Another week, another UFC fighter busted for using performance enhancing drugs. We’ve seen a ton of it lately — Robert Drysdale, Mike King, Wanderlei Silva (who admitted to using a masking agent), Chael Sonnen — the list goes on and on.
Feel free to add one more name: Brian Ortega.
Fighting out of Black House MMA and training under Rorion Gracie, the undefeated Ortega entered the UFC earlier this year at UFC on FOX 12, making his debut against Mike De La Torre. It was (originally) a submission win, and the ninth win of his career for American with a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
Then something happened that has taken place far too often in recent memory: Ortega tested positive for a performance enhancing substance, in this case, drostanolone — an anabolic steroid that MMA fighters have been caught on in the past. Whether this was a first-time use for Ortega or whether he had been using the substance throughout his career, we don’t know. It was his first appearance for a major fight promotion, and testing on regional cards is spotty at best.
The California State Athletic Commission suspended Ortega nine months and fined him $2,500, while the UFC announced in a press release that the fighter will need to pass a drug test (standard procedure) at the end of his suspension prior to being allowed to fight again.
So why does a nine-month suspension to a relative unknown matter when the sport has been plagued with positive drug tests for years? It’s something that led to the retirement of star welterweight Georges St. Pierre and veteran fighter Mark Bocek recently, as they no longer wished to compete against fighters with an unnatural advantage.
It’s the fact that Ortega flat-out admitted it. There was no denial and no blaming an over-the-counter supplement. There was no talk of “my doctor gave me this prescription and I didn’t know what was in it.” Nothing of the sort. Instead, Ortega released the following statement on Instagram:
“In preparation for my UFC debut, I used a banned substance called drostanolone. It was an irresponsible decision that I will regret for the rest of my life. I apologize to my family, friends, fans the UFC and everyone else who was affected by my selfish actions. It should be known that my coaches were totally unaware of my decisions, and I am ashamed that I let down the people who believed in me more than I believed in myself.
Going forward, I’d rather lose a fair fight to any opponent, than defeat myself the way I have done.”
Short, simple and to the point, it’s a statement that says a lot. One, fighters at this point are taking substances when they don’t believe in themselves, and a big part of the issue is going to be getting to the bottom of why. Is it insecurity? Pressure to preform on the big stage? Job security? Is it fear that other fighters are on something, which then leads to a PED “arms race” where fighters are just trying to get every advantage they can?
Then there’s the fact that, according to Ortega, his coaches didn’t know. Which then begs the question, where did he get the drugs?
There’s a lot we can take away from the fact that Ortega is one of the first fighters to actually come clean. In reality, the rank and file of the UFC (and other top promotions) have to know that more and more of them are going to get caught as testing gets tighter and out-of-competition testing means “cycling” off performance enhancing drugs becomes harder.
Could this admission be the start of fighters becoming more self-aware and the end of the blame game when it comes to positive tests? There will no doubt be more, but at least it’s a start.