Chael Sonnen's Suspension Reduced to Six Months on Appeal

UFC middleweight contender Chael Sonnen saw his suspension reduced on Thursday, when the California state athletic commission ruled the original one-year penalty would be cut in half to six months during an appeal.

Commission members voted for the reduced penalty 3-1 after the four deadlocked on upholding his original one-year suspension. Commission executive officer George Dodd, who was a witness in the hearing, did not vote.

The suspension stemmed from a positive drug test produced from Sonnen's UFC 117 pre-fight urine sample. Testing showed his testosterone to epitestosterone ratio to be 16.9, well above the legal threshold of 4.0

In the nearly two-and-a-half hour Sacramento hearing, Sonnen, his attorneys and physician argued that he had been undergoing testosterone replacement therapy since 2008 to address hypogonadism and had previously disclosed his testosterone usage to commission members.

California assistant attorney general Alfredo Terrazas argued the state's case, saying that Sonnen had not gone through the proper steps to clear his TRT usage, which is allowed with proper documentation from a qualified physician. In addition, fighters still must test under the threshold ratio.

Dodd, who as the CSAC executive officer, was on site for UFC 117, confirmed that his office had never received such paperwork from Sonnen.

"After carefully reviewing [commission records], there was no indication of any type of therapy prior to last year or this year," Dodd said.

But Sonnen's lawyers, Howard Jacobs and Steven J. Thompson, raised the possibility that the documentation had gone missing from the previous CSAC administration. (Dodd was installed as CSAC head in Feb. 2010.)

Thompson: "You said that there's no record of hypogonadism being reported by Mr. Sonnen in the files?"
Dodd: "That is correct, I reviewed his files from when he was originally licensed last year, and I did not find any documentation for any type of treatment."

Thompson: "Do you know if there was ever any documentation, or you just know it from your review of the files?"
Dodd: "I wasn't executive officer back at that time, but after reviewing the files, I have not seen any type of documentation from Mr. Sonnen on his therapy."

Thompson: "And you don't know if files were kept by [former] commissioner [Armando] Garcia, for example?"
Dodd: "Commissioner Garcia was not the executive officer at that time. We had an interim at that time, Dave Thornton, but all our files are continuous and so we have our licensing files throughout the licensing period."

Later, in giving his statement, Sonnen echoed the possibility that files were misplaced or missing, saying he had submitted paperwork to the commission in 2009, and later was told he was cleared for the treatment for his UFC 104 bout with Yushin Okami.

"My doctor sent directly from his fax machine the approriate letter that was requested by the California state athletic commission stating what the treatment was," he said. "Then it becomes a little bit murky for me, because the athletic commission has forgotten that happened. We received a phone call, they OK'd the medicine, and that has since been forgotten."

Sonnen later added that he believed that since he was cleared once, he didn't realize he would have to go through any additional steps, though he noted that he reminded Dodd during the event weekend that he was on TRT, something which Dodd confirmed under oath.

He also said that he had passed all of the pertinent information to the UFC physician Dr. Jeff Davidson, believing him to have a role in helping to expedite processes relating to medical issues with the CSAC.

When asked why he didn't immediately write testosterone usage on pre-fight questionnaire in which he listed other medications, Sonnen cited embarrassment, saying the room was full of fighters and he did not want someone learning about his condition.

"I don't have a problem with disclosing testosterone," he said. "What I do have a problem with is if somebody asks me why. I don't want them to say, 'Why are you on testosterone?' and I have to re-live my youth and not going through puberty and being teased. When I don't write that down, I don't want to write it down, but I shared it directly with the commissioner's office. I felt I went to the top, and I didn't need to do anything subsequent to that."

Dr. Mark Czarnecki, Sonnen's physician, testified that the fighter came to him in 2008 complaining of symptoms including extreme fatigue and mental fogging, and tests revealed he had low testosterone due to hypogonadism. He placed Sonnen on a regimen of twice-weekly testosterone shots, which he administers on Mondays and Thursdays.

"Chael's body would not tolerate the extreme stress associated with such a sport with the amount of trauma to the body, his healing would be deteriorated, he'd become anemic, he would not have adequate oxygenation, he would not heal if he broke bones, he would have a decrease in his healing ability, etc.," Czarnecki said when asked why Sonnen needed testosterone to compete. "It just would not be safe. I would not authorize him to fight at the level he's at."

Czarnecki said he constantly monitors Sonnen's T/E ratio, and that it has never been above average, usually registering "around the middle of normal."

Sonnen also claimed that he has verbally been cleared for TRT use in Nevada, a contention that Nevada state athletic commission executive director Keith Kizer has previously refuted.

Terrazas scored back when he questioned Sonnen's claims that Czarnecki previously faxed info about his condition to the commission. When asked if he looked through Sonnen's records for confirmation, Czarnecki admitted, "I looked through my current records but didn't see it," though he added the record could be in another storage facility which he did not check.

Terrazas: What precipitated, what triggered for you the need to offer that document?
Czarnecki: It was requested of us.

Terrazas: And who requested it?
Czarnecki: I cannot remember. We got phone calls continually from different agencies and organizations and we just try to comply as fast as possible.

Terrazas: Dr., have you ever personally ever photocopied or instructed someone to photocopy Mr. Sonnen's medical records to be sent directly to the state athletic commission here in California?
Czarnecki: I don't think anything was worded like that, no.

Ultimately though, it seems Sonnen's legal team was able to convince the officials that a one-year ban was too steep, and that the CSAC shared some of the blame in not informing Sonnen of the proper procedures when he notified Dodd about his usage. Thompson noted that if given his options at the time with incomplete documentation for a TRT exemption, Sonnen could have withdrawn from the fight rather than suffered through a suspension. Sonnen ultimately lost to champion Anderson Silva via fifth-round submission.

"In hindsight, looking back and staying up nights thinking about this, I still do not know what I could have done differently," Sonnen said. "I make a joke to my lawyers that outside of grabbing the microphone from Joe Rogan and making an announcement on live television, there was simply nobody else to tell that I was on testosterone."

Sonnen's $2500 fine was upheld. His suspension will run until March 2, 2011.

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