Mixed martial arts is one of the fastest growing sports in history, and while there have been many MMA promotions, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has led the charge.
From its humble beginnings in the early 1990s, “The Company,” as it is known, has gone from a grotesque circus sideshow to a behemoth that has already surpassed boxing as the most popular combat sport in the world.
In addition to its mainstream popularity, the UFC has also garnered fame as being home to some of the most devoted cannabis advocates in all sports. There are the always entertaining Diaz brothers who appear to be high in just about every media interview, (allegedly). There is the outspoken UFC color commentator and comedian Joe Rogan, who prepares for his “Joe Rogan Experience” podcasts by smoking joints with his guests, (allegedly). And there are the many fighters who not only smoke “the herb,” but endorse it as a legitimate medicinal aid.
Marijuana use in the UFC is so prevalent that it may not be a stretch to say that the profits from marijuana sales to UFC fighters are enough to equal the gross national product of a small country. This should not come as a surprise however as the use of marijuana in general has grown exponentially over the past twenty or so years.
According to the Pew Research Center, “Nearly half (49%) of Americans say they have tried marijuana, and 12% in the past year, which the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health says is the most commonly used illicit drug in the U.S. The government survey showed that 18.9 million Americans 12 or older (7.3%) had used marijuana in the prior month.”
With that said, here are 15 facts about the UFC and its favorite herb
15. “The Company’s” Policy On The Green Stuff
In July of 2015, the UFC announced that it would be working directly with the United States Anti Doping Association, otherwise known as USADA, to eliminate the use of performance enhancing drugs. They also outlined increased testing which, much to a fighter’s disdain, can be done day or night regardless of where he or she may be at the time.
“The Company” also unveiled a list of new sanctions for a failed test. In regards to marijuana specifically, fighters would be penalized for in-competition usage in the following ways:
1st offense: 1 year suspension (with possibility of 2 additional years for “aggravating circumstances”)
2nd offense: Double the sanction for the 1st offense
3rd offense: Double the sanction for the 2nd offense
Additionally, a positive test “during or leading up to a bout will result in disqualification of result of the bout, and forfeiture of title, ranking, and purse or other compensation.”
However, in more recent news, the UFC and USADA softened their stance stating that they would only penalize/sanction a fighter if he or she smoked marijuana the day of the fight and not for use of the herb in the days and weeks prior.
14. Dana White Is Ok With It
The UFC’s controversial president has proven time and time again that he can speak his mind without fear of reprisal. While White has stated that he does not care to partake in “the weed,” apparently he could not care less if his fighters do.
In response to questions about the random testing of fighters for performance enhancing drugs, Dana believes that more guys would be caught for marijuana than for PEDs, stating that of the 475 fighters under contract with the promotion, as many as 400 of them would be sidelined with suspensions for pot use.
While White has made it abundantly clear that he does not want performance enhancing drugs in his promotion, his nonchalant responses on the subject of marijuana use by fighters may indicate that he, along with most observers of the sport, do not believe that cannabis provides an unfair advantage in the octagon.
13. Joe Rogan Was Suspended For It
UFC color commentator and Jiu Jitsu black belt Joe Rogan is a daily user and a staunch advocate of the green leaf. Rogan regularly gets high during his internet podcast, and consistently preaches the benefits of cannabis to just about anyone who will listen.
However, not everyone shares Mr. Rogan’s stance. Not too long ago, Rogan, (being an employee of “The Company”) was subjected to drug testing and was actually suspended from his UFC fight calling duties when his results came back dirty for pot. However, once President Dana White, (a long time friend of Joe), learned of Rogan’s penalty, UFC’s head honcho quickly reinstated the commentator.
12. Open About Their Use: Nick Diaz
Nick Diaz has never been one to mince words, so it comes as no surprise that, even on the heels of getting an 18 month suspension for numerous failed drug tests, the UFC bad boy stated, “If I’m at home and I’m training – doing my same things every day – then I’m definitely going to want to use cannabis.”
Diaz continued, “If I’m going to train all day, when I get done, I’m gonna want to smoke. If I have to go and train all day, before I go, I’m gonna want to smoke. If I wake up in the morning and feel beat to shit, and it’s going to take me forever to wake up, I smoke some weed and I wake right up. Then I have breakfast and I go do a workout.”
