Recently UFC stars have been puncturing large holes in the belief that a long, draining fight camp is needed to have a reasonable chance at winning a fight. In March Nate Diaz beat Conor McGregor on just 11 days' notice and claimed he was offered the fight while he was on the beach in Mexico, getting drunk and other things. Then last weekend it was Michael Bisping shocking the world by knocking out Luke Rockhold to claim the UFC middleweight belt on just two weeks' notice. The possible advantages of a shortened fight camp are numerous—less exhaustion, less frustration, less obsession—and could arguably offset the disadvantages—less preparation, less malice, less obsession—and the outcomes of those two recent marquee fights could point the way toward a new, less life-consuming approach to fight preparation. Or maybe long, draining fight camps are absolutely necessary and Diaz and Bisping were just lucky or better than their opponents or blessed with a destiny that no amount of preparation (years or days) could have offset or diminished.
Turns out there are other, less nebulous, advantages to taking a fight on short notice as well, particularly if you're not actually in the UFC when you take it. Following the earth-shattering announcement a week-and-a-half ago that former heavyweight champion and reigning pound-for-pound pay-per-view king Brock Lesnar would be returning to the UFC after retiring in 2011 to return to his life as a professional wrestler, news broke that the fighter has received an exemption from the UFC allowing him to fight at UFC 200 in July despite the fact that he will only have made himself available for testing by the USADA, the UFC's anti-doping governing body, for one month before the fight. According to paragraph 5.7.1 of the UFC's official anti-doping policy a fighter who has retired from the UFC or has ceased to have a contractual relationship with the organization cannot resume competing for the UFC "until he/she ... has made him/herself available for Testing for a period of four months before returning to competition."
Since Lesnar's return to the UFC wasn't announced until last week and since the fight he's fighting is scheduled for July 9, obviously four months of availability wasn't an option, so the UFC availed themselves of a caveat in the anti-policy that says they "may grant an exemption to the four-month written notice rule in exceptional circumstances or where the strict application of that rule would be manifestly unfair to an Athlete."
Two days ago the UFC released a statement explaining their decision: "Given Lesnar last competed in UFC on December 30, 2011, long before the UFC Anti-Doping Policy went into effect, for purposes of the Anti-Doping Policy, he is being treated similarly to a new athlete coming into the organization."
While the fact that Lesnar is voluntarily choosing to return to the UFC after voluntarily choosing to leave it and that he is returning to an organization that is now under the watchful eye of a new anti-doping regime (one designed specifically to compel fairness among fighters and inspire regulatory confidence in fans) may not sound "manifestly unfair" to Lesnar, there are obviously greater things at stake here than simple parity or even the reputation of the UFC. With Ronda Rousey on indefinite hiatus and Conor McGregor kicked off the UFC 200 card after his lengthy, and much-publicized, dispute with the promotion over media obligations, the UFC is in desperate need of a giant superstar-caliber fighter to make UFC 200 the huge event it needs to be. Short of Georges St-Pierre shaking off the blissful haze of his pseudo-retirement, Brock Lesnar, the man who made UFC 100 the huge event it was, is the only choice. So the rules get fudged a bit and the contractual language gets muddled slightly and words and phrases and definitions get blurred a touch and exemptions are made for money-printing superstars and everyone agrees to tuck away their reservations and their suspicions, and everybody's happy.
Even Lesnar's opponent, Mark Hunt, is happy. Happy to be given the chance to fight the biggest star his sport has ever known, happy to make all that Lesnar money, happy to have the chance to punch a man he calls a "part-time fighter" and a "pretender" in the face and teach him not to "confuse wrestling with real fighting." Mark Hunt is happy. Just don't expect him to pretend that Lesnar's testing exemption from the UFC is fair or the reasons behind it on the level.
"I think it's load of bullshit, I think it's rubbish," Hunt told UFC Fight Week on Fox Sports yesterday. "I don't think anyone should be exempt from testing. If they're trying to clean the sport up—mixed martial arts—this is a bad way to do it. I don't care who you are. It's ridiculous.
"I don't think it's a great move. I think [Lesnar is] juiced to the gills—and I still think I'm going to knock him out. So I don't think that's correct. I don't think he should be allowed to get a four-month exemption; otherwise everyone else should. Otherwise I should start juicing."
Ahh, Hunt. Sweet, sweet Hunt: greatest of all possible fighters, most honest of men. He's absolutely right to question the fairness of the UFC's decision here and how it reflects on the promotion's push toward legitimacy and parity and mainstream respect. But even he must realize that there are greater forces at work: vast, uncompromising demands of the great marketplace that even an agency created to combat impurity like the USADA knows it's powerless in the face of. Brock Lesnar is the perfect physical metaphor for the promotional and capitalistic forces governing the UFC's actions in the lead-up to UFC 200, an extra-moral force that won't be stopped by something as dainty as a drug test: 300 impossible pounds of perfectly formed muscle and incomparable anatomical terror bearing down on the world, very possibly augmented by synthetic chemicals and hormones of all kinds but too big to fail. So we look the other way. Just this once.
Not that any of this matters in the end to Mark Hunt, who made his name in Japan's notoriously PED-plagued Pride FC and fought in the hormonally lawless days of an earlier UFC, who has built his entire life around fighting regardless of circumstance or niceties like fairness and purity. So of course Hunt says he'll fight Lesnar regardless of any considerations.
"He'll probably be super strong being juiced to the gills but it doesn't mean anything, man. I'm ready for anything he has," Hunt told UFC Fight Week. "Shucks. I don't give a rats what you take. I'll knock your face off, that's what I'll do. I'll teach you for taking that shit anyway."