Monday, February 09, 2009
by Jake Rossen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Admit it or don’t, but the media upchuck surrounding Georges St. Pierre’s “GreaseGate” -- the debate over whether the athlete maybe, possibly obtained a slight advantage from some rogue petroleum jelly on his back -- is one of the reasons MMA rarely gets boring.
(That, and Maurice Smith figuring out how to keep from getting smothered by wrestlers. But I digress.)
Whether or not you believe GSP premeditated the lubing to garner an advantage, the fact remains that athletes who get kicked in the crotch for a living may not be universally honorable. Some are going to bend the rules, some are going to break them and some may think of foul techniques that haven’t even occurred to regulators yet.
Five ways you can turn a fair fight into something else:
5. Grab the Fence
Forbidding a basic human instinct isn’t exactly cut and dry, but most referees are successful in admonishing athletes who react to a takedown attempt by clutching the chain-link fence that’s often within arm’s reach.
Problem is, unless the referee deducts an immediate point -- which happens infrequently -- the grabber has negated his deposit into a submissive position on the ground and the grabbee has been deprived of a dominant position. History’s course is irrevocably altered.
All right, so maybe it’s not that dramatic. But even so, without harsher penalties, fighters can usually get a fistful of fence without suffering the consequences -- the ref’s “HeystopgrabbingthefenceI’mwarningya!” notwithstanding.
4. Slick Up
Anti-GSP observers ignore a simple fact of his slick epidermis: If he and his trainers wanted to turn his skin into an oil slick, they could’ve done it more covertly with emollients that would excrete a slippery film only when he started to sweat. (This gets complicated once you get into your warm-up routine. Technically, you couldn’t have one and then confront commission members with a gelatinous body.) But thanks to the champ’s debacle, the days of covert lubrication may be over. Commissioners will be paying special attention to athlete skin.
Oh, and a fair word of warning to those looking to do additional research: Do not Google “oily sweat wrestling men.” Just don’t do it. Some things can’t be unseen.
3. The Eye Poke
Ninety-five percent of the time, extending your fingers out during a strike is a condition of the kinetic nature of MMA. Your hand might decide to open a bit to block a punch or go in for a takedown, but more urgent circumstances warrant a smack in the face instead. The result of that gear change is a kind of half-fist, half-slap hybrid that can jam digits into the delicate corneas of your hapless foe, causing an interruption of the bout and possibly affecting your opponent’s vision for the remainder.
Aside from a break in the action and a stern warning, there’s little punishment for perpetrators, and the poker can go on to take advantage of an opponent’s impaired vision. Bereft of any blindfold training, Van Damme-style, the poke-ee can look forward to broken blood vessels, lots of clinching and a better chance of spending the loser’s purse.
2. Magic Socks
In a rules alteration that still has Mark Coleman mumbling profanities, wrestling shoes were banned from Unified Rules competition in 2000. It provided traction to the wearer, and it’s conceivable the laces/tongue could increase the number of facial lacerations.
Dennis Hallman’s solution? Take an ankle wrap -- perfectly legal -- and apply some traction to the bottom sole. Jeff Monson sported them against Tim Sylvia. (Clearly, they’re not foolproof.) While not technically prohibited, increased traction can make a difference in a bout. Why they’re not more widely used remains a mystery.
1. Human Growth Hormone/Testosterone
Who needs steroids when there’s a chemical cocktail out there that speeds recovery, halts muscle wasting, sheds fat and otherwise makes for a leaner, meaner athlete?
While dirty-alley pundits advise HGH is best used with a cycle of anabolic steroids, the compound can provide plenty of advantages by itself and state commissions have yet to introduce a test that can reliably detect its usage. No less a physical specimen than Sylvester Stallone, aged 63 and with abs that look like a biscuit tray, was cornered in an Australian airport with a duffel bag full of the stuff.
A drug that can mimic more potent, dangerous chemicals -- working diligently in cells without detection -- has inarguably altered and lengthened careers in all sports. In MMA, where a constitution able to withstand grueling training is paramount, it may have given us some of our best fighters.
And while synthetic testosterone is a banned substance, it is possible that athletes with a doctor’s record of low levels could be placed on excusable replacement therapy that would -- in theory -- raise their reading beyond what’s considered “normal” for an adult male, a dial that varies widely depending on the expert consulted. Perhaps Fighter Y’s reading of 436ng/mL, raised by artificial means and brought back to what his physician considers “baseline,” provides a more aggressive, alpha-male environment than his opponent’s natural 636 ng/mL number. He has, in essence, been positively affected by chemical means.
The point? A “fair fight” in a major arena extends only to an absence of bricks, cue-wielding buddies and broken bottles. Thank our win-at-all-costs culture.
The apex of this blind drive: Vassily Ivanchuk, a Russian chess champion, refused to submit to a urine test amid allegations he took steroids. (The beta-blockers in some of the drugs could keep his heart rate down during marathon sessions.)
In a world where we can’t even trust the result of a board game, GSP’s asterisked victory is hardly the last of the sport’s slippery slopes -- just the latest.