On October 31st, the mixed martial arts community awaited the verdict in Sean Sherk’s case involving his positive nandrolone test after his championship title fight with Hermes Franca. Instead of a resolution to the deadlocked title picture in the UFC’s lightweight division, the California State Athletic Commission managed to keep the top-tier of the division on hold for another 2 weeks. The commission did not receive an information packet that Sherk’s attorney had sent the week before. It caused the commission to push back the hearing in order to review the data that Sherk had submitted. With the fiasco that was the Phil Baroni case, the negligence of the staff at the CSAC to pass on information to commission members in the Sherk case, and the history of bad decisions that has plagued the CSAC is the past, it seems Dana White has had enough.
Dana White stated on Friday that he will not strip Sean Sherk of the Lightweight title, a move that is now being criticized heavily by the MMA community. White claimed that because of the unprofessionalism of the CSAC and said that he was fed up with the handling of the Sean Sherk steroid case. Are his claims legitimate enough to just go ahead and refute any verdict that the CSAC comes to? I really don’t think so.
My first argument with this decision is the reason why Dana White is allowing Sherk to retain his title. White claims that he is fed up with the handling of the Sean Sherk case. The words “fed up” would imply that there is a long list of horrible discrepancies and a history of wrongful decisions in regards to the Sean Sherk case alone. While I would argue overwhelmingly that the organization as a whole has been more than convincing enough to warrant a heated argument about its horrible disorganization, poor appeal decisions, and overall inexperienced commissioners in fight sports, does Dana White have a legitimate argument to be “fed up” with the CSAC’s handling of Sherk’s case? No.
Sherk’s first appearance at the CSAC was in order to seek a continuance so that he could build a case to prove his innocence. I commend him for actually trying to show up with some scientific proof to backup his claims that the nandrolone positive was due to another factor besides Sherk “juicing”. The subsequent appearance was to lay the case out and hope for a verdict. Fact is, the administrative division of the CSAC seemed to be a bit lazy and never provided the commissioners with the information that Sherk’s attorney provided. Yes, this is unprofessional and a lack of organization within the CSAC most likely caused the mix up. It’s only the second appearance for Sherk. I’m sure he wanted to have this case completely settled, but it was more than likely not going to be in his favor. The way the CSAC has been reducing suspensions even when it looks as if the evidence is clearly discounting the CSAC’s labs (Baroni case), it seems that Sherk may have been disappointed in the decision had they went along with the case. In only 2 appearances, the CSAC made a huge mistake in lengthening this case. Does Dana White need to suddenly become “fed up” with the CSAC and announce that Sherk won’t lose his title irregardless of the outcome of the CSAC ruling on November 13th? Absolutely not. Waiting a bit over 2 more weeks for a clear verdict to the case doesn’t seem like a horribly long amount of time. This was a bad decision by Dana White and here’s why.
Bad decision for Dana White
What if Sean Sherk’s evidence isn’t enough to cause the CSAC to throw out the case? Will Dana simply ignore it and claim the CSAC is corrupt or incompetent? I believe so. He has already claimed that it is Sherk’s title and that an interim title fight between BJ Penn and Joe Stevenson will happen. If Sherk loses the appeal, we will have a scenario in which a proven steroid user now has the UFC’s lightweight belt. If Sherk wins his appeal, I doubt anyone will bat an eye about the decision White made. If you look historically at the decisions the CSAC has pushed out in the past, the commission does not usually throw out a case entirely. It seems that White is setting himself up for a conflict with the CSAC’s decision and his own decision to allow Sherk to keep the belt.
This sets up a war of words regarding the CSAC’s credibility as an organization that oversees administering drug testing and making decisions during the appeals process. To be honest, I’d love to see something come of this in which the CSAC has some type of restructuring. Dragging the lightweight belt into the mix seems to be a bad move if Sherk is still considered guilty by the commission. This also brings up a point about how White seems to stand by his friend in Sean Sherk. Will he do the same for other UFC fighters or just the fighters that he seems to be close to? A President of an MMA organization who stands by an individual fighter under contract, but will not do the same for other fighters in the same position?
Overall, I believe this causes more problems than it does solutions. Unless an investigation spawns from his quote, the CSAC will continue to operate with inconsistencies and those inconsistencies could put Sherk in a position in which his suspension will not be thrown out but reduced. With the reduction, the commission will simply be stating that he is guilty of not submitted a clean urine sample, therefore he did use steroids. It could cause the UFC’s lightweight belt to come under scrutiny as being held by a steroid user.
White made a poor decision in stating that Sherk would retain the belt irregardless of the CSAC decision. It not only sets up a possibility that Sherk could be found to have taken steroids and will still retain the belt, but it also sets up the fact that the belt’s image could be tarnished because it is being held by a man who was found to have taken steroids. You could discount that fact since the CSAC’s credibility has been in question for quite some time, but will casual fans know? Do casual fans really care?
I doubt it. Unless you avidly follow MMA, I doubt many fans even know about the case, and if they occassionally hit an MMA site online and know the story, they may simply brush it off as Sherk winning his appeal if they see him back in the cage with the title. That’s why I come to the conclusion that this simply won’t affect the belt’s stance immediately if Sherk is found to have taken steroids. The UFC won’t say anything in their broadcasts and only the hardcore fanbase will have knowledge about it. It’s a bad move, but the UFC marketing machine will do a great job at sweeping it under the rug.