By: Jesse Donathan
It’s time to re-evaluate the conventional paradigm of what constitutes cheating and a level field of play in combat sports. According to an October 7, 2019 ESPN.com article titled, “Tyrone Spong fails drug test, fight vs. Oleksandr Usyk called off,” you can count the undefeated professional boxer and kickboxing legend Tyrone Spong among the long list of performance enhancing drug (PED) users in combat sports. It’s a list that includes Jon Jones, Brock Lesnar and more recently heavyweight Dillian Whyte. With so many high-profile athletes testing positive for prohibited substances, its increasingly clear their use is more common than one might initially think.
According to ESPN.com Senior Writer Dan Rafael, “Heavyweight Tyrone Spong tested positive for a banned substance, leaving 2018 fighter of the year and former undisputed cruiserweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk in search of a new opponent.” The report goes on to state, “Now Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn is on the hunt for a new opponent after Spong tested positive for the banned substance clomiphene.”
Clomiphene is an anti-estrogen drug commonly used by athletes as an accompanying medication to anabolic steroid use, in this context its general purpose is to combat the metabolization of exogenous testosterone into estrogen. Anabolic steroids are synthetic derivatives of testosterone, which is a naturally occurring hormone produced in the human body that is responsible for any number of physiological traits most often associated with men.
As reported in an August 2, 2019 payitforwardfertility.org article titled, “How Does Clomid Help Bodybuilders,” Dr. Mirta Marsh weighed in on the use of clomid, also known as clomiphene, recommending that, “You should ideally not use clomid when you are also taking steroids. Complete your steroid therapy first, and then begin using clomiphene.” Also known as post cycle therapy (PCT), this methodology of training is common throughout the bodybuilding and combat sports communities.
According to the report, “When steroid substances are used by men, their natural production of male hormones is reduced. The longer they depend on steroids and heavier the dose the more it affects their hormonal balance. The level of testosterone keeps getting lower and the level of female hormones (estradiol, progesterone, and prolactin) keeps increasing. This results in the growth of female breasts in men, also known as gynecomastia, and it even causes fluid retention in their bodies.”
The addition of clomiphene to one’s performance enhancing drug use regimen is used to combat these negative side effects associated with PED use; it is also the mechanism anabolic steroid users look too as a means of jump starting their bodies own natural testosterone production after it has shut down from exogenous synthetic testosterone use. While clomiphene is used legitimately as fertility treatment in men, it is this same medical necessity and value that is most often cited as an excuse by athletes who return adverse findings for its use.
Though according to a May 11, 2010 New York Times article titled, “Common Thread in Failed Drug Tests Raises New Questions,” author Michael Schmidt writes, “Because these drugs are used to restart the bodies’ production of testosterone after the use of steroids, the sports might be catching the players only at the tail end of their steroid use, when they have already benefited.” Which could mean athletes testing positive for clomiphene who are not using it for legitimate medical necessity may be successfully evading detection for anabolic steroid use while only flagging for their post cycle therapies.
While it may be easy, even convenient, to call fighters like Jon Jones, Brock Lesnar, Tyrone Spong and others cheaters, according to MMA pioneer Renzo Gracie, “Everybody is taking (steroids). The difference is that Anderson (Silva) probably lost control of when the substance would be out of his body,” writes BJJEE.com in their March 12, 2015 article titled, “Renzo Gracie: ‘Everybody is Taking Steroids. Fighters Who Don’t Use, Can’t Compete in this Sport.” Thoughts which were echoed by UFC superstar Nick Diaz in MMAWeekly.com’s September 14, 2015 YouTube video interview titled, “Nick Diaz Declares All Fighters Are on Steroids.”
“That’s another thing I’ll tell you right now,” Diaz told MMAWeekly.com. “I know all the fighters and they are all on steroids. All you mother****er’s are on steroids.”
With recent high-profile positive tests from professional boxers Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, Dillian Whyte and now Tyrone Spong, perhaps Gracie and Diaz are correct in their estimations of exactly how prevalent performance enhancing drug use is in combat sports? If these two highly respected athletes are to be believed, that would mean the conventional cheating paradigm espoused by the vast majority of pundits and fans alike is based off little more than a naïve perception of how combat sports actually work.
And that perception only justifies the continued existence of the commissions, organizations and associations alike who have managed to turn the issue of performance enhancing drug use in combat sports into a for profit enterprise operated under the guise of fighter safety. If nearly every top level, high profile combat sports athlete is using performance enhancing drugs, perhaps its time to re-evaluate what constitutes cheating and competing on a level playing field in combat sports?