, there is a bigger takeaway. It is the fact that Bocek realized that the dangers of this sport outweigh any of the positives he could still generate from competing.

I am not sure it is a trend that will catch on, but if there were more people talking about how bad being a prizefighter is for your long-term health -- both physical and financial -- it would be interesting to see what kind of ripple effect it might cause.

Take Bocek’s statements about PEDs, add in a dash of War Machine and a pinch of Josh Grispi, then sprinkle in the nasty brawl between Jon Jones and Dan Cormier at a media event -- not to mention their ugly ESPN exchanges caught on a hot mic -- and it has been one hell of a week for MMA. But if everyone thinks this week was bad, wait until any of the issues Bocek raised gain some steam and become real issues for the promoters of MMA.

In my opinion, MMA has a major PED problem. The commissions who regulate this sport need to do more, but there is no regulatory silver bullet for head injuries. The NFL and NHL have made numerous changes to their rules to protect their athletes; fighting doesn’t really have that option. The stated goal is to remove your opponent from consciousness. There aren’t too many possible rules changes that would leave the sport even remotely recognizable.

I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself right now. We’re only talking about a few fighters out of many who have competed at the top levels of the sport. However, I think it is unwise to turn a blind eye to a very real problem that is effecting a lot of sports, not just ours.

Greg Savage is the Executive Editor of Sherdog.com and can be reached via @TheSavageTruth on Twitter.

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