11. Open About Their Use: Nate Diaz
Younger brother and Connor McGregor nemesis, Nate Diaz, shares his older sibling’s sentiments on the herb. In regards to other fighters who may be using steroids illegally for a competitive advantage, Nate comments, “You do your steroids and I’ll smoke my medical marijuana and then we can get our fight on.”
Shortly after his loss to McGregor at UFC 202, Diaz was observed smoking a “vape pipe.” While such an action would not necessarily draw too much attention, this particular vape pipe was emanating an odor that smelled eerily like marijuana. When questioned by reporters, Diaz stated that the pipe only contained Cannabidiol oil, a cousin to marijuana that does not have the psychoactive ingredient that the herb is most famous for, THC.
10. Jon Jones’s Stance Against The Herb
Jon Jones is a man who many in the know consider to be the greatest light heavyweight in the history of the sport. He is also a man known for his problems outside of the octagon, including his positive tests for drugs, (most notably cocaine).
The champ has come out and expressed his belief that marijuana use can be as serious an issue as the bigger drugs. In regards to weed, Jones states, “One thing people don’t realize is that you can be a drug addict even if you are a stoner. If you are waking up every day and smoking, smoking before you eat, smoking before you train, smoke before you sleep, smoking before you watch a movie, smoking before your study session, you are an addict. It doesn’t have to be a hard drug to be an addict.”
9. THC’s Effect On The Human Body
The main ingredient in marijuana that provides that “high feeling” is tetrahydracannabinol, or “THC.” According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, “The short-term effects of marijuana include problems with memory and learning, distorted perception, difficulty in thinking and problem-solving, and loss of coordination.”
However, marijuana has also been linked to long-term and even permanent impairment in cognitive processing abilities when use begins at a younger age. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “several studies, including two large longitudinal studies, suggest that marijuana use can cause functional impairment in cognitive abilities, but that the degree and/or duration of the impairment depends on the age when an individual began using, how much they used, and how long they used.”
8. The Benefits For UFC Fighters
While marijuana may be helpful in easing the pain of glaucoma and increasing the appetites of AIDS patients, UFC fighters like to use it for its stress relieving properties.
According to BioMed Central, “Cannabis may reduce an athlete’s feelings of pre-competition stress and anxiety as a result of the euphoric effect it may produce. Also, because cannabis diminishes alertness and has relaxing and sedative properties, use may be driven by the effects of relaxation, well-being and improved sleep quality.”
Other extreme athletes also praise the calming “effects of the weed.” According to Clifford Drusinsky, and elite triathlete based in Colorado, “Marijuana relaxes me and allows me to go into a controlled, meditational place. When I get high, I train smarter and focus on form.”
7. The Drawbacks For UFC Fighters
While marijuana provides relief from stress and anxiety, (such relief would be very helpful during fight preparation), these same benefits can also work against a fighter while he or she is in the cage.
The green stuff is classified as an “ergolytic agent” which “impairs athletic performance rather than enhances it. This impairment can be the result of physiological or psychological factors. Some common ergolytic agents are alcohol, tobacco (including smokeless), and marijuana.”
Specifically speaking, THC, the ingredient in marijuana that provides that sensation of feeling high, has been shown to cause “significant deficits in general performance, standing steadiness, reaction time and psychomotor.” With the research demonstrating such impairments on performance, an MMA fighter would be worse off smoking marijuana right before a fight.
6. Medicinal Properties: Jon Fitch
While many a UFC fighter may enjoy the occasional toke on the old bong for the relaxation and sheer pleasure it provides, others in the company have gone a step further and taken up advocacy of the herb for its medicinal properties.
To deal with the daily aches and pains of his chosen profession, UFC combatant Jon Fitch chose the medical marijuana route in lieu of prescription painkillers. In Fitch’s mind, the painkillers represent addiction/dependence and the possibility of overdose, whereas medical marijuana represents a safer way to ease the strain of the physical injuries he regularly encounters in the octagon.
