Mark Bocek believes performance-enhancing drugs are a much more prevalent issue in MMA than many believe. He?s tired of playing on an uneven field, and it?s the primary reason why he announced his retirement from the sport earlier this week.
?I?m a realistic person, and I look at it like I could do all the PEDs on the planet and still be able to compete with guys, but if I don?t, it?s just not going to happen,? Bocek told MMAjunkie. ?I?d rather go out like this with a good memory of the sport. I didn?t want to leave with a sour feeling on the sport, with a loss, with hating the sport. So I guess the difference between me and everyone is I?m just a little more realistic. In the end, not everybody becomes the champion.?
In what?s been an MMA rarity, the 32-year-old Canadian ended his career on a high note. Bocek most recently fought in April and earned a split-decision victory over Mike De La Torre at the TUF Nations Finale.
Bocek (12-5 MMA, 8-5 UFC) had been a member of the UFC roster since 2007 while?experiencing nearly everything MMA has to offer, from no-name opponents to ranked opponents, from intimate UFC Fight Night shows to a UFC 129 fight attended?by 56,000 fans. But PEDs had?always been a major concern for Bocek.
As time wears?on, he believes cheaters are becoming increasingly?common, not less.
?I think it?s worse than people realize,? Bocek said. ?I hate to be the bearer?of bad news, but the way things are going, you kind of deserve to lose if you?re not on PEDs nowadays. I used to think of it as cheating, but you can?t call it cheating when everyone is doing it. You go in there and lose to someone on PEDs, it?s like, what did you expect? Did you think you were going to knock out some guy on PEDs in the highest MMA league in the world? People get away with cheating in the Olympics, which has much stricter testing than in the UFC, so you can imagine what people get away with in the UFC.
?I can?t put numbers on it. I?ve trained at the top five MMA camps on the planet, but I?d never mention any names. There are genetic freaks out there. There are always exceptions. But look at Tour de France. If you want a clean guy, let?s go down to No.?28. There are fighters that don?t use, but the way the sport?s highly evolved now, the clean guys are getting farther and fewer between.?
Bocek isn?t the first to make such statements. Many of Bocek?s complaints echo those of?former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre around the time he announced a hiatus from the sport in December.
Competing against or training with a fighter who?s on PEDs is an unsettling feeling, Bocek said. And at this point, he believes it?s hardly worth the risk of suffering a loss or possibly even worse.
?It sucks when you?re breaking your balls every day and the other guys don?t have to put in as much work because they?re getting the help,? Bocek said. ?I?ve trained with people on (PEDs), and?I?ve trained with people off it, and it gets pretty easy to recognize and know when people are using it and when people aren?t. You train with a guy and a week later they?re five times stronger all of the sudden? That doesn?t come from weightlifting.?
Non-PED reasons also played a part
Despite those?frustrations, he said?his decision to retire wasn?t exclusive to the PED situation. Bocek also credits the exhausting weight-cutting requirements for every fight. He?s always been a mid-sized lightweight, but after years and years of dropping pounds at a significant rate, his body began to suffer the consequences.
?Weight-cutting played a major role,? Bocek said. ?The sport could use more weight classes. Getting down to 155, that?s a disaster for me. That?s 30, 35 pounds every single time, and I basically have to get on the brink of hospitalization and then compete optimally 24 hours later. I could never drop to a lower weight class, 145, or I would die. If I fought at 170 ? I train with Georges, and I train with Rory (MacDonald)???I know how big those guys are. I feel tiny compared to them.?
The third, and perhaps most important, reason Bocek decided to hang up his gloves is he simply doesn?t want to fight as much as he used to.
Bocek?s level of motivation began to taper as his feelings about PEDs and weight-cutting grew stronger, and at that moment, he knew the end had arrived.
