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The Punishment Must Fit the Crime

The use of drugs in sport is a highly debated topic and the latest instalment of The Ultimate Fighting Championship, UFC 159: Jones vs. Sonnen, wasn't without its fair share of controversy surrounding the issue. The April 27 event saw lightweight fighter Pat Healy, returning to the UFC after nearly a 7 year absence, achieve a terrific submission victory over Jim Miller to propel him into the rankings and title contention. However, this week has seen that decision overturned to a No Contest by the NJSAC after he tested positive for marijuana.

Healy has been handed a 90-day suspension by the UFC and the New Jersey state athletic control board, and has lost his bonuses - win, fight & submission of the night - effectively paying a fine in the region of $150k, taking home a fraction of that at around $30k. The Portland, Oregon-based fighter issued a public apology for taking a substance on the state athletic commission's banned list of drugs: "I was fully aware of the UFC and state commissions' drug policies and made poor life choices."

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) lead the fight against drugs in sport and it is their code that state athletic commissions follow. However, of the 262 prohibited substances on WADA's list, the distinction between performance enhancing drugs and recreational drugs must be made and punishments set accordingly.

In February this year the boxing world, Bob Arum included, was stunned to hear that Julio César Chávez Jr. was fined $900k, a total of 30% of his fight purse, by the NSAC for a positive marijuana test. Whilst this was the NSAC's largest ever fine, Pat Healy's this week came in at 80% of his purse. Of course, this is not new to MMA; in 2007 in the now defunct PRIDE organization, Nick Diaz saw his victory over Takanori Gomi overturned to a No Contest following marijuana metabolites found in his system and received a 6 month suspension. The fact is these athletes took banned substances and as such should receive punishment, but this punishment should be befitting of the crime.

In May 2012 Brazilian fighter Rafael 'Feijao' Cavalcante tested positive for a synthetic steroid while fighting in the Strikeforce promotion; he received a fine of $2,500. Healy's financial penalty, for a substance universally considered as non-performance enhancing, grossly outweighs that of those who've taken actual PEDs. Lavar Johnson, Josh Barnett and Stephan Bonner have in recent times tested positive for steroids and received comparatively lesser fines.

Although Pat Healy's actions are not in the spirit of sport and his bonuses are presumably linked to his contractual agreement with the UFC, he should feel hard done by. Perhaps it's only a matter of time until WADA and/or state athletic commissions remove marijuana from its prohibited substances list. In the meantime, penalties for use should be reduced and a shift needs to take place, focusing on those taking true PEDs in an effort to keep sport clean and safe.