–Kenny Rice

Arkansas fired head football coach Bobby Petrino after a record setting season because of personal indiscretion. The Miami Marlins suspended their manager Ozzie Guillen, a World Series winning one at that, for incendiary remarks of admiration for Fidel Castro.

The story that has made front page above the fold news is the ongoing pay for bounty investigation into the New Orleans Saints. The NFL has suspended the Super Bowl winning tandem of head coach Sean Payton for one year and general manager Mickey Loomis for half a season, with additional punishment for assistant coaches and players are pending further penalties.

It’s not pretty sometimes in the real sports world and therein lies its beauty. People will always cut corners, bend the rules and flat out cheat. But there is accountability among the major sports organizations. Stray outside the lines of honesty and there will be repercussions. No one has to lose their livelihood, but hard hits to the wallet and extra time sitting away from the profession have proven to work.

Baseball first discovered this way back in 1919 after the infamous Chicago “Black” Sox World Series loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Eight Chicago players were subsequently banned from the sport for life for fixing games, losing on purpose to the Reds so gamblers could make large scores. The man who dished out the severe sentence was a former no nonsense federal judge who was brought in to become the first Commissioner of Baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

Even then, eons before Internet and round-the-clock sports networks, it was crystal clear to the owners that to grow a fan base there had to be trust, that assurance that the game and its players adhered to rules and regulations. Because without credibility, word would get around. Granted it might be via telegraph, rickety train rides or horse back but the sports fans would have let everyone know to be leery of this sport, it might not be on the up and up.

Eventually every major sport saw the importance of having a commissioner. An impartial (at least in principle) party to negotiate, uphold codes, and dole out punishment when needed to preserve integrity. Fans had to have faith in the product, simple as that or they wouldn’t support it.

A few niche sports that have a recognized following still don’t have a governor per se. Horse racing is foremost in the group with state agencies in charge of important issues like drug testing and regulating. There is a ceremonial leader who still has to navigate through the red tape of local jurisdictions with no true power to overturn or make a major decision.

Does that, MMA fans, sound familiar? It might be impossible to have a commissioner in MMA. One organization controls virtually everything important to the sport and this group, obviously the UFC has done a solid job of gradual change and improvement.

Now though might be the biggest obstacle facing this sport, the continued use of banned drugs by high profile fighters. Recently Mo Lawal and Cris “Cyborg” Santos were both hit hard with suspensions by Nevada and California respectively. They are part of what is an infamous all star line up.

This is not to advocate anything more than suspension and fine. It is difficult to ever deny anyone the right to a living in their chosen profession. Several have thrived with second or third chances, such as Josh Barnett – who fights for the Strikeforce Grand Prix Heavyweight title next month against Daniel Cormier.

There are blurbs in a few mainline publications about these problems but they are becoming so common it’s beginning to seem like normal business practice: not rule violations, not anything more than “someone got caught”, without stepping back to see the residue this is leaving on the sport.

At this time there is a glaring question. The type where a commissioner or someone with authority outside the state commission could make a definitive stand. The UFC heavyweight title is temporarily on hold. Champ Junior Dos Santos is waiting, apparently, as is everyone else to see what happens when Alistair Overeem meets with the Nevada State Athletic Commission later this month. Overeem who failed his random drug test gets another chance. That’s fair. But is it fair for the fans and the sport itself to have to be put on hold because of a drug dispute?

From the first day of covering MMA several years ago, I have frequently heard the argument they are the best-conditioned athletes in any sport anywhere. Certainly they rank near if not at the top. However there is a disturbing number of respected fighters and reporters who are saying more and more that there are more and more fighters taking banned substances to prepare for their fights. I’m not certain of that. But that those supposedly in the know speak of it in blasé terms does concern me.

This is the sport of real fighters, at least it should be real. Whether it’s testosterone replacement or steroids, performance enhancers do not make real fighters. Injuries are understandably a part of the game, sometimes treatment to assist recovery that wouldn’t be allowed for an actual fight can be accepted. But to hear some say they are practically ready to concede MMA becoming like horse racing where the animals, not the jockeys, have notations by their name listing what prescribed, legal diuretic or inflammation drug they are racing on.

However, putting everything on hold for a fighter with a questionable past to see if he might squeeze by his next round of tests isn’t anything close to a real approach of a real sport. It’s weaving in and out of shadows and that kind of behavior will always make it shady to many in the mainstream, the real sports world.

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Watch Kenny Rice along with Bas Rutten LIVE every Monday night on Inside MMA, and check out Kenny’s new book “Not Hit Yet” an insider look at the MMA world in 2012, available at Amazon now

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