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Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol. She’s not the first fighter to test positive for the substance. That honor (sarcasm) goes to Phil Baroni, who tested positive after fighting Frank Shamrock at Strikeforce: Judgement Day in June 2007. K-1 fighter Zabit Samedov tested positive for stanozolol a few months later.

Tim Sylvia tested positive for Stanozolol after defeating Gan McGee. And most recently, Chris Leben tested positive after his fight with Michael Bisping at UFC 89. Also, Kirill Sidelnikov also tested positive after his fight with Paul Buentello at Affliction: Day of Reckoning. (Both Leben and Sidelnikov lost their respective fights, by the way.)

The difference? Sylvia lost his title, stated the steroid use was to shed excess weight, apologized and didn’t try to pretend he was innocent. Cyborg, on the other hand, is attempting to feed the media and public the stale old line that she just wasn’t aware that anabolic steroids were in her nutritional supplements. I’ve got news for you, girlfriend–nobody’s buying it…. and a sincere apology is devoid of BS excuses–or should be.

In case you didn’t read Cyborg’s statement, here it is in its entirety:

I would like to sincerely apologize to StrikeForce, the Zuffa organization, Hiroko Yamanaka and my fans for my failed drug test. I am ultimately responsible for everything I put in my body, and at the end of the day, there is no excuse for having a prohibited substance in my system.

I do not condone the use of any performance enhancing drugs by myself or any other professional athlete, and willingly accept the penalties and fines that have been handed down to me by the California State Athletic Commission and those of the StrikeForce/Zuffa organization. While I was preparing myself for my last fight I was having a difficult time cutting weight and used a dietary supplement that I was assured was safe and not prohibited from use in sports competition.

It was never my intention to obtain an unfair advantage over Hiroko, mislead StrikeForce, the Commission or my fans. I train harder than any fighter in MMA and do not need drugs to win in the cage, and I have proven this time and time again! My only mistake is not verifying the diet aid with my doctor beforehand, and understanding that it was not approved for use in the ring. Unfortunately in the end I suffer the consequences and must accept the responsibility for my actions.

I will do everything I can to show my fans that I can still compete at the professional level without the use of any prohibited substances, and ask God’s forgiveness for my mistake. Cris Santos – Curitiba, Brazil January 7th, 2012

Cyborg is not the first female fighter to test positive for steroids. That distinction goes to Carina “Beauty but the Beast” Damm, who was caught for nandrolone following a submission victory over Sophie Bagherdai at Feme Fatale Fighting 4. The difference? Cyborg seemed as unstoppable in the women’s 145 division as Anderson Silva is as a middleweight. Due to this, and the lack of depth in the weight class, her suspension could have serious implications. Dana White has gone so far as to say that the weight class is dead–they were just going to keep it around when there was someone available to challenge Cyborg.

Losing a whole division in Strikeforce due to the actions of one person seems to be a step back for women’s MMA, but it is what it is. (Let’s not forget Josh Barnett, who, at the very least, hastened the impending doom of an entire promotion.) Perhaps this is a cavalier attitude, but I don’t think women’s MMA is going anywhere. As long as there are fighters and an audience, fights will continue to take place. When promotions have less female fights, others step in and step up in their place…and the world keeps spinning.

What’s the real issue here, then? Cage Potato has a timeline of steroid busts in MMA, and Cyborg is number 36. As I see it, there are several issues that are problematic.

The first issue is hormonal. Steroid use may not kill men’s MMA, but it has the very real potential of having a devastating impact on women’s MMA. And I don’t mean that in a “Dana White says he doesn’t want female fights anymore” type of way, but more like “Women don’t want to compete in an uneven playing field.” While steroid use definitely impacts male fighters, the effect on women (who obviously don’t have the levels of testosterone that men do naturally) is much greater. Ponder this: Would it be harder for a man to fight a much stronger man, or a woman to fight a man? Chemically, that’s basically what you’re doing.

(I had just typed this up when I read Rosi Sexton’s take on the matter on Bloody Elbow. She writes: “In most sports, the consequences of failure might be measured in pride, status or money. In MMA, you add physical damage and injury. In female MMA, for example, you can find yourself watching a fighter who is essentially (in hormonal terms) male, beat up a woman. It often makes for uncomfortable viewing. It’s bad for the sport, and most of all it’s bad for the fighters. It sends the message that following the rules is penalized by getting your face smashed in.”

Next, as I’ve said before, it seems like it’s WAY past time for some more accountability for steroid usage in the sport. We’ve previously called for random  off-season (i.e. year-round Olympic-style WADA testing), and recently Josh Gross tweeted that if the UFC fired those who test positive, it would send a much stronger  message. In any case, it’s no secret that there’s a potential for fighters to use steroids in the off-season and not get caught, either by cycling off of them or using masking agents. A higher level of accountability would even the playing field–but some suspect the UFC and other promotions are not interested in this because a lot of their top starts might get caught.

Finally, the juxtaposition of valuing skill/talent over looks has a very interesting interplay in women’s MMA. I find it disturbing that there are more people complaining about the way Cyborg looks than about the fact that she cheated. Obviously, the two go hand-in-hand… but I would hate for casual fans to assume that any female fighter who may have higher-than-normal androgen levels are necessarily cheating…or that those who don’t, aren’t. There are actually many ways to cheat, and steroids are but one of them.

At the risk of trivializing the issue, though, I’ll add that I’m interested in the thought process behind women using steroids in MMA because it shows that they believe their performance in the cage (and recovery outside of it) is more important to their career than how they look. We’re talking wide jaws, deep voices, receding hairlines, acne and hirsustism (read: beards and chest hair), in addition to muscle development that doesn’t exactly look natural.

If nothing else, Cyborg proved that even casual viewers are interested in (or at least intrigued by)  her skills in the cage despite her steroid-induced appearance. I certainly don’t feel that this is a reason to cheat, ever, for any reason. But Cyborg brilliantly put to rest the idea that female fighters need to prance around in short skirts and have butt shots in Maxim and other magazines to gain publicity and get fights. It’s just sad that she had to cheat to do it.

2 Comments
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  1. Amanda says:

    It’s a completely crappy situation since it looks like her mistake has crippled the women’s 145 lb division in a big way.

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