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A new drug testing option soon for UFC & boxing

By Zach Arnold | July 25, 2011

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As David Williams eloquently stated about Nate Marquardt yesterday, today’s sports landscape — from the fans to the media to other athletes — rewards those who do not take full responsibility for their mistakes. Get caught taking drugs? Blame the screw-up on a mark doctor and pray for fans to take your side and portray media critics as too harsh.

Strangely, if there was a ‘person of the year’ or ‘event of the year’ to nominate for the top headline in MMA in 2011, I don’t think it would be a person or an event. I think it would be a word or a phrase to define this year and that phrase would be testosterone. You can’t avoid it as a fan, whether it’s fighters using TRT or radio ads for ‘ageless male’ to increase your ‘natural’ testosterone levels by 61% or “Is it Low T?” ads aimed at 40-something males on television. Testosterone seems to be the cultural buzz word in sports this year.

Which leads us to a recent audio clip from Steve Cofield’s ESPN 1100 ‘MMA Insiders’ radio show with Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports/Cagewriter.com fame. Lorenzo Fertitta is asked about whether or the TRT scandal involving Nate Marquardt is a big deal and what should be done about TRT usage in MMA moving forward.

STEVE COFIELD: “How big a deal is this story?”

LORENZO FERTITTA: “Well, I think it’s a big deal because you hit the nail on the head. It’s effecting the sport, it’s potentially effecting fights and here we are, a company that goes in and we invest a lot of money, time, and energy to put on a card in Pittsburgh and, you know, because of this issue of testosterone replacement the main event gets scratched and it’s just not fair to anybody, so… Look, at the end of the day, I think that, you know, the commissions have made it basically fairly clear, to my understanding, that TRT is okay if you abide by certain rules, which means that your levels have to stay below a level that could be considered performance-enhancing, right? So, I guess some of these fighters have problems with their body naturally, you know, abnormally low testosterone then theoretically maybe it makes sense to at least to get back to a level of a normal person walking down the street. But what you can’t have is guys that are abusing this to the point where their levels at some super-human factor which is giving them this performance-enhancement. I think what needs to happen, I think Nevada’s taking a step in the right direction, is that there’s got to be more random testing because, unfortunately, it seems that like possibly guys are getting outside the boundary maybe while their training and then managing it down to the point where, you know, once the week of the fight is then they take the test and they’re fine, no problem, but I think there needs to be random testing to make sure that nobody’s abusing it.”

KEVIN IOLE: “Lorenzo, the thing that concerns me about this is that… if you allow this to happen and a tragedy occurs, and I think you know as much as we don’t see it, I know it’s inevitable at some point in a combat sport hat there’s going to be a traumatic brain injury or worse and if it happens that it comes at the hands of a fighter who was on anabolic steroids or EPO or HGH or TRT, I think that’s really going to threaten the core of the sport. So, I don’t know if you would agree with that, but if you can answer whether you agree, and secondly why not make the stance that, hey, we as a company are not going to tolerate this and there’s such a low percentage of people who would need TRT that if you need it you’re just not eligible to fight in the UFC and unfortunately that’s just the way it is?”

LORENZO FERTITTA: “Yeah, I mean, look, at the end of the day I think we came off with a pretty strong response to Nate Marquardt and kind of how we feel about TRT. At the end of the day, you know, this has all been an evolution and some of this stuff is just starting to come to light and this whole idea even what TRT is. I mean, my understanding of it is not like, you know, in the past where you’re dealing with these synthetic hormones or synthetic steroids. Testosterone replacement is basically the same hormone that we all generally make as adult males and, you know, I guess also you hear about women who have hormone problems and they got take estrogen shots or whatever shots that they take to help balance out their life. I think our stance is we’re trying to work with commissions to say, look, this whole thing has got to come to an end and, once again, if you are going to have some kind of therapy not only can you not be at the top end of the range, you can’t be anywhere near performance-enhancing so, you’re exactly right, if something did bad happen in the Octagon you should never be able to blame it on that. You know, if a guy’s levels are mid-range like any other normal person, then he doesn’t have any enhancement in his performance.”

