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What can Cung Le expect from the new UFC appeals process?

Anton Tabuena, SB Nation

When UFC middleweight Cung Le was given a year-long suspension for a positive HGH test taken following his August 2014 bout with Michael Bisping in Macau, China, he had no choice but to accept it. Unlike the United States or other select territories where mixed martial arts (MMA) is regulated by some sort of athletic commission, China currently has no regulatory oversight. When the UFC holds events in this territory and others like it, they are forced to self-regulate. That practice is earnest, but also nascent and, as Le's predicament illustrates, incomplete.

Whereas fighters have the opportunity to seek out an appeals process in areas with established commissions, those avenues do not exist in unregulated territory. That is, until now.

UFC officials said last week middleweight Cung Le would be granted that very process for his positive HGH test. Details about that process, though, were scant. An ESPN report simply stated the American Arbitration Association (AAA) would be handling the arbitration process.

In an effort to better understand what's in store for Le, MMA Fighting reached out to the AAA. While the organization said no specifics about Le's case could be discussed publicly, they did reveal potential blueprints for how their cases are handled in similar circumstances.

So, what can Le expect from the AAA? It depends on what's in his contract.

According to AAA Vice President Michael Clark, once AAA is given permission to work on the case - something either specified in existing contracts or agreed upon after the fact - the process can move forward.

From there, the AAA and its Supplementary Procedures for the Arbitration of Olympic Sport Doping Disputes hold sway. That means one arbitrator would be named, although either party (UFC or Le) can request up to three. These arbitrators will be selected from the AAA/CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) Panel. This panel is comprised by those experienced in doping arbitrations.

Once the panel is selected, they'll hold a pre-hearing conference call to discuss preparation and the scheduled hearing in the matter.

After preparation has been completed, the parties involved hold an "evidentiary hearing" before the panel. For all intents and purposes, this is where Le's fate will be decided. All evidence by both parties will be submitted. The hearings will be then be closed and the panel will come to a decision within 30 days from the date the hearings are declared closed. No matter who receives the "Arbitration Award," the panel will include reasons for its decision. Any decision they come to is both final and legally binding.

There is no information available as to when Le's evidentiary hearing will be held.

It's worth noting the AAA's process is not hugely dissimilar from what state athletic commissions' offer. In New Jersey, for example, the commission can elect to hear an appeal or forward it to the Office of Administrative Law. Either way, the state's by-laws stipulate that "at such a hearing, [the fighter] will have the right to be represented by legal counsel of your choice and to cross-examine witnesses.  [The fighter] may also present witnesses and evidence on [their] behalf. The State Athletic Control Board will be represented at the hearing by legal counsel."

It's impossible to speculate from this distance which way the panel could decide, but the blueprint for this arbitration, and potentially others, is in place. The issue will be if the AAA's panels offer more favorable ground for fighters alleged to have used performance-enhancing drugs. Fighters rarely exercise their right to a hearing through appeal in regulated territories. That's due as much to legal costs as commissions rarely admitting wrongdoing or error.

Le and the UFC, though, are working through a third party. Should his venture prove successful, it could change both how the UFC tests fighters in unregulated territory as much as the rate of potential appeals. A turn of events in that direction will have its own set of consequences for the world's organizational brand leader in MMA, now, and for years to come.

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