DRUG USE ISN’T THE ISSUE, TESTING IS

The Nevada State Athletic Commission is quite possibly the most powerful commission in North America for all combat sports. Home to some of the worlds biggest combat sport events and bouts, Las Vegas has been known as the “mecca of the fight world” for a reason. But in recent weeks, the sanctioning body has come under fire for some less than educated decisions and courses of action.

To cover all of the issues facing the commission could take hours, so for the sake of this piece, let’s focus solely on recent events in the sport of MMA. Going back to 2012, the NSAC flagged current UFC Heavyweight Alistair Overeem for elevated testosterone ratios about 8 weeks before his UFC 146 bout with Junior dos Santos. Overeem and his attorney tried to refute the findings, basing the failed test on medically prescribed anti-inflammatory medication that was mixed with testosterone. Obviously, the commission did not buy the reasoning and Overeem was left without a license to compete in the state for 9 months. Now while Overeem was denied a license, he was not suspended or fined by the state because as an unlicensed fighter, he was not subject to punishment.

The fact that Overeem was not punished is an issue, but perhaps the larger issue is that prior to his UFC 141 bout with Brock Lesnar, both he and Lesnar were subjected to out of competition drug screening. Lesnar submitted his sample to the NSAC on November 21st, while Overeem submitted his 2 days later. However, the NSAC deemed Overeem’s sample did not meet the standards of the commission. Overeem submitted a second sample, this time through his personal physician, and was yet again deemed unacceptable from the NSAC. So what happened to a fighter that submitted two unacceptable samples for testing prior to a fight? The NSAC decided to grant Overeem a conditional license to compete at UFC 141, granted he submit to a state mandated test 72 hours following the hearing, which was held on December 12th, 2011. Overeem was also forced to take part in 2 post fight drug test, which would be administered no less than 6 months after UFC 141 took place.

So how exactly does a man find a way to not deliver two state mandated drug testing samples, still receive a license to compete with extra testing as a stipulation, fail one of these tests, and receive no punishment besides not being able to receive a license to compete in said state?

The next head scratcher from Nevada was Vitor Belfort. Most people of Belfort’s history of TRT use, and the UFC’s granting of TUE’s to Belfort for several bouts held outside of North America. But the reason Belfort was not able to receive the same exemption in Nevada was based on the fact that in 2006, Belfort failed a post fight drug test, administered by the state of Nevada, for elevated levels of testosterone. While Belfort broke no rules with his use of TRT, many fans questioned the UFC’s decision to give Belfort such an exemption despite his past. So when Belfort was named as the next contender for current Middleweight champion Chris Weidman following his victory over Dan Henderson in November of 2013, the location of the fight was the biggest question for many. As it turned out, the bout was scheduled for Nevada. This did not bode well for Belfort and his quest to receive a TUE from the state, but in February of 2014, Belfort sunk his chances for one before he even had the opportunity to ask. Given a random test by the NSAC, Belfort tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone, and this failed test is believed to have been the focal point of the now in place ban on TRT in several states and countries. So when Belfort appeared in front of the NSAC on July 23rd? In one word: nothing. Once again, Belfort appeared in front of the commission as an unlicensed fighter, so his test, while positive and state mandated, was looked at as never happening. Despite two failed test in the state, Belfort was granted a license to compete in the state, with the stipulation that he be subject to more out of competition testing. When the commission made it’s final decision, it took the UFC about 5 minutes to announce a Weidman/Belfort bout at UFC 181.

Much has been made over current UFC Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones and his failed pre-fight drug test for cocaine prior to his UFC 182 bout with Daniel Cormier. But since cocaine is not considered a banned out of competition substance, the NSAC had no standing to punish Jones, except for the fact that only weeks before, both Jones and Cormier appeared in front of the same NSAC as a result of their media day “brawl” a few months earlier. Both Jones and Cormier were fined and given community service hours for their roles in the situation, but if you cannot be punished for a failed drug test simply because it happened “out of competition”, how exactly can you be punished for something that also happened out of competition? Also on the docket that day was Wanderlei Silva, even if he was not in attendance. Silva was appearing for his now infamous “running” from a state ordered drug test in May of 2014. While Silva did not deny he skipped the test, his account of the day differed from the NSAC’s account. Ultimately, Silva was fined approximately $70000 and was given a lifetime ban from the state. In the words of NSAC chairman Francisco Aguilar: “When you run from a test, that’s about the worst thing you can do” .

Now while this might be true, didn’t Overeem essentially do the same thing in 2011? Submitting 2 unacceptable samples and then leaving the country before supplying a proper sample might not be directly “running” from a test, but how can one man receive what equalled a slap on the wrist and the other receive perhaps the harshest penalty that can be given from an SAC?

