Punishments start fitting the crimes in MMA

Hairy Potter: Dave Herman is paying the price for a failed drug test. Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Marijuana isn’t a performance-enhancing drug, you say? Try running that nonsense by any guitarist in a jam band. All that noodling is backlit by something, brother.

In MMA, though, marijuana doesn’t enhance fight night performance. In fact, it probably does nothin' to nobody -- unless you’re Nick Diaz, in which case it just helps usher in clearer, mellower vibes. In his case, it’s “medicinal.”

Nevertheless, it’s still illegal to the commissioning bodies in MMA, even if it’s just residue in your system from weeks ago.

We saw Diaz get suspended for testing positive for marijuana metabolites after his loss to Carlos Condit at UFC 137. His sentence was to sit out of the fight game between Super Bowls. This struck most people as harsh even though he was a second-time offender, given that Diaz holds a medical marijuana card in his home state of California. And because, you know … pot smokers aren’t realistically trying to gain an advantage.

We saw Matt Riddle get popped recently, too, in Calgary, Alberta. Even more recently, it was Dave Herman (yet again). Herman looked dazed and confused in his loss to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 153 in Rio, although there was something about the colors in Big Nog’s aura that night that seemed to bewitch him.

From that same fight card, Stephan Bonnar tested positive for an anabolic steroid. You know this by now because Bonnar has been roasting on a spit in the media ever since. Just as with Herman and Diaz, this was his second offense. Drostanolone is a performance-enhancing drug. And this time, maybe because Bonnar and Herman failed drug tests on the same card and their cases are evaluated at the same time, we seem to be doing the smart thing.

That is, we’re actively distinguishing the difference between the substances.

In a nutshell: One is taken deliberately to cheat; the other to deliberately enhance an afternoon. In a sport in which both have been punished equally, the latter behavior automatically becomes the dumber. If all things are equal, you should cheat to win, not giggle.

Because Brazil doesn’t have an athletic commission to dole out the punishment, the UFC was left to do the dirty work. The UFC means Marc Ratner, the promotion’s VP of regulatory affairs, who once headed the Nevada State Athletic Commission. He suspended newly retired Bonnar for a year, which means -- aside from some twilight embarrassment -- there are no real consequences.

The suspension was perfunctory.

Herman’s suspension, though, was tellingly less. According to Ratner, who spoke to MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani, Herman’s suspension will be “months” rather than the year Bonnar (and Diaz) received.

“We feel very strongly that there’s a big difference between PEDs and marijuana,” Ratner said. “We think the commissions do a good job with PEDs, but we think with marijuana there should be some form of rehab involved, going through that kind of process and learning about it. Other sports have a difference between PEDs and recreational drugs.”

All of this is refreshing. Why? Because it’s common sense prevailing in the face of the homogenized idea of “what’s illegal is illegal.” Illegal isn’t a great equalizer. One substance isn’t the same as the other. PEDs are dangerous to the sport. They’re dangerous to the opponent. They’re rampant, too, because right now there are so many loopholes and opportunities to use and never get caught. In a sport in which the intent is to do harm without the use of euphemisms, such enhancements can turn tragic.

With marijuana, other than potential long-term effects to the lungs and brain, the short-term danger belongs to whatever cereal can be found.

Not to trivialize things -- obviously marijuana can impair motor skills, vision and problem-solving ability if smoked on fight night (which Herman probably didn’t do) -- but they are different. And Ratner made the distinction in how he punished Bonnar and Herman. Bonnar was cheating, and it wasn’t his first time. It’s easy to say good riddance in his case. As for Herman, he got stoned too close to fight night and got pinched because of it.

In his case, it’s more like, Dude, seriously? And if Ratner set a precedent, it was a timely one -- there’s a difference between cheats and boneheads.