Three weeks ago, I wrote an article talking about Dr. Margaret Goodman’s comments about drug usage in MMA and how widespread the problem is. She stated that if the major fight promoters don’t clean up their act that the Feds will step in and take care of business. (The article is well worth your time to read if you haven’t already done so.)

A couple of days later, Victor Conte issued a statement to Eddie Goldman about how testosterone helps out fighters in terms of endurance. He brought up an important angle to the drug testing discussion that few have really discussed and that’s the issue of hematocrit. Think: the thickness of your blood, your red blood cell count. We know blood doping is prevalent in many sports, so why some of the drug testing isn’t focused on hematocrit levels doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It is from this launching point of discussion that we focus on a recent interview Victor Conte did with Eddie Goldman that I would highly recommend you listen to. It’s terrific and you should go out of your way to check it out.

Since his release from prison, Victor Conte has been working with athletes again (such as Kyle Kingsbury, Marlon Byrd, Nonito Donaire, Zab Judah) under the SNAC banner. Victor has also been aggressive in publicly calling for better drug testing in sports, especially the combat sports world. Eddie asked Victor to justify why people should listen to his opinions on drug usage in sports and the issue of increased drug testing given that the Feds went after him for BALCO.

“Well, first let me say that it’s a certainly valid question that people would have (to challenge my credibility). This is basically a new life for me. That was a past life in terms of helping elite athletes use performance-enhancing substances. Yes, I did go to a prison camp for four months and, you know, I suffered the consequences for the mistakes that I made. But what I learned along the way is that… the hurt and pain and suffering that I caused for not only my own family members but through the athletes that I worked with for their families and friends as well and I didn’t really realize that until I was in the prison camp when my family came to visit me and I could see the pain and suffering that I caused, in their eyes.

“I’ve learned my lesson and, you know, what a lot of people don’t know is that for 16 years, from 1984 until the year 2000 which is when I made that decision to go down the slippery slope sort of speak, that I had worked with hundreds of elite athletes, entire Super Bowl teams. For example, in 1997 & 1998 the Denver Bronco teams that won back-to-back Super Bowls I went to training camps and did testing and provided nutritional consultation and supplements to the entire team. And there were many, many others in other sports, so I did things for many years the right way and then I… you know, met an Olympic official who told me first-hand about positive drug test cover-ups and once I learned really what goes on, you know, at the elite level of most of the sports where I had knowledge of this activity, I was just more on the sidelines sort of speak and then I decided to step on the playing field and join the culture and it was a very bad mistake and I have lots of regrets about that decision that I made to do so.

“But you know I’ve… it’s been almost eight years since the infamous BALCO raid and of course there’s been lots of stories out there that’s chronicled what’s happened. Anyway, I have most recently been back working with elite athletes in a number of sports including some elite boxers and I’m very, you know, grateful to those that have been able to find forgiveness in their heart and give me the opportunity again.”

Last weekend, Zab Judah fought Amir Khan in Las Vegas and Victor Conte was at the fight. He has been working with Zab on his conditioning & diet plans. Victor’s name came back to prominence amongst athletes after his recent success with Nonito Donaire.

“I’ve worked with Nonito Donaire for his last three fights and he’s had some success and I think this has brought attention to me and what it is that I do for athletes and specifically for boxers. How it started was one day Nonito called me and Zab (Judah) was at his house and he had an interest in doing hypoxic training and the comprehensive testing that I do and the individualized nutrition programs that I’ve developed for athletes and Nonito asked me if I would be willing to help Zab and I said, certainly. We talked and for the initial, probably, week Zab was going to Nonito’s house on a daily basis and doing the hypoxic training and arrangements were made for him to have samples collected there in Las Vegas so we could get some data and develop a nutrition program for his specific needs and goals. And then Nonito came back here to the Bay Area for a team meeting, so he took the hypoxicator over to Zab’s house and then Zab started to, you know, taking photos and texting me his log sheets and we started talking by phone and, you know, Zab has had a very good compliance. You know, that’s what I always tell athletes — we can all do this comprehensive testing and you can have access to these new technologies, but it’s not enough to know what to do, you have to do what you know.”

