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Will Drugs Destroy MMA? Fighters Speak Out

Chael Sonnen, still mum on the results of a urine test that caused upheaval throughout the MMA community, may have rung a very loud bell – and you can’t un-ring a bell – but don’t expect the sound to hang in the air for very long.

Sonnen’s misstep when it comes to testing was likely an honest mistake as his camp is certainly capable of preparing for testing, but that’s not the point here.

Sonnen’s manager, Mike Roberts, told just what you might expect.

“It is our policy not to comment on pending actions by the athletic commission,” Roberts stated. “Chael is consulting with his legal [advisers] and physicians and will have a statement in the near future. Chael will file an appeal with the CSAC and looks forward to working with the commission to resolve this matter.”

“There’s not much else I can say at this point,” he added.

The jury is still out as to whether scientists detect hGH (Human Growth Hormone) in a urine test, or for that matter any PED which is correctly administered and masked, and that makes the current system of testing a sham. Hollow like a rotten melon.

Does that make testing the urine of MMA athletes and boxers a complete farce?

Yes, it most certainly does.

The California State Athletic Commission only tests urine, and since only the most unsophisticated (or unlucky) users of performance-enhancing drugs fail to understand the testing process, what have the powers-that-be you got for their efforts? Just a dog-and-pony show for the fans and any interested political hacks.

“Our work has not shown that we are going to be able to detect growth hormone in urine,” said Dr. Don Catlin, President and CEO of Anti-Doping Research, Inc. “An effective test for human growth hormone has been a key priority for many of us working in the field of sports anti-doping. We now have reached a critical juncture, and I invite sports organizations and unions, anti-doping agencies and other science experts to set a meeting to discuss the issues related to hGH testing.”

All well and good, but what about right now? Are the fighters and athletes who are caught more victims of a badly flawed system than violaters? As it stands, the system rewards those who are sophisticated about PED use and punishes those foolhardy enough to fail to closely examine the seemingly harmless and legal “nutritional” substances they use.

David Mayo, the eminent boxing writer for The Grand Rapids Press, interviewed chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Association, Travis Tygart, and the answers Tygart came back with underscore the futility of current fighter drug testing policies.

Q: Does anyone slip through the cracks regarding drug testing?

A: “Let me correct that premise for you. The current state of drug testing done by these state commissions is a joke. They don’t test for EPO. They don’t test for designer steroids. They test for a basic, simple menu that anybody with a heartbeat will escape. I just hate to hear that Shane Mosley did something really sophisticated to get around their testing. No, he didn’t. He would’ve been caught dead to rights in our program. But it doesn’t take a whole lot to sidestep the simple kind of drug testing that these state commissions are doing.

“Again, I hope it’s familiarity, I hope it’s knowledge, because part of the growth is for entities, but also athletes, to become knowledgable about these issues. If you’re a clean athlete, or you’re a sport organizer, promoter, state commission, whatever, if you want to protect clean athletes’ rights, you’re going to put in a clean program.”

Q: And that includes both blood and urine testing?

A: “Blood and urine but it’s got to be an effective urine program. Again, just a couple tests here and there that everyone knows about, or 72-hour notice that you’re going to be tested, or 48-hour notice — it has to be true, no-notice testing. And it has to be a broad menu of tests. And they don’t test for EPO. What was reported on Mosley is that he was using EPO. And he could use it without regard for being caught because they weren’t testing it — and there is a urine-based test for most EPO. So you’ve got to start with an effective urine program and an effective blood program. And the reason, to answer your specific question, that you need to do blood is because there are certain, and several, potent performance-enhancers that are not detected in the urine. Of those, human growth hormone being one; HBOC, which is synthetic hemoglobin; certain forms of EPO, like Micera; and then, the transfusions.”

Q: If you blood test, is urine testing necessary at all?

