If there’s one subject that hardcore MMA enthusiasts don’t like talking about or acknowledge it’s the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs in the, infamous and now defunct, Japanese MMA promotion, Pride FC.
I don’t want to be one to point fingers at any fighters in particular, but it’s just so obvious that an enormous number of them didn’t look nearly as impressive once transitioning to the UFC. There’ve been tons of excuses thrown around to explain this. Some examples such as fighters being out of their prime, not adjusting properly to the cage or simply facing a step up in competition tried to justify the missed expectations and anticipations of the former Pride FC fans but none of them address the most impactful facts of the matter.
Having been raised in a Mixed Martial Arts household, my father fought in Pride, I was always listening to conversations my father would have on the subject. He constantly highlight how different it was in Pride FC. One thing in particular he would mention was just how prevalent the use of anabolic steroids was in the promotion. The fighters were not routinely tested, and in some cases they were even encouraged to use PEDs! Over the years, several other fighters have come out and spoken on the topic of PEDs in that era of the sport.
While it’s certainly not hard to believe that a promotion which made a name for itself from building “larger than life” celebrities would certainly need some theatrics and sensationalism the use of PEDs just set expectations way too high for any hopeful fighters to ever compete without them. Pride FC will always be romanticized by many die hard MMA fans, the rules were different, the fights were fierce but the public has definitely never been in love with the use of PEDs in any sport and as MMA has gained popularity it’s important we remember our roots.
What should our expectations be now? Are fighters more tame? Is there a lack of fierce competition in the UFC because of the negative attitude towards PEDs? (Overeem’s latest bout certainly showed a more average physique on a man who’d been given the nickname “OverRoid”.) Some of us might sit around the table and reminisce from time-to-time about what a matchup with a fully blown up “OverRoid” and an “enhanced” Big Foot but in the end it’s just fantasy smack talk. MMA has matured and it is continuously evolving. We may never see the days of Pride FC again but perhaps thats a good thing. Perhaps that’s a healthier alternative to the toll that anabolic steroids take on the body. Cancer, stroke, and infertility are all possible outcomes from the overuse of anabolic steroids. Worst of all however is this larger than life, impossible to match physical representation of an athlete. It can give a young man complexes of inadequacy which would naturally drive them towards these dangerous alternatives.
Besides this, Mixed Martial Arts, especially since the Gracie’s introduced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, is more than just a battle of brute strength. Strategy, technical skill, timing, patience and good training can make even a more modest looking opponent extremely fierce in the battle of the octagon. Perhaps it’s time we all grew up just a little bit and embraced the evolution of the sport rather than basque in the impossible dreams of yesteryear. Pride will always have a place in my heart but for me, there’s plenty of room to love this new breed of athletes that have come from the UFC and similar promotions!