Ultimate Fight Championship (UFC) is certainly the big dog in the world of mixed martial arts. The struggling Bellator promotion has been looking for the magic formula to win over MMA fans. Bellator attempted to create some buzz and excitement with bouts involving several popular and high-profile (but arguably over-the-hill) athletes for Bellator 149 in Houston in February 2015. Was the strategy successful?
Ken Sharmock (52-years old) and Royce Gracie (49-years old) headlined the main event with Kimbo Slice (42-years old) and Dada 5000 (38-years old) were the co-main event. With a combined age of 182 years, all four MMA fighters are far past their prime. But if you throw in a few bucket loads full of anabolic steroids, maybe it would still be interesting.
With UFC cracking down on steroid use with USADA testing and stricter penalties, Bellator seems to be the place to go for those athletes who like their roids. Shamrock and Slice (real name Kevin Ferguson) were happy to comply with steroid-enhanced performances.
Shamrock and Ferguson both failed the anti-doping tests miserably. And they both tested positive for the very same steroids – nandrolone (Deca Durabolin) and testosterone. (Shamrock also tested positive for methadone.) Shamrock’s T:E ratio was 12.4:1 and Ferguson’s was 6.4:1. The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) set the limit as 4:1 as part of its anti-doping rules.
It wouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that the use of anabolic steroids is rampant in MMA much like any other elite sports competition. However, most athletes takes numerous cautions to avoid detection. It appears that neither Shamrock or Ferguson took any precautions whatsoever. There is not a single drug-tested athlete who would knowingly use Deca Durabolin (nandrolone decanoate).
Nandrolone metabolites are known to remain detectable in the human body for 8 months and longer. This has been common knowledge in the sports world for over 25 years. Any athlete who intentionally uses Deca either does not expect to be tested or doesn’t care if he fails the drug test.
The steroids didn’t appear to help either fighter much. Shamrock, once named the “world’s most dangerous man” in MMA, lost to Gracie in a hugely disappointing bout that saw Gracie win only after an (unnoticed) illegal knee to the groin that led to a TKO in the 10th round.
“If you look at the knee to the head, it wasn’t a knee to the head,” Shamrock said. “It barely touched. I mean, come on. Then when I hit the ground, I’m still grabbing my crotch because my junk was pinned between my skin and my cup. So I’m yelling at the ref, ‘he kneed me in the groin!’ There’s no way I’m going to fight from that point. I just can’t, because my boys are not where they’re supposed to be.
“So I’m screaming at the ref as he’s pounding me in the head, I’m yelling at the ref, ‘he kneed me in the groin!’ I’m trying to get him to give me a moment. Never got it.”
The Slice vs. Dada 5000 (real name Dhafir Harris) fight was even worse with two out-of-shape fighters, former street-fighting legends or not, struggling for three grueling rounds. Slice only won after Harris collapsed. The collapse appeared to be from little more than pure exhaustion (while recorded as a TKO) but it was later reported to be from cardiac arrest.
Harris’ heart allegedly stopped beating as he was rushed to the hospital. Reports claimed that he was resuscitated by paramedics in the ambulance en route to the hospital. Harris’ family released a statement blaming dehydration and kidney failure secondary to his massive 40-pound weight loss in the weeks leading up to the bout.
“The doctors have now informed us that Dada had accumulated extremely high levels of potassium in his blood which led to severe dehydration, fatigue and renal failure,” read the statement. “The high potassium levels were likely caused by his 40lbs weight loss in preparation for the fight.”
Harris weighed over 300 pounds before the 40-pound weight drop to his 265-pound pre-fight weigh-in. After spending over a week in the hospital, Harris has since been released and is recovering.
While every indicator points to controversy and disaster for Bellator, the event was an unmitigated ratings success that blew away all previous records for the promotion. Bellator 149 drew an average of 1.96 million viewers over three hours for the SPIKE television network. This exceeded the previous all-time record of 1.58 million viewers by 24 percent. Viewers during the Shamrock-Gracie bout peaked at 2.4 million while viewership peaked at 2.5 million for the Slice-Dada fight.
Steroids. A kick in the balls. Heart attacks. Kidney failure. Out-of-shape and less-than-elite fighters. It’s all good for ratings success. Is the strategy Bellator’s answer to the hugely-successful UFC?