How Floyd Mayweather brought a spotlight to the issue of doping in combat sports and where the testing currently is at

Mr. Conte addressed major concern regarding the usage of PEDs in boxing (and particularly MMA) because of what’s at stake for the physical well-being of fighters.

“Boxing is a hurt game and therefore it’s not as if the competitive edge is running faster than the guy in the lane next to you on the track or hitting a ball over the fence than the next guy. It’s about physically harming your opponent and therefore I think it’s even more important for boxing & MMA to increase the effectiveness of the testing. In short, and I’ve said this publicly before, [the testing] is basically worthless at this point.”

With Mayweather wanting a higher-grade of drug testing for his recent fights, Victor explained just what kind of testing is really happening versus the perception of what is going on.

“I applaud Floyd Mayweather for actually putting this discussion and debate on the table. I think it’s very important and there’s, you know, been a lot of talk back-and-forth about Olympic-style testing being implemented and, you know, my thoughts are that a half a loaf of bread is better than none when you’re hungry and I think the boxing world is hungry for more effective testing than what it is currently in place by the individual state boxing commissions.

“But, you know, Olympic testing is 24/7, 365. They’re in a pool and Olympic-caliber athletes have to, you know, fill out whereabouts-forms and they have to know where you are and for one hour a day you have to make yourself available for testing. So, it’s not really what I would call true Olympic-style testing, the testing that was in place for the Mayweather/Mosley fight and that will be in place for Mayweather’s fight with (Victor) Ortiz because they’re just entering into this random testing period for about 7-8 weeks. But it’s a great place to start and, you know, the current argument down the line regarding a possible fight with Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, there’s been discussion about who should administer this and should it be USADA. (Bob) Arum has spoke out, saying that it should be regulated by WADA and there have been statements back and forth, so I think there is a need for some clarification. An official from USADA said that WADA doesn’t even do testing and I found that to be amusing because USADA doesn’t do any testing, either. Basically, how it works is that WADA has something called the World Anti-Doping Code and this is basically all of the rules & regulations and testing policies and procedures that all of the individual anti-doping agencies from the various countries around the world follow.”

One major difference between the testing done for Mayweather’s most recent fights and true Olympic-style drug testing (or the kind of drug testing you see happening in tennis) is the issue of who oversees the testing and who makes the determination for enforcing a suspension.

“Let me say that one very significant difference between what they do in (testing) Olympic-caliber athletes and what they did in the past for Mayweather and currently with this Ortiz fight is they’re basically sending doping control officers to collect the samples, then they hold a blind code which matches the name with the test samples. The samples are sent to a WADA-accredited laboratory, also they’re considered to be IOC-accredited laboratories that do the testing. Then those test results go back and in the event of a positive test, then they would simply turn these results directly over to the state boxing commission. In other words, they don’t adjudicate like they do with Olympic-caliber athletes and typically they have a hearing and they have a three-member arbitration panel that ultimately, once they bring the doping charges, renders a decision and then the athlete can be possibly banned. So, it’s a much lesser role that USADA is playing in these boxing, you know, the testing they’re providing for these bouts with Mayweather than what they do with Olympic-caliber sports.

“And then when they said that WADA doesn’t have doping control officers and they don’t send, you know, officers off to collect samples, that’s simply not true. They don’t do a lot of testing but, you know, they do hundreds on an annual basis. So, if you’re an Olympic-caliber athlete and you’re in the United States, say you’re a Track & Field athlete, you could have the USADA doping control officer come and collect a sample, the IAAF which is the Olympic governing body for T & F athletes that’s out of Monaco, they have doping control officers that get dispatched and they can show up at the track or your training center and collect samples. And WADA, athletes that I have worked with personally have had doping control officers that were dispatched by WADA to collect samples.