?With everything that has happened, my motivation dropped a little,? Bocek said. ?Once your motivation drops, you?re stupid if you take an MMA fight. I wanted to end my career in the UFC. I didn?t want to lose a fight, get cut, fight again in a lower show and lose, then retire hating MMA. I always wanted to be a champion, but I?m not going to sit around to be a stepping stone for others.?
Even though Bocek is no longer an active fighter, he doesn?t want to wash his hands of the issues that drove him out of the sport. He wants to see MMA promoters and athletic commissions continue to make strides in terms of weeding out cheaters, but he?admits it?s a complex issue that?s going to need more than his own voice to influence change.
?It?s tough for one person to make a difference,? Bocek said. ?Cheaters are always going to be a step ahead. Cheaters with money are targeted by scientists and people like Victor Conte or whatever. These guys can afford to make a drug that you can?t test for or a drug that won?t show up. So when you get into this money-type of drug war, it?s very difficult to compete with.
?The random testing is better. You see it?s working on everyone. Blood testing is good, but let?s not forget Olympics is a lot stricter than MMA, and people get away with it in the Olympics.?
Jens Pulver provided a cautionary tale
With a 3-1 run to end to his MMA career, Bocek proved he?s still UFC-caliber. But after pulling out a close win over a UFC newcomer in his most recent bout, he realized the gap in skills?between himself and the lower rung of the division was shrinking. A world championship wasn?t about to come his way, and he wanted to exit on the high of a win. Far too many of his colleagues continue to fight long after their time has expired, and Bocek had no desire to become another example.
?I didn?t want to fight in some small shows and end up like Jens (Pulver),? Bocek said. ?I really looked up to him, and he didn?t have to take those fights, but in the end, what else is there for a fighter? A lot of guys in MMA don?t have a life outside of it. You see guys like Jens fighting when they shouldn?t be fighting. I hope that type of thing doesn?t happen to more fighters because they put all their eggs in one basket, and in the end, only one person gets to become world champion. So many elements have to sync harmoniously together to get that championship athlete.?
Even though Bocek?s retirement announcement shines a light on some of MMA?s more unsavory issues, it?s not entirely overshadowed by them, he said. Bocek holds several memorable moments, from fighting in front of the record-setting UFC 129 crowd in his native Canada to?mixing it up with championship-level names such as Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar.
There are specific memories Bocek holds near and dear to his heart, but overall, every win was equally meaningful, he said.
?Every time I stepped in there, it was special for me because it was tough,? Bocek said. ?I respect everyone that steps in there, but the particular, specific memories? I guess the triangle (choke) over Dustin Hazelett (at UFC 124) was one of the better ones, or beating Nik Lentz (at UFC 140) when he hadn?t lost in eight fights in a row. Honestly, every time I got my arm raised in MMA, that?s a great night.?
A special relationship with UFC execs
Outside of the octagon, Bocek?s relationship with UFC President Dana White and company CEO Lorenzo Fertitta differed from many others. As a teenager, Bocek trained jiu-jitsu with the UFC executives, who at the time hadn?t yet purchased the UFC.
?He was super quiet, and it took a little bit to get to know him,? Fertitta recalled of his initial meeting with Bocek. ?It was frustrating getting your butt kicked by a 17-year-old kid. He dominated us at will, whenever he wanted to. We got along really well and developed a good relationship.?
Despite forging the?friendships, Fertitta said Bocek never attempted to use the relationship as a means of leveraging a place on the UFC roster. He earned a place in the world?s premier MMA organization on his own, which, from Fertitta?s perspective, was an extremely commendable move.
?Mark made it to the UFC on his own,? Fertitta said. ?I never called (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva. Dana never called Joe Silva and said to put him in. Mark earned his way up through the smaller shows, and I remember I saw his name on the sheet and was like, ?Mark Bocek? Is that the kid we used to train with?? Lo and behold, it was. I always got a kick out of seeing him at the fights and weigh-ins, and then obviously in the octagon.?
