By Gareth A Davies
The Daily Telegraph
Interim UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao, who defends the title against Michael McDonald next Saturday as the UFC returns to London at Wembley Arena, believes bio-blood “passports” could be used to catch and ban for life any fighters taking performance-enhancing drugs.
“I think people who are abuse illegal substances should be banned from the UFC, and I certainly think these methods could help the sport,” Barao told Telegraph Sport.
“I’m clean. And anyone who is clean would not be worried about testing,” he added.
The ‘athlete passport’ has long been in used, but the ‘blood module’ was introduced at the beginning of the 2008 racing season by the Union Cycliste Internationale.
In cycling, the biological passport is an individual, electronic record for each rider in which the results of all doping tests over a period of time are collated.
The passport for each rider contains the results of individual urine tests, individual blood tests, a haematological profile consisting of the combined results of haematological parameters analysed in a series of blood samples, and a steroid profile consisting of the combined results of steroid levels in a series of urine samples.
In May 2008, the UCI revealed that 23 riders were under suspicion of doping following the first phase of blood tests conducted under the new biological passport.
Two years later, the athlete’s passport became a detector when designer drugs such as recombinant erythropoietin and anabolic steroids – having the same molecular structure as those naturally produced by the body – became available.
By testing against recorded blood samples, it is possible to detect differences, and catch drugs cheats. Disgraced former cyclist Lance Armstrong’s blood samples dating back to the Nineties were tested retrospectively under the system and were found to have inconsistencies.
In MMA, it may require sanctioning bodies around the world to sign up to one unified process, but that could be done under, say, the umbrella of IMMAF, the newly established world federation for the sport.
Food for thought, at the very least, in a sport where PEDs have to be carefully monitored.
Barao, who boasts a winning streak of 29 fights, returns to happy hunting grounds in the UK, his defeat of Londoner Brad Pickett in Birmingham in 2011 having propelled him forward in the division.
He recalled: “It was a struggle to cut weight that week against Pickett but everything turned out OK, and there was great energy from the crowd in Birmingham.
“Things have gone well for me since then. Obviously, it is a pity that Dominick Cruz is injured and I hope he gets better soon, so that we can finally face each other.”
While Barao earned the UFC’s interim 135lbs title last year by beating Urijah Faber with Cruz sidelined through a serious knee injury, there are rising talents in the division whom he must deal with.
Notably, one of the youngest fighters on the entire UFC roster, 22-year-old Michael McDonald, who has been cutting a swathe through the division.
Barao versus McDonald is a pick ‘em fight. “He’s young, very talented, he’s coming off a knockout won (Miguel Torres) has dangerous hands and all round is a tough guy. He can say whatever he wants about holes in my game, but we’ll see when we step into the Octagon in London,” Barao told me.
“I don’t agree with what McDonald is saying – that he is a ‘new style fighter’, he just has dangerous hands.”
The 25-year-old Brazilian revealed how his success in the UFC – and previously in the WEC – has changed the life of his extended family in Natal, on the northeastern tip of that country.
“I grew up one of those kids who liked to fight in the street. It was just my personality,” he explained. “I come from a large family.
“My dad was a boxing coach, and my mum took care of the kids, six of us. When I was a kid my parents separated, and they both had more kids. We didn’t have a lot of money.
“I’m now able to help out and provide for the family. I was able to buy a house for my mum, a car for them, and I want to keep helping my family.”