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Nevada Athletic Commission massively overhauls drug program, topped by lifetime bans

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) has long discussed the creation of an increased and standardized protocol for punishing drug users in combat sports, often to the point of exasperation as little was actually accomplished. But on Friday, that slow crawl burst into an outright sprint, with the commission unanimously approving a slew of sweeping changes that will dramatically transform the landscape of combat sports starting in the fall.

The changes to the NAC's protocols are many, but among the most consequential are the new guidelines established as a standard to penalize athletes who test positive in-competition for banned substances in the state of Nevada. Under the approved measures, violations would fall under five categories and be allocated out to the first, second, third, and occasionally forth offense, with punishments depending on the severity of the banned substance and the history of the fighter, each topped by lifetime suspensions for repeat offenders.

The new guidelines are as follows:

Tier 1: Sedatives, Muscle relaxants, Sleep aids, Anxiolytics, Opiates, Cannabis
  • 1st offense: 18-month suspension, fine of 30-40% of fighter's purse
  • 2nd offense: 24-month suspension, fine of 40-50% of fighter's purse
  • 3rd offense: 36-month suspension, fine of 60-75% of fighter's purse
  • 4th offense: Lifetime suspension, fine of 100% of fighter's purse
Tier 2: Diuretics being used to cut weight
  • 1st offense: 24-month suspension, fine of 30-40% of fighter's purse
  • 2nd offense: 36-month suspension, fine of 40-60% of fighter's purse
  • 3rd offense: Lifetime suspension, fine of 100% of fighter's purse
Tier 3: Stimulants (Amphetamines, Cocaine, Etc.)
  • 1st offense: 24-month suspension, fine of 35-45% of fighter's purse
  • 2nd offense: 36-month suspension, fine of 50-60% of fighter's purse
  • 3rd offense: Lifetime suspension, fine of 100% of fighter's purse
Tier 4: Anabolic steroids (includes Testosterone, HGH)
  • 1st offense: 36-month suspension, fine of 50-75% of fighter's purse
  • 2nd offense: 48-month suspension, fine of 75-100% of fighter's purse
  • 3rd offense: Lifetime suspension, fine of 100% of fighter's purse
Tier 5: Avoiding testing/detection/urine sample not of human origin or not of tested athletes, Adulterants, Drugs (including diuretics) used as masking agents
  • 1st offense: 48-month suspension, fine of 75% of fighter's purse
  • 2nd offense: Lifetime suspension, fine of 100% of fighter's purse

The finalized guidelines are significantly more severe than the initial guidelines handed out by the commission, which featured merely a nine-month suspension for first-time Tier 1 offenders and a two-year suspension for fighters caught for the first time with anabolic steroids. The NAC unanimously approved the final amendments, with NAC chairman Francisco Aguilar crediting his fellow commissioners for their efforts.

"I really thank everybody because I think that we've just taken this commission to a whole new level," Aguilar said. "It's admirable that we were able to come together as a group and really put our thoughts and focus into it."

While an exact timetable for the enacting of the commission's new drug standards was left undecided, a tentative date was slated for Sept. 1, meaning that any fighter who fails a drug test in Nevada from that point on would be reprimanded under the increased measures. The possibility to extend that date out to Oct. 1 was also discussed, although a final decision is expected to be made in the upcoming months.

Among the new provisions to the rules, the NAC voted to shift both diuretics and stimulants from the ‘in-competition' prohibited list to the always prohibited list.

The NAC also dictated that a fighter who wins a bout but fails a drug test will have their record amended to reflect a ‘loss.' In such circumstances, the losing non-cheating fighter would still receive a ‘no contest.'

Friday's announcement obviously marks a dramatic swing in attitude regarding the drug culture that has proven to be so prevalent in mixed martial arts. The past year, in particular, has seen a barrage of high-profile fighters test positive for banned substances, topped by a three-month stretch in early 2015 during which former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, Nick Diaz, Hector Lombard, and Jon Fitch all tested positive for various substances.

Both Diaz and Silva are still awaiting hearings for their failed UFC 183 tests, with Diaz receiving a postponement until either June or July at Friday's NAC meeting in Las Vegas.

While the NAC's reach only technically extends to its state, Nevada is often called the "Fight Capital of the World," and Aguilar urged fellow state commissions to follow Nevada's lead and abide by similar measures. Considering that the UFC generally functions under NAC protocols when the organization runs an event overseas in a region without its own governing body, it's likely that the UFC may follow the new NAC protocols beginning in the fall, although the promotion has yet to comment.

The most controversial of the NAC's changes will ultimately be the commission's doubling-down on punishment for Tier 1 recreational drug use, most particularly marijuana. Legislation to outright legalize marijuana remains steadily increasing throughout the United States, and indeed a majority of states presently allow marijuana for medicinal purposes. Because of the drug's abnormally lengthy staying power, it remains difficult to discern whether a fighter used marijuana out-of-competition or within the two-week in-competition window, which may -- and probably will -- lead to a situation in which a fighter with no prior offenses is suspended for a year-and-a-half for out-of-competition marijuana use that was theoretically legal.

Regardless, commissioner Anthony Marnell affirmed a desire to create an atmosphere of "zero tolerance" in the state of Nevada. Considering the flood of massive names and draws that would have been exiled from the sport within the past few years had the NAC's new regulations been established at the time of their failings, it would seem that message was received loud and clear.