Despite?Bocek?s recent criticisms of the sport, Fertitta takes nothing away from the fighter?s?accomplishments. Bocek helped the UFC flourish in Canada at a time when it needed it most, and that?contribution will never be overlooked, Fertitta?said.
?Mark definitely left a mark in the UFC,? he?said. ?I thought he was one of the more successful, one of the better fighters to come out of Canada. I would say he helped build this sport in that country. He played a big role and was on a lot of big shows. He contributed a lot to the sport and to the company. We?re sad to see him go. We loved watching him compete, but we understand that this was the best thing for him, so we wish him well for sure.?
Bocek admits the retirement decision wasn?t particularly easy. The temptation for one more fight, one more paycheck, always lingered. But the question remained: Would it be worth it?
Another UFC?paycheck?would have been great, but the risk to his personal health and legacy wasn?t worth it, he said. Bocek has seen too many of those cases already, and he didn?t?want to be the next victim of fighting past his expiration date.
?One more fights equals one more paycheck, and depending how the fight goes, it could be a pretty nice check,? Bocek said. ?But at what expense does it come? I could retire like this, with a win, or go the B.J. Penn route. When I sit back and I look at him, B.J. Penn wishes he never came back. The money I make in one more fight is only temporary. That amount of money goes by quicker than people realize, even if you?re economic with it.
?I?m happy to go out this way. I think a lot of fighters would be happier if they were a little bit more realistic with themselves instead of ending on the road of Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes. If they were realistic, they wouldn?t have taken these unnecessary beatings and KOs and could have went on to a much happier life. What?s Randy thinking fighting Lyoto Machida in his mid-40s? So you can retire that way? You have to be a little realistic with yourself. You have to be confident and believe in yourself, because if you don?t, you don?t deserve to be here.?
Open a gym, or apply?to McDonald?s
Now that his career is over, what does Bocek do now? That might be the most frightening question of them all, he said. Bocek has been training martial arts since he was a teenager and has few other viable skills at his disposal. There?s no college degree to fall back on, and no corporate job at UFC headquarters awaits?him.
Bocek said he has some resources saved from his fighting career, but he now believes his most likely avenue to financial stability is to open a gym and breed its success from the name he built in the UFC. Bocek has confidence he?ll make a smooth transition to the next chapter of his life, but he also knows it?s far from a guarantee.
?It?s tough since there?s not much for fighters out there,? Bocek said. ?I?ll either make a gym work, or I?ll have to start applying at McDonald?s. These past 15 years when everyone is acquiring their degrees, I?m training and fighting. My only degree is in jiu-jitsu and fighting, so if a gym doesn?t work out for me, I?m in a lot of trouble.?
If there?s one way to describe Bocek?s resume as a fighter, it?s consistent. He never registered back-to-back losses and was rarely outclassed. He was never knocked out cold, and he was forced to submit just once. He also registered more than?half of his wins by submission.
Bocek will arguably go down as one of Canada?s premier talents, and while he was never able to win the UFC lightweight belt, he knows he did everything in his power to reach that goal. So he?s content with his inability to satisfy his ultimate dream, and now he?s also content with the fact he?ll never step into a cage on fight night again.
?I wanted to come out and be the best, but it didn?t happen,? he?said. ?I fought whoever was put in front of me. I only tapped out when I had to, I didn?t tap out unless I had to. I?ve never been knocked out, I?ve never lost two fights in a row, and I never asked for any opponents. I started in the UFC with just four fights, and I ended in the UFC. I may not have attained every goal I set out to do in the sport, but I got most of them, and I at least leave with a good memory of a victory instead of being bitter or sour about the sport. The sport can be your best friend and bring you up to the sky, but it can also step on you and bring you down and really test you and make you hate the sport to see if you?re still going to pursue it and how far you can go.
?I believe I did it the right way. I?ll never have any regrets. It?s over. I have no regrets, and I?ll never step in the cage again to compete.?
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Recently retired Mark Bocek on PEDs in MMA: ‘I think it’s worse than people … – MMAjunkie.com