2007 will be a year to remember for the wrong reasons


When historians recount pivotal years in mixed martial arts' shift from a pariah sport to one worthy of mainstream attention alongside the NFL and NASCAR, they'll point to 2007 as a completely wild 12 months.

Heading into this Thanksgiving weekend, there's no denying MMA has outgrown the kiddy table. At a time when we carve hormonally-enhanced birds and gorge ourselves until a chemically induced coma takes hold, there's no better moment to look back on the wackiness of 2007 and try to separate random foolishness from sheer madness.

In handing out Sherdog.com's annual Turkey Awards, the focus is clearly on the fighters, many of whom were also chemically altered, and the policymakers whose job it is to enforce drug testing in the sport. We'll toss in a couple of organic Turkeys as well, just for the fun of it.

Nick Diaz et al

If you thought Ricky Williams had a chronic problem, you should meet Nick Diaz. More importantly, you should ask yourself what's the longest stretch this year that news of a fighter testing positive for pot -- never mind steroids -- didn't make headlines.

With widespread regulation of MMA came widespread drug testing. In California alone, 33 mixed martial artists tested positive for drugs in a six-month period. Those kinds of numbers in the NFL or MLB would cause a firestorm.

Diaz lost the biggest win of his career when he tested positive for such a high concentration of marijuana that Nevada State Athletic Commission officials speculated the Stockton, Calif., fighter sparked up just prior to his fight against Takanori Gomi.

NSAC commissioners made Diaz the first victim of regulations that allowed them to overturn a win of a fighter that tested positive for drugs. Donald Cerrone joined Diaz when a diuretic was found in his system stemming from a September bout in Las Vegas.

Back in the Golden State, two mixed martial artists hit the superfecta when they returned positive anabolic-agent and drugs-of-abuse tests.

Adam Smith not only had marijuana in his system the night he fought Dewey Cooper at the Playboy Mansion, it turns out he had cocaine present as well. Several days after California announced it suspended Smith nine months and fined him $1,500, the results of his test for performance enhancers revealed the presence of nandrolone and stanozolol metabolites, which prompted a significant increase in his suspension.

Like Smith, Jason Winther turned out to be a walking Tijuana pharmacy. He earned a suspension of 21 months and a fine of $4,000 after methadone, morphine, stanozolol and trenbolone were found in his urine.

You'll be happy to know that women mixed martial artists use drugs too. On Nov. 8, the CSAC suspended Jennifer Tate three months and fined her $500 for a positive test for marijuana.

The bottom line: Old habits die hard. What was once MMA's dirty little secret has now been exposed to the world. Professional athletics require a modicum of professionalism, a concept far too many fighters have failed to grasp.

To all the drug users in MMA, one hormonally enhanced superbird for you.

CSAC Commissioner Julio Ramirez

What good is a comprehensive drug enforcement policy if fines and suspensions are overturned on a whim?

That question should be posed to Julio Ramirez, a California State Athletic Commissioner who single-handedly spearheaded the reduction of time served for boxer James Toney and mixed martial artist Phil Baroni.

Baroni at least attempted a defense against California's claims that he was positive for two types of steroids. His sentence was reduced by six months. Ramirez recommended halving Toney's one-year penalty after sitting idly and watching one of his fellow commissioners, Dr. Christopher Giza, get verbally assaulted by the former boxing champion. The reason? Toney, who had previously tested positive for steroids, was an upstanding individual.

Beyond reducing suspensions of an alleged cheater, Ramirez simply cut the legs out from under what was thought to be the most comprehensive and well-meaning anti-doping policy of any state regulatory agency in America.

On the day that Ramirez lobbied to reduce Toney's suspension, he voted to uphold a yearlong term CSAC Executive Officer Armando Garcia placed on mixed martial artist Hermes Franca, who also tested positive for steroids.

The lesson here? If you're contrite, like Franca was in admitting guilt, you get a full term. If you call a commissioner an explicative, your sentence gets reduced.

Ramirez has one more major hearing in front of him when UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk steps before the commission on Dec. 4.

For his effort in 2007, Mr. Ramirez receives one whole deep-fried Turkey. You know what? I take it back. He seems like a good guy; too many calories in a whole fried bird. Half it is.

Frank Shamrock

Now onto the ridiculous. Frank Shamrock knows how to drive people mad.

After a lackluster opening round in the main event of Showtime's first televised MMA card, Shamrock illegally kneed Renzo Gracie to the head, prompting his disqualification. While it's difficult to fault the actions of a fighter in the heat of battle, it was the calculating Shamrock's reaction that incited MMA fans into a frenzy.

Post-fight, Shamrock claimed Gracie, a man who once failed to let out a whimper despite having his arm snapped in two, had looked for a way out -- this despite the Brazilian dominating in the clinch and getting takedowns as he pleased.

Shamrock redeemed himself with a tremendous performance against Phil Baroni later in the year, but his histrionics that February night definitely earned him two helpings of turkey. He'll need the energy for the rematch with Renzo.

DJ Hapa

Of the misfortunate things that Fight Entertainment Group brought to Los Angeles on June 2 for its "Dynamite!! USA" card, the ramblings of an incoherent disc jockey top the list.

On a night that included the infamous MMA debut of Johnny Morton, who was not only knocked out in less than a minute but also tested positive for steroids, and a fight that propelled Royce Gracie to an "off the charts" steroid test, that's saying a lot.

Hapa, a local L.A. spinner, actually implored the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum crowd to boo fighters, whose names he mispronounced. As far as bad "entertainment" ideas go for a fight card, the installation of DJ Hapa might top the list.

Deli-dry turkey for Hapa. No bread. No water.

Josh Gross is the editor of Sherdog.com.