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B.J. Penn: Testing for EPO and HGH ‘puts a smile on my face’

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Though Chael Sonnen has yet to speak publicly in defense of his most recent failed drug test -- aside from an initial statement to MMA Fighting -- some fighters are weighing in on its significance. Namely former champion B.J. Penn, who has long been an advocate of cleaning up MMA.

Penn was on the UFC 175/TUF 19 finale conference call on Monday, and when asked about Sonnen’s positive drug test – a test issued randomly by the Nevada Athletic Commission on June 5, where it was discovered Sonnen had EPO (recombinant human erythropoietin) and HGH (human growth hormone) in his system -- he said he was happy these drugs were finally being detected.

"I’m really excited that they can test for the HGH and the EPO," Penn said. "I’ve always suspected that people were doing those things and not just a steroid. So it’s very exciting and very gratifying to finally see that they playing field is…people are going to start thinking twice about what they put in their bodies, and the playing field will be much more equal. And that’s just huge."

Penn has gone on record in the past denouncing the use of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), which was banned in the state of Nevada in February. Sonnen had a therapeutic use exemption to use TRT up until the ban, and has since contended that a previously failed drug test (for anastrolzole and human chorionic gonadotrophin) stemmed from substances to help wean him off. Sonnen was slated to fight at UFC 175 this weekend in Las Vegas against Wanderlei Silva.

Silva, who skipped a random drug test in Las Vegas, was removed from the card and replaced with Vitor Belfort. When Sonnen failed the first drug test shortly thereafter, that fight was scrapped. Sonnen then retired during an episode of UFC Tonight.

All of this has put a black mark on Sonnen’s name, and raised new questions as to how rampant performance enhancing drugs are in the sport. Penn, who said he’s "old-fashioned" in his beliefs on fighting naturally, said the Sonnen case is a move in the right direction.

"Chael Sonnen is actually a personal buddy of mine, and it’s sad to see what Chael Sonnen is going through," he said. "But if you want to talk about the future of the sport, the safety of the fighters…and I’ve always spoke out against it. It’s just I’m so excited now that they can get the HGH and the EPO. That put a smile on my face."

The 35-year old Penn will fight Frankie Edgar on Sunday, July 6 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. It will mark the first time Penn -- who has held titles in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions -- has fought as a featherweight. He lost his lightweight title to Edgar at UFC 112 in 2010, as well as the rematch four months later in Boston at UFC 118.