“So, I think the primary argument is not only who should collect the samples and Arum may be suggesting that Pacquiao lives in the Philippines and Mayweather lives here in the United States and that if WADA was to control this under what they’re calling Olympic-style testing that they would have the anti-doping agency in the Philippines collect the samples from Manny Pacquiao and USADA would collect from Floyd Mayweather and then the question becomes who is it that holds the blind code that matches the potential positive test results and those would likely be turned over directly to the state boxing commission. So, I think it is a valid question and I think they’re going to have to come together and make some sort of mutually agreed upon decision regarding who’s going to oversee this anti-doping (testing) that will hopefully take place some day in the event that Pacquiao and Mayweather do fight.”

The testing loopholes and where the focus is or isn’t

“Everyone needs to understand that the testing is not foolproof. There are ways to circumvent these testing policies and procedures. So, you know, you want to do the best that you can and have it be effective and be a deterrent that you can show up randomly because some of these substances, testosterone creams & gels will clear in a day. EPO will clear in a day. But if [the testers] show up on the wrong day, then you would test positive.”

Earlier in this article, we linked to comments Victor made to Eddie Goldman about hematocrit. Think of it in the realm of EPO, of blood doping, of red blood cell counts. If you’re looking for a good measure for the drug testers to check out, Victor says the testers need to focus on this measurement to catch cheaters.

“One thing I would like to say is that in the world of boxing, I would like to see like they have in cycling as well as in Nordic sporting events, if you have a hematocrit (which is the percentage of red blood cells total whole blood volume) that is 50% of over, they suspend you. Your blood is too thick and for what they call health & safety concerns they just do not let you compete. So, whether you’re dehydrated or you’re using EPO or old-fashioned blood doping, whatever reason you have a hematocrit of 50% or above, you probably shouldn’t be allowed to compete. So, whether they’re finding the drugs or not, I think if your red blood cell count is too high then, you know, you get in a fight and you become more dehydrated and there’s a chance of some serious adverse health effect. So, I would like to see {suspensions].”

The creation of VADA (non profit organization) and what it can bring to the table

As Dr. Margaret Goodman recently told Eddie, she is busy creating a new organization called the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency. It will be basically a place where fighters (like the BJ Penns and Ben Askrens of the world) can go to have certified, random, out-of-competition comprehensive drug testing in addition to the current testing implemented by the states right now. Top doctors & scientists who have knowledge of PEDs will be involved in the project.

As Victor explained to Eddie during their interview, the issue of cost to a fighter for having external drug testing has been a big barrier.

“The basic idea is to make the testing available at a reasonable cost. These recent numbers that, there was an article where Andre Ward contacted USADA and he said that he was told that it costs $50,000-$100,000USD to do this testing for both fighters for a period of 7-to-8 weeks and the headline said that this was a staggering cost and I agree with that. That’s just, you know, most boxers are not going to be able to afford that type of money. But I’m aware that the testing can be done for a significantly less amount than that. For both fighters we’re talking $10,000USD or less, so I don’t know what this five-fold mark-up is and even at a $10,000 cost includes administrative overhead because that entity is simply, you know, having doping control officers go collect the samples, give them the blind code, they hold it and turn it over to the boxing commission. What costs $50,000?

“So, the next part of it is by being voluntary and I know that Dr. Goodman plans to have some sponsorships available for some of these elite athletes, some that have spoken out and had an interest in possibly participating in such a program would be Andre Ward, Jab Zudah, and Nonito Donaire and others. And then instead of, you know, making all these allegations back and forth and filing defamation lawsuit as has occurred with Pacquiao and Mayweather that as an individual they could politely invite their opponent to participate in random out-of-competition testing for an 8-week period, let’s say, until the fight and if their opponent doesn’t want to do it, then they have the opportunity to step forward and subject themselves to the testing and at least do what they can and, once again the testing is not foolproof, to do what they can to show their fans and the boxing world and to lead by example that they’re a clean athlete and that they don’t have anything to hide. And I truly believe that, you know, the use of drugs is rampant in boxing but at the same time some of these athletes that I just named including Andre Ward and Nonito and Zab, I believe they’re clean athletes. So, I certainly believe a boxer can become a world champion and do so the right way.”

