Piercing Blows - How MMA in India Battles Unchecked PED Use

The place bustled with some of the fittest Indians I had laid eyes on. Men and women, Adonis’ and Xenas, swaggered around wielding their most prized weapon: a ripped body, glistening with sweat, crafted to near perfection. Their eyes betrayed a laser-sharp focus on the task ahead; the competition, the win.

I felt out of place, uncomfortable almost. No, the bodybuilders did not intimidate me; having covered the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) in India for six years, I was no stranger to being around humans that wielded the power to take a life with their bare hands. I had, in a sense, developed a sense of familiarity with the combat community, and by related extension, the bodybuilding circuit in India.

It was, however, this familiarity that seemed to be a hindrance. This situation was appropriate for the meeting I set up, but I’d be lying if the thought did not cross my mind: it could be nothing less than career suicide to reveal what is perhaps the worst kept secret in the sport today.

It took me nearly two months to find someone willing to talk about a subject that is as much a taboo, as it is divisive. Appointments were made, but were canceled or postponed; often for arbitrary reasons.

Until today.

It took me a few weeks to convince him, but the bodybuilder-turned-MMA fighter agreed to meet me in confidence and answer my queries and address my concerns about the use of steroids, and performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in the sport today.

The competition arena felt like the proverbial lion’s den; I knew fully well that I was touching upon the ineffable subject at a premier bodybuilding competition. We were quickly and quietly ushered behind the bleachers by our common friend, to ensure we were out of sight. Competitors and staff walked past us without realising the two shadowy figures engaged in conversation. I perched myself on a stool as I waited for him to speak.

“Five more years,” he requested.

“Five more years, and then I’m done. I swear you can reveal my identity then.”

Finally, I was nearing the truth.

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