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Mark Hunt on Monday threw down the gauntlet to his employer -- pardon me, contractor -- in a fiery and rancorous interview on “The MMA Hour.” One of the friendliest and most accommodating athletes in the sport, Hunt was audibly enraged as he spoke with host Ariel Helwani, unfurling a profanity-laced tirade on the Ultimate Fighting Championship, seeming to allege that it could not have cared less about sending an enhanced Brock Lesnar to the cage to thump him at UFC 200 on July 9.
First off, I have been and will continue to be a supporter of the UFC’s partnership with the United States Anti-Doping Agency and feel they’re doing important work in a sport -- you know, like all of them -- that has a big performance-enhancing drug problem. While I understand the frustration Hunt feels, I still believe the promotion should be lauded for bringing in this independent party to handle the testing and adjudication of a very sensitive program.
Can they be doing some things better? Absolutely.
Let’s think about this for a second and put ourselves in Hunt’s position. I don’t know for certain, but I’d bet an overwhelming majority of us would feel a bit perturbed after being pummeled by an allegedly juiced-up meta-human like Lesnar, only to find out he tested positive for a banned substance. I understand the anger.
After speaking with guys like Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold in wake of their run-ins with enhanced fighters, it really wasn’t the fact that they lost that frustrated them; everyone loses in this sport. It was the perception by the public that the losses were on the level. Add in the fact that some of their opponents were bolting with chests full of loot while their wallets were quite a bit lighter than they were hoping and you have a recipe for the kind of eruption we saw from Hunt.
I’m glad Hunt decided to speak up for himself and take a stand against what he feels is a treacherous situation. So often fighters in all combat sports feel like they’re better served to either internalize their feelings or let them be known only to those closest to them or in “off-the-record” conversations with media. The more athletes who voice their concerns, the less of a problem it becomes the next time someone feels slighted.
It’s easy to marginalize the fighter who strays away from the heard; it’s not as easy to do so when the flock is comprised of diverse, outspoken people who stand by each other. Hunt’s call for a fighter’s union makes a ton of sense, but again, will the people affected most by its formation have the strength of will and fortitude to do what’s in their own best interests? Not likely.
As I’ve mentioned on multiple occasions -- almost weekly now it seems -- it’s a fact that fighters have no collective voice, no representation when any of the deals that are struck, deals that affect them greatly, are hashed out and agreed to.
Hunt is angry -- and rightfully so. Why wasn’t he angry when the USADA and the UFC inked this deal without any real fighter input? It might have been a good idea to have someone there to raise some concerns about fighters who lose to opponents who go on to test positive. How about making sure all pre-fight tests are expedited so people aren’t sent into the cage against a fighter who has already submitted a tainted sample? What happens to the money a winning fighter who tests positive after the fact would have earned? It’s yet another question on which a collective body might want to opine. There are suspensions, appeals processes, testing protocols and so many more issues that were summarily imposed without any way to express concerns.
It really is ridiculous that the fighters on whom this agreement has such a far-reaching affect had absolutely zero say in the deal.
Not to sound like an apologist for those would-be rule breakers who might be looking to sabotage a useful system, but there are also fighters who feel the penalties codified in the USADA plan are not strict enough. They, too, were disenfranchised when this deal went into place without having their voices heard. Same story, different week, I’m sad to say.
Speaking truth to power is never a bad thing; the only problem I see here is that it’s way too late in the game. Perhaps Hunt and his fellow fighters will use this as a springboard to something greater, but if the track record of combat sports’ athletes has anything to say about it, the furor over this will pass and we’ll be back to business as usual in no time.
Sherdog.com Executive Editor Greg Savage can be reached by email or via Twitter @TheSavageTruth.