Royce Gracie is part of the PED problem in MMA

The number of positive drug tests in mixed martial arts is a cause for concern, but the legendary Royce Gracie looks on it, well, positively.

“It shows that the system is working,” said Gracie to Marc Raimondi for “You're trying to look at the bad side, I'm looking at the good side. Instead of trying to encourage people, 'Oh, let's ban MMA because everybody is doing drugs, let's ban NASCAR because they're advertising drinking and driving.' Let's look at the good side. The system is working. Let's not try to put down the fighters because one fighter made a mistake, decided to party and do whatever.”

“How many people got caught [recently]? Five? Five of how many we have in the sport all over the world? I don't think it's a problem.”

Gracie expressed optimism over the problem generally, and for individuals who were caught specifically.

He said the public should not “crucify” former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, and said the tests do not tarnish his legacy.

“You can't change the past, what he did,” said Gracie. “I haven't talked to him, so I don't know. Not going to jump the gun.”

UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who was mistakenly tested out of competition for recreational drugs by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, drew limited criticism from Gracie.

“He forgets sometimes that he's an example for the young kids,” said Gracie. “He's young, he's human. He's gonna go out and party, be influenced. He made a mistake.”

Gracie was also beyond forgiving of himself for testing positive for nandrolone, in his last fight. In fact, he continues to deny it.

“For 20 years since the UFC I was 178 [pounds],” Gracie said. “Today, I'm 178. I could live on fruits.”

In fact, according to ESPN, Royce weighed 175 when he lost to Matt Hughes on 27 May 2006, and when he beat Sakuraba on 2 June 2007, he weighed 188. Professional athletes don't suddenly put on 13 pounds of muscle at age 40, unless they cheat.

And so it is that Gracie sees that things are okay.

“I feel like the system works,” he said. “It's good. Let's not think of the bad side, let's think it's the good side. It works.

“The system works. That's why they're getting caught.”

In fact, Royce is not part of the solution for MMA's drug problem, he is part of the problem.

Penalties are such that it makes economic sense to use PEDs – at present, the juice is worth the squeeze.

Getting caught is rare, and a first time offense generally earns a nine month suspension. Most fighters only fight twice a year on average, so it is functionally a 90 day suspension. Royce only fought once a year, so it was no big deal to him when he was suspended for a year, and he said so dismissively at the time. Gracie was fined $2,500 of his $300,000 purse. And now he serves as a Bellator brand ambassador and is a UFC Hall of Fame member, as if nothing ever happened at all, which is in fact the fiction that he maintains.

If the sport is going to beat the PED problem, the penalties have got to be harsh enough so that it makes sense not to use them. That only makes sense.

Last year the World Anti Doping Agency upped the penalty for a first-time PED test failure from two years to four. The second failure is a lifetime ban.

Because mixed martial arts is a hurting a game, failing a PED test should have harsher penalties than other sports, not gentler ones. You play sports; you don't play MMA – it is a real fight, and you can real hurt your opponent, like it is your job.

At an absolute minimum, failing a PED test in mixed martial arts should result in at least a two-year suspension, and a fine of at least 50% of purse. Make the fine 100% of purse and a four-year suspension, and the sport would be clean for all but the outliers within weeks.

And people who fail tests have to own up to their failings, and apologize to their opponent, and apologize to the fans, and explain themselves, and in so doing, become a part of the solution, not the problem.

Royce Gracie is one of the founding figures of mixed martial arts. A fighter of immense bravery and skill, he is in all likelihood the most important martial artist in the last 50 years. He could do so much to help this problem. Or he could do nothing. The latter is beneath him.