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Nevada Athletic Commission discusses overhaul of drug testing policies, punishments

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) held a day-long meeting in Las Vegas on Friday to discuss a potential overhaul of its drug testing program in an effort to combat what one expert called "the PED epidemic in MMA."

Numerous influential figures within the anti-doping community held informational sessions regarding the subject, and though zero changes to the commission's policy were formally proposed, the NAC intends to revisit the subject during its next gathering in April.

Among the primary topics discussed was increased punishment for first-time and repeated drug cheats. Several commissioners voiced opinions that the current standards -- suspensions ranging anywhere from nine to 12 months -- are obviously inadequate deterrents considering the current rash of testing failures that the sport of MMA has seen over the past year.

Discussion ranged from increases in the two- to four-year suspension range for drug offenders, perhaps differing depending on the severity and substances involved in their failed test. Lifetime bans were also discussed in special cases, similar to that of exiled Pride FC legend Wanderlei Silva.

In an effort to maintain consistency, commissioner Pat Lundvall suggested drawing up a list of banned substances and assigning specific penalties to each one, so a fighter will know ahead of time what punishment they may face. Commissioner Anthony Marnell also pushed for drug cheats to receive a loss on their official record, rather than a no contest, even if they initially won the bout.

"If a guy cheats, he loses," commissioner Bill Brady agreed.

Marnell went on to question if the financial scrutiny for outed cheaters should impact the promotion who employed them alongside their own wallet, i.e., should the UFC also face financial penalties when a fighter like Hector Lombard pops positive for anabolic steroids in a post-fight drug test.

"If I have a contract to fight for the UFC, if I go all the way up through fight night and fight, all the money has been made across the board," Marnell said. "Then we have to go chase a guy for 25-percent (of his purse), and all he has to do is say, ‘Well, I'm just not going to fight there again,' and we don't get paid. There's really no ramifications other than the suspension. It's peanuts that gets made and nobody's really incentivized other than the fighters to stop it. Maybe they would disagree with me on that, and I look forward to that testimony, but do you think we are going far enough up the chain for the ramifications of this? Is it solely the athlete's responsibility?"

Aside from discussion regarding penalties, the NAC spent an extensive amount of time debating whether to adjust the definitions of in-competition and out-of-competition testing windows. In-competition is currently considered to be anywhere within the 12-hour period prior to and immediately following a fight.

Of late, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was caught using cocaine prior to his UFC 182 title defense, but went unpunished and was allowed to fight because his was out-of-competition use.

"When you look at sports like baseball or tennis or some other sport, they're not punching each other in the face," commissioner Francisco Aguilar said. "This is a sport where you're really putting your life in somebody else's hands potentially. So I guess looking at in-competition from my perspective, it's kind of a unique discussion given the sport we regulate.

"If they're using cocaine or a recreational drug, does that impede their ability to train at their best ability? So when they walk into a ring and they've used these drugs, recreational drugs, they're not walking into a ring as prepared as they could be had they not been using these drugs. Our responsibility is to help the safety of the fighter, and if they're not walking into that ring at 100-percent of their ability, we're allowing them to put themselves at jeopardy."

Dr. David Watson, a commission physician for nearly 17 years, agreed with Aguilar's assessment, and also pushed for increased and more erratic out-of-competition testing procedures to keep fighters guessing, such as implementing two or three random tests within the same week.

"The out-of-competition testing, in an ideal world, would certainly be more than just a few tests. Only having a few tests allows fighters to simply beat the system still," Watson said. "... Doing just two or three out-of-competition testings simply doesn't offer the opportunity to pick up some very short acting substances -- growth hormones, various hormones, all the things that are secret dogs.

"A lot of fighters are pretty smart. They work in camps and understand the half-life of these drugs, how long it takes to wash out of the system. It's very easy to manipulate some of the results, so for us to find a positive T:E ratio, which we like to see, or a positive HGH (sample), it's nice when it's there, but I think some of fighters who are fairly educated and have some of the people behind them who teach them how to play the game and manipulate the system are very effectively [testing clean]."

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