Former UFC and Pride fighter Nick Diaz is a lot of things. He’s impulsive, arrogant, narcissistic, and probably at least a little bit insane. He once started a fight with Joe Riggs in the hospital after their bout at UFC 57. He reportedly threw a shoe at Diego Sanchez while taunting him in the locker room before their fight. In short, Nick Diaz is a sociopath with a black belt in jiu-jitsu, and that’s the worst kind of sociopath.
What Nick Diaz is not, however, is a cheater. So why is he being treated like one?
As many mixed martial arts fans know, after his submission victory over Takanori Gomi in February Diaz tested positive for marijuana. Really positive. According to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, the amount of THC in Diaz’s system was more than seventeen times the normal level. That’s like Willie Nelson and Method Man put together (come to think of it, why haven’t those two starred in an irreverent comedy about unlikely friends by now?)
As a result of his positive test, Diaz’s win was changed to a no-contest and he was given a six-month suspension by the Commission, as well as a fine. The fine is understandable, and even the suspension. Diaz broke a rule. He tested positive for an illegal substance. But what about the no-contest, which erases his grueling and impressive victory over one of the world’s top lightweights?
Judging by the way the same Commission – as well as the much more stringent California Commission – has responded to recent events, it seems Diaz would have been better off if he had tested positive for steroids. He’d have received a fine and a longer suspension, but his win would have stayed on the books.
It’s important to think about because drug testing of athletes is an issue that’s more important now than ever before. Sean Sherk, who recently tested positive for steroids and is currently appealing the result, didn’t have his victory over Hermes Franca (who also tested positive) erased. Neither did Royce Gracie or Tim Sylvia or Nate Marquardt or any of the other fighters who’ve tested positive for steroids after victories. That’s troubling.
There’s only one reason to drug-test athletes: to catch and discourage cheaters. If you knowingly break a rule to gain an unfair advantage over your opponent, then you are a cheater. This is what athletes who use steroids are doing. That’s the only reason they do it, and that’s why it’s wrong.
But marijuana? It’s a recreational drug, not a performance-enhancing one. Its users are more likely to excel at guided meditation than sports. That isn’t to say that Diaz’s decision to get higher than Snoop Dogg on Grammy night leading up to his fight wasn’t an idiotic one. Certainly it was, especially when he knew he was going to be tested. But that doesn’t make him a cheater.
Part of the Athletic Commission’s explanation for their harsh ruling was that Diaz was numb to pain during his bout, thus giving him an unfair advantage. One official went so far as to suggest that Diaz was intoxicated during the fight. As if anyone could tell when a guy like Diaz is stoned and when he isn’t.
Even if it were true, it’s still specious reasoning. Being intoxicated to the point that his sensitivity to pain was dulled would also necessarily mean major impairment of his motor skills. To be that impaired and still put a beating on Gomi, one of the top-ranked 155-pounders in the world, should warrant a bonus instead of a fine.
The point is, such a severe punishment for a transgression that’s more foolish than it is unfair deflects focus from the real cheaters who continue to use steroids. If the Athletic Commissions and MMA organizations really wanted to crack down on steroid use, they’d test randomly year-round and not just at fight time when many athletes have cycled the drugs out of their systems.
The truth is they’re more embarrassed by positive tests than they are concerned. If the UFC really wanted to stamp out steroid use, Sean Sherk would have been stripped of his title the minute his urine samples – both of them – came back positive.
The fact that this hasn’t happened to steroid users, but an unduly harsh punishment is handed down to a marijuana user, tells us that the intention of these tests is not so much to stop cheating as it is to present the appearance of a clean competition.
Cheating is about motivations as much as it is about results. Those who use steroids are trying to cheat, and odds are plenty more are doing it than are getting caught.
Nick Diaz wasn’t trying to cheat. If anything, he was trying to enjoy some Cheetos and a Pink Floyd album. Let’s let him pay his fine and serve his suspension, but give him back his victory. He earned it.