Let’s Talk Steroids, Science and Dangers in Combat Sports

(Update July 23, 2106 – Using this spreadsheet documenting reported MMA PED test failures to date, I reviewed all in-competition test failures.  The data reveals that athletes using prohibited substances in-competition won 45 times and lost 65 times.  Removing the marijuana tests from the equation skews the results a little but caught PED using athletes are batting below .500)


An interesting debate arose on Twitter today among some people I follow asking for the science, or lack thereof, behind the belief that a user of illicit PED’s is somehow an inherent danger to their ‘clean’ opponents.

At the same time a worthwhile opinion article was published today by Jordan Breen on Sherdog asking the same question. Breen notes

The basic argument, of course, is that prizefighters’ explicit goal is to do physical damage to one another and therefore a juiced-to-the-gills fighter is uniquely dangerous to his opponent. The great question in these discussions is always “What if a fighter in the UFC died as a result of injuries in a fight, then his opponent tested positive for PEDs?” This hypothetical shouldn’t be completely disregarded; it’s a very serious question that is not beyond the realm of possibility. However, if you consider the deaths that have occurred in MMA, there is a common theme and it’s certainly not PEDs.

Breen goes on to discuss MMA’s fatality list noting that poor oversight, not PED’s appear to be the common thread.  It is worth noting that the conclusion that PED’s are not a theme in these deaths is not iron clad as many of these deaths occurred in an era or jurisdictions without PED testing or lax PED testing so it cannot be said with certainty whether PED’s did or did not play a role in any of these fatalities.

It is a fair point that poor regulatory oversight can lead to greater dangers to athletes than PED use.  One can look to MMA’s troubling and ever growing Rapid Exteme Weight Cut injury list as an example of this.

Nate Diaz likes to say “everybody’s on steroids“.  Perhaps not everyone but MMA’s PED list is an ever growing concern.  I count my self on the side calling for objective and sensible restriction of PED’s in combat sports with meaningful enforcement of these restrictions and further hold the view that if / when an opponent is terribly injured or killed at the hands of an illicit PED using opponent there will be legal fallout.

Considering the ABC appears prepared to clarify that the sport’s true judging criteria should be damage, damage, damage Breen and others ask a very fair question.  What exactly is the science behind the belief that a PED using fighter creates inherent dangers for a clean opponent?  As Neurologist Dr. Goodman of VADA notes, it may be difficult to obtain such studies for practical reasons.

Dr Gooman Tweets Re PED and Danger Studies

What we know is PED’s, by definition, create performance enhancing abilities.  These can include size, speed, strength and duration.  Injury is caused by force and I suspect a Biomechanical Engineer would be the best qualified expert to opine on the increased injuring abilities PED’s can give a trained combatant.

Physicist Jason Thalken weighed in with the following constructive comments

Thalken tweets

I have archived many studies addressing safety issues in combat sports but few, if any, squarely address Breen’s question.  I invite anyone to point to peer reviewed studies addressing this important topic.  I will add them to the below list.



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