A: “Yes, because there are certain things that you’re not going to find in the blood, that you can only find in urine, like most forms of EPO, steroids, designer steroids, insulin. You have to have a combination of the two. Look, I’d love to have one strand of hair. From a cost and logistical standpoint, the simpler whatever we collect, the better. Not that collecting blood and urine are difficult, but you have to have the proper procedures in place, and account for the shipping, and the state that you need the samples, once collected, to remain in a preserved state where they can be accurately analyzed. You can build those programs. It doesn’t take much. We obviously would prefer the simplest mechanism possible. But just pulling a strand of hair is not effective to protect a clean athlete’s rights because there is so much that can’t be detected in hair, or saliva, or other things.”

Q: What is the difference in cost — because obviously, with most state commissions, you’re dealing with tax-based, governmental agencies — what’s the difference in cost between a urine test and a blood test?

A: “There’s not much. Incremental cost. It’s certainly not cost-prohibitive and if you want to protect clean athletes, you’ll put it in place. Take half of one percent of what these two boxers were going to generate, or make for themselves, and you’ve paid for a couple years of your program. I always hear that is a defense to not wanting it to be done, but it’s really not. It’s frankly a weak excuse not to protect clean athletes’ rights.”

Q: If I had 72 hours, could I mask EPO?

A: “Yeah.”

Q: If I knew it was coming, I could mask it?

A: “Yeah. Same with steroids.”

Q: How quickly could I mask it? What’s the shortest time frame, if I knew it was coming, that I could mask it?

A: “I mean, we do no notice. We literally show up, and knock on a door, and we find them.”

Q: My question is, if I knew 20 hours before the test, would I have time to mask it? Six hours? One hour? What would it be?

A: “Yep, all that.”

Q: If I knew 10 minutes before test, could I mask it?

A: “Yep. If you had some urine and a Whizzinator, 10 minutes before, you could mask it. If you had a catheter, which is not that tough to do, you could do it.”

Q: What about blood testing? Could I mask it then?

A: “For transfusions, the 14 days is not going to give you much concern. The evidence of the transfusion will stay in your system longer than the 14 days. But the human growth hormone, for sure not.”

Dr. D. Zach Smith, of Boston Medical Center, told Reuters Health by email.

“Many labs in the US refuse to analyze suspected steroids,” Smith said, “Users are not able to determine with any degree of certainty if the steroids they are using are labeled or dosed correctly.”

Smith and his colleagues looked at 217 studies that had analyzed the chemical makeup of illegally obtained anabolic steroids.

The researchers found that almost a third – 30 percent — of samples others had analyzed did not contain any of the drugs listed on their labels.

Samples that did include an anabolic steroid, nearly half – 44 percent — contained the wrong dosages, either much lower or much higher. One sample had less than one percent of the dosage its label claimed, while another had more than five times as much.

The moral of this story?

Don’t believe the label. It would also come in handy to have a friend who understands organic chemistry and runs a test facility if you use PEDs knowingly, and for that matter, even if you only take “supplements.”

Thanks to

  • Rece Rock says:

    It’s going to continue until they reform the testing…Seems like it’s probably really expensive to do so and in this economic climate is not a top priority for states to allocate money into their athletic commissions mean while infrastructure projects are ill funded…Money is tight everywhere and if this becomes an epidemic or out of control I wouldn’t be surprised if some states would rather just not sanction combat sports…. I guess this could be potentially damage/ destroy MMA, but I doubt it.

  • Dufresne says:

    My high school had tougher drug testing protocols than most state commissions use. When they implemented the new drug testing policy it added a whooping $100 to our yearly tuition, and that covered at least 2 tests per student.

    I don’t understand why a commission is okay with fining a fighter 20% of their salary for missing weight by a pound or two (half of that fine goes in their pockets by the way) but don’t want to put some real muscle behind their drug testing policies. It’s almost like they’re saying, “We protect the fighters’ health and the integrity of the sport by not allowing mismatches in size. But they’re free to inject whatever the hell they want as long as they can beat our $5 drug test.”

  • danw84 says:

    Until they make it harder to get away with it, why wouldn’t someone juice? How many extra days in the gym does a cycle of steroids work out to be? When your opponent is possibly on it too, it’s not doing any favors to your career to stay clean…


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