Grove and Esparza’s PED Accusations Bad for the Sport

Last week it was Kendall Grove throwing accusations of performance enhancing drug use at Brandon Halsey ahead of their middleweight title fight at Bellator 137. This week Carla Esparza threw her own PED accusations at World Series of Fighting Strawweight Champion Jessica Aguilar.

Coming less than a week apart, the claims made by both fighters carry a number of similarities, and leave a bad taste in the mouth. They draw eyes to the sport for all the wrong reasons.


“People talk. We’ve got mutual friends, and I just know,” Grove told MMA Junkie on Tuesday of last week, before going on to state that he was surprised he had not been tested ahead of such a high profile title fight. He made it clear that he believed Brandon Halsey was a cheat in the process.

“I want to go in there and I want to make a statement. I want to dedicate this fight to all the skinny guys and go out there and kick his ass naturally. Hopefully he gets the drug test that night (of the fight) and it exposes him for what he is.”

Following Grove’s comments, both fighters were tested the following day by the California State Athletic Commission. Halsey was quick to point out that this was the 20th time he had been tested in his professional career.


On Monday it was Esparza’s turn to make similarly bold claims about another fighter. Speaking to Ariel Helwani on the MMA Hour the former UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion insisted that she knew Jessica Aguilar was a cheat.

“I know she does some extra stuff, which I feel like she is a cheater, to be totally honest,” Esparza told Ariel Helwani before insisting that she was not going to get into it. When pushed, Esparza elaborated on how she could claim to know for sure.

“Because a friend of mine told me that they personally gave her shots in her butt or whatever. Whatever, girl. You’re not number one. You’ve never been number one, so get over it.”

To be clear at this point, neither Halsey in his eight professional fights, or Aguilar in her 23, have ever failed a drug test.

When allegations such as these are thrown out into the public domain there really is no winner. Not the accuser. Not the accused. Not the sport of mixed martial arts. That mud being thrown around starts sticking to all concerned.

What makes it worse is that neither Grove nor Esparza were willing to go full disclosure with their statements. Expecting people to accept your allegations based on hearsay and second hand knowledge is asking a lot, especially when you will not say who they came from. If you are unwilling to tell the whole story publicly, perhaps you should not be telling half of it to the media in the first place.

“I know for a fact, but I’m not going to get into that. It doesn’t really matter.” Esparza told Helwani during the interview.

Her comments felt like those of that Facebook friend that we all have at least one of. You know the ones I’m talking about. Those who post statuses telling you they have some really big news involving someone, who then meet any inquisitive comments with a swift, “I can’t talk about it on here”.

For Esparza, just like those Facebook friends, it does really matter and she already had got into that.


Why then were two notable fighters making such definite claims to the media in the first place? Perhaps they have lost faith in a system that everyone, the UFC included, accepts was failing. Perhaps both Esparza and Grove felt the media was their only option in trying to force action.

It’s certainly possible, but then both fighters also have obvious motives for trying to discredit the accused.

In Esparza’s case, this is not the first time she has been angered by Jessica Aguilar’s claims that she is the number one strawweight in MMA. Esparza lost a split decision to Aguilar in Bellator in 2011, and has publicly admitted that she was bitter about the defeat. She has also belittled the achievements of Aguilar in interviews on more than one occasion since.

Would Esparza have been so quick to talk publicly about the alleged drug use had she heard it about another fighter? Only she knows that, but there has been animosity between the two for some time.

As for Grove, well he has a fight to sell and is aware that many have already questioned his legitimacy as a challenger, having lost four of his last seven fights. That became even more clear with comments Grove made to Cage Pages the day after both he and Halsey had been tested.

“It’s part of the fight game, we talk s–t. We both did our drug test yesterday, we’ll both pass them and jump in there May 15th to settle it”

Lets just put that last statement into perspective for a moment. Grove threatened the integrity of Brandon Halsey, the integrity of the California State Athletic Commission, and the integrity of the sport. Two days later, he suggests that it’s just part of selling a fight on May 15th and no big deal. Except, it is a big deal.

Performance enhancing drugs are a problem the sport is trying to deal with. We all know that there is a fair chance this situation will get worse before it can get better, but positive steps are being taken.

Fighters need to start looking at themselves before they make these kind of accusations. They need to be sure, without any suggestion of doubt, that they are relaying facts and not hearsay. More importantly, they need to be speaking to the right people, and that means the commissions that govern the sport.

When you leak half a story to the media without substantiating your allegations, you’re not just hurting the image of the fighter you are accusing. You are hurting the sport at a time when it has enough bad press elsewhere.

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