When we compare marijuana (illegal) to prescription painkillers (legal), the three key words – addiction, dependency and overdose – really help in Fitch’s argument for the herb. While some may argue that marijuana dependency and addiction exist, the addiction/dependency of prescription painkillers are a much harder habit to kick, and there has never been a reported overdose from marijuana use.
5. Medicinal Properties: Matt Riddle
Riddle has a medical marijuana license from the state of Nevada and is a big advocate for the legalization of weed. Like Fitch, Riddle does not use marijuana as a way to simply get stoned with his buddies on a Saturday night; he chooses the green stuff for its ability to help him medically.
In this regard, Matt states that “he has been considered a candidate for the treatment since he was about 12 years old.” “Deep Waters” Riddle explained that he made the move to Nevada because of its more “liberal” laws regarding the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Riddle continued, “People, maybe they did it in college one way, but for a guy like me, for a professional athlete that goes through what we go through, it’s medicine for me. Maybe for some little stoner sitting on the couch playing Xbox, for him, it’s a drug. For me, it’s medicine.”
4. Are UFC Fighters Hypocrites?
These elite fighters spend years making sure that their bodies are in the best shape possible in order to compete at the highest levels of combat. Two of the company’s most outspoken cannabis devotees, Nate and Nick Diaz, boast of incredibly strict vegan diets.
“The food system, people don’t realize what they’re eating,” Diaz said. “You look at food and think, ‘What’s in that?’ ‘It’s just chocolate!’ ‘It’s just Gatorade!’ But on the list of ingredients, there’s a long list of garbage they put in your food. Not all that crap for me.”
3. Fighters Who Have Lost Big Because Of It: Dave Herman
Dave Herman, a veteran MMA fighter with a record of 22 wins against only six loses, has had some bad luck with marijuana drug testing; so much so that his failed tests have cost him big in his quest to become a title holder for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
On October 13th, 2012, the celebrated UFC combatant took on Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 153. After the fight, Herman was suspended for six months for a failed drug test that indicated levels of marijuana in his system. He was also required to attend a drug rehabilitation program as part of a deal.
The only thing that saved him from further punishment was the fact that he actually lost the fight. If he had won, he would have been stripped of the win, along with any type of potential win bonus. He would have even been forced to fork over a chuck of his win purse.
2. Fighters Who Have Lost Big Because Of It: Pat Healy
Healy, a durable lightweight with an impressive 55 fights under his belt, was hit hard, (no pun intended) on the night of April 27th, 2013 when he took on another MMA veteran, Jim Miller at the Ultimate Fighting Championship #159.
Healy and Miller fought a contentious match until Healy was able to submit Miller in the third round. However, “Bam Bam” had his remarkable UFC 159 win overturned, was forced to forfeit his $130,000 bonus from the event, and was suspended for ninety days because he tested positive for marijuana.
In regards to marijuana, Healy later stated that it is “a substance the New Jersey Athletic Control Board (as well as every other athletic commission in the US) believes is a performance enhancing drug. That’s your joke right there. There’s no need to follow up with anything witty. Reality is far more bizarre than any fiction I could come up with.”
1. Fighters Who Have Lost Big Because Of It: Nick Diaz
In addition to his fight record and extreme dedication to his craft, Nick Diaz may be the poster boy for both pot smoking and rebelliousness in the UFC; regularly expressing his contempt for the governing bodies of the mixed martial arts world through his defiance.
Diaz rarely complies with the required drug testing protocols and has a history of failed drug tests, making him numero uno on the athletic commission’s hit list; so when the man from “209” was popped for marijuana, the Gods of the NSAC came down hard.
According to Fox Sports, “The Nevada State Athletic Commission on Monday handed down a five-year ban to UFC welterweight Nick Diaz after he allegedly tested positive for marijuana following his fight against Anderson Silva at UFC 183 in January. Diaz was also fined 33 percent of his total purse worth $500,000, which comes to $165,000. Diaz also faces additional financial penalties to reimburse the cost of his suit incurred by the state.”
Such a suspension would have essentially ended the 33-year-old fighter’s career. However, his penalty was eventually dropped to 18 months and his fine reduced meaning he will be back in the octagon sooner than later.