A perfect example of how VADA could come into play is if someone like, say, Brian Stann (who has a fight coming up with Chael Sonnen in Texas) approached VADA and offered up to be subjected to the organization’s drug testing program to prove that he is a clean fighter. Obviously, in states where drug testing policies are weak or non-existent, VADA could step in and provide fighters credibility to the fans that they are clean. It would also add some peer pressure on fighters (and perhaps promoters) to buy into the VADA drug testing protocols.

While Victor Conte says that he is happy to hear that Nevada will step up the amount of out-of-competition drug testing they will be doing, more needs to be done and that’s where an agency like VADA can step in to fill the void.

“Keith Kizer recently said that for the state of Nevada that they had received some money from the state and they planned to start implementing some out-of-competition testing as early as this month, the month of July and I think it’s because if you look back at the hearing (with Travis Tygrart of USADA) they had a while back and they were saying, Robert Voy for one and David Watson for two were suggesting that, you know, people aren’t using EPO in boxing and why do you even need to do testing. I saw headlines that said, “urine testing KO’s blood testing.” This stuff is ridiculous!

“As I mentioned earlier about the hematocrit, you certainly can’t tell how thick somebody’s blood is or what their red blood cell is from a urine sample. So, you need blood testing and you need urine testing and this testing needs to be random and, ultimately, the gold standard (that’s what they call the USADA & WADA type testing) even though there are certainly loopholes in that type of testing and it can be circumvented, something that’s effective is better than nothing. Meaning, if you’re not going to be in a 24/7, 365 pool, at least from the time the fighters sign a contract say 7-8 weeks out from a fight they will enter into this testing pool and they will be subjected to unannounced random testing.”

The goal of those backing and advocating for Dr. Goodman’s VADA project is that once a few fighters step up to the plate and participate in the drug testing program that it will encourage & foster a sentiment for more fighters to test in order to apply pressure to fighters who are cheating and/or to clean up the combat sports (to a degree) through media scrutiny.

“Is it going to happen overnight? Is it going to be uniform? Do I believe in boxing they’re going to form an organization that is going to mandate that everybody does this? I don’t think it’s likely and I don’t think many others do, either. But I think what Dr. Goodman is trying to do is have some of these elite fighters that are clean and are willing to do what they can to demonstrate that they’re clean to step up to lead by example and that way it doesn’t have to be negotiated into the contract and of course, you know, and it would be best if both of the fighters participated. But if one fighter refuses or whatever their reasons are that fighter doesn’t want to participate, maybe they’re dirty! I don’t know. But at least it doesn’t prevent the other fighter from stepping up and doing what they can. I think media members are going to be asking that question in the event that one fighter decides to voluntarily participate and be subjected to random testing and his opponent refuses.”

As for the amount of PED usage in boxing versus MMA, Victor agreed with Eddie that the situation is worse in Mixed Martial Arts.

“I believe the use of PEDs in MMA is rampant and somebody has to step up and lead by example. Whether it’s going to be days or weeks or months ahead, she wants to make this available to those that would like to lead by example and as you know he’s a long-term health & safety advocate. Her and Flip Homansky both will be a part of this VADA organization and let me say that it will be completely and totally independent of me. My willingness to participate and tasks I will try to help them with is to try to herd fighters to them, to encourage all of the athletes that I work with in boxing as well as MMA to come forward and voluntarily participate and do what they can on a grassroots basis to try to demonstrate that because I’m working with some successful fighters and they’re clean, that’s my opinion. And I think they’d like an opportunity to show their fans that.

As for the recent TRT poster boys in MMA (Chael Sonnen & Nate Marquardt):

“If someone truly has a medical need and they’re assessed, in the case of testosterone, by a board-certified endocrinologist over a period of time, then as every other person (should be) they should be allowed to have medical care. But I would say that in the overwhelming majority of cases, it’s just an attempt to circumvent the rules, that these guys have been using anabolic steroids in the past and their endogenous testosterone becomes suppressed and then they go to a doctor and they just simply use that to get a prescription and I think the end game is to cheat, is to circumvent the rules and gain a competitive advantage — and it’s wrong.”

