He insists he has never used performance-enhancing drugs, but Jamal Patterson, a mixed martial arts fighter in the International Fight League (IFL), says he has been presumed guilty for years.
"People tell me, `You must have done something,'" he said in a telephone interview from Hoboken, New Jersey. "But genetically, I'm just a freak."
Patterson wrestled in high school and played football at Colgate University. He is 1.8m tall and has slimmed down to 93kg for his career in the IFL, a team-based mixed martial arts league, which is among several organizations striving to bring this once-underground sport into the mainstream.
Patterson, who competes for the IFL's Pitbulls, says he knows how crucial public perceptions can be in a pursuit that combines punching, kicking and grappling, and that casual observers sometimes still confuse with the spectacle of professional wrestling.
The sport of mixed martial arts encountered doping problems last month at an event at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Royce Gracie, one of the pioneers of the sport, tested positive for the steroid nandrolone; Tim Persey tested positive for methamphetamine; and Johnnie Morton, a former NFL receiver making his mixed martial arts debut, had a higher than normal ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone in a pre-fight test, then declined to take a required post-fight test. All three were later suspended.
Performance-enhancing drugs would certainly give mixed martial arts fighters a tremendous physical benefit because they can aid strength, endurance and recovery. But mixed martial arts, a young and booming sport, has no national or international governing body and lacks a rigorous drug-testing policy.
"Part of the problem is that there are all these small organizations that fight in garages and on Indian reservations and in strip clubs, and there's no drug testing, and the rules are very limited," said Kurt Otto, commissioner and founder of the IFL. "We need to legitimize every aspect of it."
But Gracie and Morton were competing in a major event, promoted by Fighting and Entertainment Group, which is based in Japan and also promotes K-1, one of the top mixed martial arts organizations.
K-1, like the IFL and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the two most popular mixed martial arts organizations in the US, relies primarily on state athletic commissions, which sanction mixed martial arts events in the same way they do boxing and other combat sports, to handle drug testing immediately before or after fights. But this means that in some states, not every fighter will be tested, and those who are tested will know roughly when it is coming.
"In general, I think this should not be done by the government," said Gary Wadler, an associate professor of medicine at New York University who has served on several committees for the World Anti-Doping Agency. "It should be done by an independent and transparent agency that's invested in seeing a drug-free sport."
Drug-testing programs run by athletic commissions differ from state to state. In New Jersey, which has held several mixed martial arts events this year, all fighters are tested.
California recently began testing all fighters.
Gracie was suspended for a year from the date of the fight (June 2) and fined US$2,500, pending his appeal.
But at least one state does no drug testing at all.