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UFC drug czar: Fighters could face two-year suspension for violating IV ban

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Jose Aldo might want to back off his wish to ignore the UFC's new IV ban.

Starting Oct. 1, fighters will no longer be able to rehydrate intravenously after weigh-ins, according to the rules of the promotion's anti-doping program run by USADA. And UFC vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky said that if a fighter violates the ban he or she will face a substantial suspension: up to two years.

"The risk versus reward under this program, I mean if someone is found out to have taken an IV you're facing a potential two-year ban, which is a long time in the UFC and in MMA," Novitzky told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "Hopefully all those factors that are put forth, everyone will follow the rules."

The reason for the strict ban is that IVs can be used to mask the presence of performance-enhancing drugs in a fighter's system.

Aldo, the UFC featherweight champion, was defiant last month about the IV ban, saying he wouldn't take it into consideration.

"I will continue to do IV, I don't care. I'll tell them I'm going to eat and do it instead," he said at a press conference. "They won't take me out of the f*cking fight, so I don't care. They can say whatever they want, but it's scientifically proved the best way to rehydrate. Only if they put security guard with me 24 hours a day. I don't care. That's what's going to happen."

Aldo is not the only UFC fighter to express issues with the new rule. But Novitzky said USADA won't bend. The former IRS and FDA special agent said that research has also shown that rehydrating orally is actually a more effective method than using an IV anyway.

"It is something that [fighters] are going to have to deal with," Novitzky said. "Whether it means walking around when fights aren't scheduled a little closer to that fight weight, whether it means, which hopefully it does, being educated through us and through others on how to properly orally rehydrate. The studies and science show that as long as the dehydration isn't too severe oral rehydration is actually better for you. It's safer for you. Studies show that you'll feel like exercise is a little bit easier and you're exerting less if you orally hydrate."

Steep weight cutting is a hot topic in MMA right now, with many, including California State Athletic Commission executive officer Andy Foster, calling it one of the biggest issues facing the sport. There are dangers with rapid dehydration and a direct correlation between cutting a lot of weight, concussions and brain trauma.

However, if fighters continue these practices -- and many will -- eliminating the use of IVs is potentially dangerous. Novitzky is hoping his role as someone who educates fighters about the new policies will help matters.

There is a loophole around the IV ban, Novitzky said, but it is tenuous. If a fighter is sick and must be hospitalized, he is allowed an IV. However, the commission very well could remove the fighter from the bout in that case.

Novitzky said there are two methods to test for IV use. One of them involves a fighter's biological passport, which USADA will accumulate over time and multiple tests. If the blood and urine are diluted, it will affect the biological passport and USADA will be able to tell the fighter used an IV. There is also a test for the plastics found in an IV, which USADA could also use.

Interestingly, Novitzky also said that USADA will keep fighter samples long term and, as new screens and technology come about, can test them retroactively.

"Even if there wasn't a definitive test now, there could be two or three years from now," he said.

When he started with the UFC in the spring, Novitzky was unaware IVs were used as much as they are after weigh-ins. But he maintained that USADA will have no wiggle room when it comes to the ban.

"What was surprising to me was the prevalence of its use in this sport, not necessarily to try to defeat anti-doping tests, but for rehydration purposes," Novitzky said. "That and the extreme weight cuts that were going on. That was a surprise."