I remember in an interview a while back where Dana White was asked about whether or not he would allow UFC fighters to do Mayweather-type drug testing for a big fight and he replied that, sure, if they want to pay for it, go ahead. With the creation of VADA by Dr. Goodman & company, could we see fighters embrace the opportunity of these new drug testing protocols? Furthermore, would Zuffa be willing to allow fighters to participate in such a program or would they pressure fighters not to be associated with VADA?

Topics: Boxing, MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 14 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

14 Responses to “A new drug testing option soon for UFC & boxing”

  1. EJ says:

    There is so much bs there I don’t know where to start… actually I do. First the idea that Floyd is shedding light on PED’s because of his bs demands against Pacman is laughable to say the least. The to top it off the completelly unproven and I think pretty ridiculous idea that PED use is more prevalant in MMA than boxing again just makes me shake my head.

    Seriously i’m all for having a discussion about these topics but first I have to respect the people giving their opinions on it and Victor is full of it on multiple fronts.

    • The Gaijin says:

      So engage in some discussion…all you ever do is come on here and gripe and say how you don’t agree with something, someone doesn’t have a clue what they are talking about or that how you are “smfh”.

      Tell us what you think if you feel so strongly opposed.

      Based on commission reported positive results, I’d say it appears as though PED use IS more prevalent in MMA than boxing. Obviously you’d have to control for numbers (re. fights, events, etc.)/actual tests in both and the fact that maybe we don’t hear about all the positive tests, but generally I think it’s the case that its more prevalent in mma.

      • edub says:

        Gaij- Exactly. A paragraph full of whining/bitching without any valid , facts, or view points accomplishes what? Giving the impression you have no knowledge of what you are speaking on, and are just mad at someone for their view point?

        If that’s what he wanted I guess good job.

        …and I’ll refute one of the only opinions he stated. Floyd making demands for olympic style drug testing for whatever reason (good or bad) shines light on PED use in combat sports. He has proven to be the biggest draw in boxing (and everything else) since De La Hoya retired. Anything he does will be given a massive amount of attention.

      • EJ says:

        As opposed to what yo do?, come on now Gaijin we’ve done this little back and forth before it solves nothing and gets up nowhere. Now like I said when people that I actually respect want to have this conversation then and only then will I join in until then it’s a waste of time.

        • edub says:

          … still nothing. Not surprising.

        • The Gaijin says:

          I’m not even trying to argue with you…all I was saying is that you should actually open up some dialogue and state the WHAT and WHY rather than basically making off-hand insults (“[...]when people that I actually respect want to have this conversation…until then it’s a waste of time.”) and griping.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      What is Conte lying about? You can question his motives, and that’s fine. You can question Mayweather’s motives for the drug testing and that’s fine as well. Bottom line, if you’re looking at results and advancing the discussion, both men are doing it now.

      Are you saying he is lying about hematocrit being a valid testing factor that commissions should use if they don’t have the resources to detect designer steroids?

      • The Gaijin says:

        But it’s so much easier and requires no leg to stand on to just attack and belittle the speaker and not actual debate the message.

  2. [...] for UFC. On a large public scale, the TRT scandals is not every-day water cooler talk. However, as Kevin Iole correctly pointed out, if there is a major accident or death in a UFC fight and the fighter in question is using TRT or [...]

  3. [...] Lorenzo Fertitta Discusses a New Drug-Testing Option the UFC May Soon Adopt (FightOpinion.com) [...]

  4. [...] TRT discussion rages on. Earlier in the week, we talked about some possible new drug testing options that Victor Conte and others have suggested in order to increase the amount of dope cheaters [...]

  5. [...] Lorenzo Fertitta Discusses a New Drug-Testing Option the UFC May Soon Adopt (FightOpinion.com) [...]

  6. [...] about what athletic commissions should be looking for in regards to basic blood testing analysis. Remember his discussion about hematocrit levels? “One thing I would like to say is that in the world of boxing, I would like to see like they [...]

  7. [...] on urine samples as part of a panel of methods to catch doping in MMA. (His other suggestion is to measure basic hematocrit levels in standard blood samples.) I don’t know if a CIR was used to detect synthetic testosterone [...]

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