Healy’s dreams go up in smoke

Thursday, May 16, 2013

UG Columnist Ralph Welch weighs in on the week’s biggest news, Pat Healy testing positive for marijuana metabolites and consequently forfeiting $130,000 in bonuses:

It was destiny that the cursed UFC 159 card would have one final victim. A few weeks ago we looked on, awestruck, as the pay-per-view headlined by Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen descended into chaos.

Whilst toes, thumbs and optics were assailed in a night of bizarre injuries, two men who emerged from the rubble with their reputations – and their extremities – intact were veteran lightweights Pat Healy and Jim Miller. The two warhorses deservedly walked away with a Fight of the Night bonus in their back pockets after a grindhouse battle that enthralled onlookers.

For the teak-tough Healy (29-16), his victory was a defining moment and long-awaited redemption for a missed opportunity. After all, the Portland native had failed his screen test with the world’s premier fight league back in 2006 when he lost to Anthony Torres in unimpressive fashion at UFC Fight Night 6.

Beating Miller (22-4), a top ten opponent with a fighting heart to match his reputation, was a statement to the rest of the division. It seemed that big fights and big paydays lay ahead. At the age of 29 and after 12 bruising years as a prizefighter, Healy was about to enter the most profitable period of his career.

Perhaps it was inevitable that after the tragi-comic events elsewhere on the New Jersey card there would be one more twist in this fistic fairytale.

It was announced yesterday that Healy had tested positive for marijuana use in the post-fight drug test administered by the New Jersey Athletic Control Board. His win will be scrubbed from the records, a suspension will follow and he’ll lose his life-changing $130k paycheck in bonus money.

It’s hardly a trade secret that marijuana use, whether for recreational or medicinal purposes, is widespread in the MMA community. Given the spate of suspensions in recent times (Nick Diaz, Matt Riddle and Alex Caceres amongst others) it’s safe to assume that Healy won’t be the last fighter on the roster to fall foul of the tester’s cup.

Yet the treatment of marijuana as a performance-enhancing drug, where it is bundled in untidily with steroids, synthetic testosterone and other stimulants by the authorities, continues to enrage the sport’s following. The reaction on social media to Healy’s plight has been one of disappointment, in part that Healy made such a foolish error, but mainly that in 2013 we’re still treating marijuana so rigidly.

Back in March UFC exec Marc Ratner, a former executive director at the influential Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC,) tabled this as an item for discussion with his former employers and there is a cautious optimism that alternative regulation for marijuana is possible.

One of the defining characteristics of mixed martial arts is its endless quest for evolution. In a lifespan of less than twenty years, we have seen the athletes constantly refine their craft and push themselves through unchartered mental and physical boundaries. This dynamism has attracted a whole new marketplace to what was once considered little more than organised savagery.

If the sport is to continue its rapid ascent then the evolution of the competitors needs to be matched by the commissions.

That kind of legal manoeuvring will take time and, sadly, it will be too late for Healy. To his credit, he’s handled this setback with an admirable degree of accountability, issuing a public apology as soon as the news broke. For now, no matter how out-dated we all perceive the legislation to be, the law is still the law. And Pat Healy broke it.