Until the very end, there were many who wanted to believe in Chael Sonnen.
You've heard me say this before, but I will say it again: Sonnen is one of the nicest people you'll meet in mixed martial arts. I mean genuinely nice. He looks you in the eye when he shakes your hand, and he goes out of his way to help people in need. He doesn't want people to talk about those moments, because they go against the "character" he has cultivated over the past few years, and that character is what took him from the preliminary card all the way to main events and network television broadcasts.
And so when Sonnen recently failed a drug test for anastrozole and HCG, you wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was transitioning off testosterone replacement therapy, after all, and that can't be an easy thing to accomplish without some sort of artificial help.
Yes, he made a gigantic mistake in not going through the proper commission channels—or any sort of channels at all, really—because he has been through this sort of thing before, and he knows what the end result will be. But it's still easy to overlook Sonnen's usage of the two aforementioned drugs, because he was transitioning off testosterone usage and taking drugs to help kick-start his body's natural production.
And then he abruptly retired, and it seemed like the whole thing was going to go away. Sonnen could take the drugs he needed to live a normal life while transitioning to a long and fruitful career in the broadcast booth. The drugs would help him start a family, and that's a whole lot more important than fighting, anyway.
Today, all of that has changed.
Saturday night, just as the UFC was kicking off what felt like its 98th hour of fighting action in one day, the news broke that Sonnen had also failed tests for human growth hormone (HGH) and erythropoietin (EPO). The UFC's official pre-show broadcast on Fox Sports 1 completely ignored the news, just as you hoped it wouldn't do back when the television partnership was first announced, and we were left to wonder what the UFC's response would be, or if it would even have one at all.
We continued to wonder throughout the broadcast as Karyn Bryant, Dominick Cruz and Daniel Cormier struggled to fill time that could have been used to discuss major breaking news.
The UFC eventually issued a response, putting its full faith and trust in the Nevada commission to do the right thing.
When the long doubleheader day was finally over, when the quiet came, we were left to face a stark reality: In athletic competition, Chael Sonnen was probably a cheater. And perhaps he has been cheating for quite some time—or at least attempting to.
We can no longer give him the benefit of the doubt. Anastrozole and HCG are one thing, but there is no way to explain the usage of EPO for anything other than enhancing performance. It is used to increased red blood cell count in the body; red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. An increase in red blood cells means more oxygen to the body and muscles, which means a dramatic increase in stamina.
If you've heard of EPO, it's likely because of scandals in the cycling community. Floyd Landis, the 2006 Tour de France winner, admitted to using EPO throughout his career. Lance Armstrong, one of the most disgraced American athletes in history, admitted to taking EPO during all seven of his Tour de France victories. It is a performance-enhancing drug, plain and simple; there is no way for Sonnen to spin the story around and tell the public that he needed it to live a normal life.
The sad part in all of this? Sonnen is still one of the nicest men in the fight business. He'll continue to help those in need, both financially and through other means, because that's who he is at his core. Strip away the Chael P. Sonnen character and all the pro wrestling theatrics that go along with it, and you have a likable human being. Those close to him will tell you that you simply cannot find a better friend.
But in mixed martial arts, he won't be remembered for the good things he does. He won't be remembered for coming so very close to dethroning Anderson Silva.
He'll be remembered for failing drug tests. Like Barry Bonds, he'll be branded a cheater, for now and forever. When we look back on his career in mixed martial arts, we'll first and foremost remember that he had a habit of trying to cheat the system.
That's unfortunate, but it's true. And he only has himself to blame.
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