Both failed tests from UFC 183 are still hot in peoples minds, and while Nick Diaz’s test can’t really be questioned or disputed, the circumstance surrounding his main event counterpart Anderson Silva are head scratching to say the least. Following a year-long layoff due to the gruesome injury suffered at UFC 168 in December of 2013, many expected Silva to be using some variety of steroid, if only to aid in recovery. Yet when tested on January 9th by the NSAC, Silva was flagged for two different forms of steroids, drostanolone and androstane. The test was completed on January 12th, as shown in the attached picture, yet for some reason, the results were not released until after UFC 183.
According to Dr. Daniel Eichner, executive director at SMRTL (Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory) in Salt Lake City, Utah, while speaking to ESPN:

“Blood and urine samples have unique sample ID numbers and we never see a name,” Eichner said. “We see a number. We then screen those biological samples for any prohibited substances and if we see something, we then confirm that. Sometimes it may be more than one substance. We have a confirmation process to make sure that what we’ve seen is absolutely prohibited and absolutely confirmed. Sometimes that can take time”

NSAC Executive Director Bob Bennett also had comments on why Silva’s results were delayed:

“Unfortunately they were very busy. It was unacceptable that we got the results three weeks later,” Bennett told Sherdog.com. “Quite frankly, I should have called in between then to see where the status was of the report. We had six [events] in the last 30 days. Sometimes things fall through the cracks. This is one of them. It’s unacceptable and we’ve learned from it.”

Now while this may be a perfectly acceptable reason for the results taking longer than usual, why did the same SAC and lab receive Overeem’s results in less than a week in 2012, prior to UFC 146? While there were no UFC events in Nevada that month, why are samples submitted for testing and then not followed up on? The fact that Bennett acknowledges that he should have called and asked doesn’t really change the fact that he didn’t, and a main event in the state went on with one of the participants having failed a state ordered drug test.

Finally, UFC Welterweight Hector Lombard was revealed to have failed a post fight drug test following his UFC 182 win over Josh Burkman. UFC 182 was held on January 3rd and Lombards results were found on January 13. Yet despite having these results, and the UFC already having Lombard booked for his next bout, Bennett’s response to why the results were not released until today to MMAJunkie was “To the best of my knowledge because you asked me today”, basically blaming media outlets for not asking who failed test that night. Nevermind the fact that the UFC was not informed, since when is it the media’s responsibility to ask who failed a drug test, when results of these test are released to the public? I’m confident that no one asked if Silva or Diaz failed their post fight tests, but we were told these with no media inquiry, so what makes Lombard different?

Never mind the fact that the UFC has basically turned its back on its self-imposed and implied “hard stance on drugs” and that the fighters are ultimately responsible for their actions, it is the SAC that is supposed to be in control of these things, to be the father in the dysfunctional family that is MMA today. Commission members like to sit up at their podium and hand out punishment and scold grown men and women like children for their actions, yet seem to have no one taking control over their actions. It is well-known that most SAC’s survive on the money earned from sporting events held in their states, so it should be no surprise that they may have underhanded motives to let things slide a bit.

The problem is that the money they make has almost taken over from the main priority of any SAC, which is to govern combat sports. Rules and regulations are put in place for a reason, to be enforced as needed, not to be used sparingly when it is convenient or to make a point to others. Governing bodies aren’t supposed to care who did what and when they did it, they are essentially judges in the courtroom that is combat sports. Anytime something is taken in a personal manner, as the Wanderlei Silva situation appeared to be handled as, it takes away any sign of integrity and fairness.

There are rules in place to stop, or at least punish, drug users in combat sports. And while many do eventually face punishment for their actions, does it even matter if it happens after the SAC makes their money off of said fighter by letting them compete, only to slap a fine on them after competing. Why have out of competition testing if no one seems concerned about getting these results in a timely manner? Why have testing for non licensed fighters if they can’t really be punished following their failed test?

Nevada has spent far too long making excuses for it’s shortcomings in recent weeks and years. At what point does the commission realize its not about self-preservation for them, but about doing what it right for the sport? Following the Jones test, the NSAC did hold a meeting to discuss its policies and list of banned substances, which is currently a mirror of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances that they adapted in 2007.

During this meeting, Aguilar was quoted as saying:

“Given that we didn’t have any authority to address it—from what I understand based on the attorney general—I would have liked to have that conversation as a full commission as to what direction we can go and how we can move forward with disciplinary action. And with that in mind, I thought, do we need to discuss the definition of in-competition versus out-of-competition? “We need to figure out how to move forward with disciplinary action. Do we want to deviate from WADA and develop our own definition of out-of-competition testing?”

Commissioner Anthony Marnell mentioned the possibility of removing cocaine from the list of allowed out of competition drugs, with the WADA code defining “in competition” as the 12 hours before and immediately following a fight. Any other time is considered out of competition. But the fact that Aguilar even mentioned moving away from the WADA guidelines and adapting “better” rules for the state could be seen as a major development, even if it was just suggested.

Far too many similar situations are met with different punishments and reactions though, so the issue isn’t entirely with the guidelines, it is more of how they are applied and the lack of perceived motivation to properly regulate these guidelines. Until these issues are fixed, more drug users might be caught, but will it even matter if they aren’t stopped in time?

By: Jasyn Zangari @Zangari123

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