The preparation for the UFC on Fox 5 bout between welterweights B.J. Penn and Rory MacDonald has been unlike any other in the history of the UFC. That is because the competitors have agreed to subject themselves to blood and urine testing administered by the independent Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA).
The testing was agreed to the challenge was laid down by Penn, who has long been a vocal critic of fighters who use (or are alleged to use) performance-enhancing drugs. Thus, it is little surprise that Penn finds peeing in a cup and giving his blood to the VADA representatives an enjoyable experience. On the latest UFC Tonight, Ariel Helwani pointed out how much Penn loves being tested, and that he is happy to have the chance to prove that he is not taking steroids or other performance enhancers.
I love B.J. (that sounded kind of dirty), but it’s not hard to see why he is so happy with the additional testing, and it has nothing to do with proving to the world that he is a clean fighter. No offense, but I don’t think anyone has looked at B.J. Penn and wondered about whether his physique is natural. Especially when he is a somewhat-doughy welterweight.
Instead, Penn is happy because he sees this as a way to ensure a level playing field. That’s not to say Rory MacDonald has a long and profound history of steroid abuse, as far as I am aware he’s never even failed a test. But the fact of the matter remains that B.J. Penn would have a pronounced strength disadvantage against the Rory MacDonald we have seen in the octagon up until now, as would virtually every other welterweight short of perhaps champion Georges St. Pierre.Penn is just trying to ensure that the strength advantage MacDonald will hold over him will be natural.
More importantly, Penn is also to get into the head of a young fighter who will be fighting in the biggest fight of his career. On one hand, MacDonald’s training will be impacted, as he will have to take time to succumb to the additional blood and urine tests. Which could take him away from his training for considerable amounts of time if he is not properly hydrated. In fact, if you listen to Rory, it may already be working in this regard:
“It’s pretty annoying . . . I don’t like getting woken up in the morning. It threw my routine off. I didn’t expect it. I forget about it, to tell you the truth. It was a bit annoying that day, but if it only happens a few times, a couple times, I can deal with it.”
On the other hand, every interview MacDonald has to give between now and fight night will almost certainly be about drug testing and not about the fight itself. This should only continue to annoy and frustrate him, and may cause him to take his mind away from the more important aspects of training.
But will the distractions be enough for MacDonald to abandon the clear path to winning (taking Penn down and smothering him ala GSP)? I tend to think it’s going to take a lot more for Penn than a strategy based on urinating in cups.