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USADA responds in detail to Lyoto Machida’s criticism of suspension

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Lyoto Machida is not happy with the length of his suspension.

The former UFC light heavyweight champion spoke out about his 18-month ban from USADA on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. Machida, who admitted to the use of a banned substance in April, found the sanction to be "unfair" and "unreasonable." He said it was clear that he did not intentionally take a prohibited substance and that USADA did not educate him sufficiently prior to his anti-doping violation.

"When the UFC brought USADA in, I thought it was to instruct and educate all the fighters," Machida said. "But instead they came in to punish in a very unreasonable fashion.

"I want to say that I'm very disappointed in USADA. I think it is all extremely unfair. I take the blame for taking 7-keto. I [didn't know] it was a banned substance, since I bought it over the counter at a supplement store, when it stated on its label 60 vegetarian capsules."

Machida admitted use of 7-keto-dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and then had elevated levels of DHEA in a subsequent drug test. "The Dragon" said he took the supplement to reduce stress levels and that it didn't believe it to have any performance-enhancing elements. Machida added that he thought USADA would reduce the suspension more since he was honest and contributed fully to the investigation.

"For me, USADA didn't give us proper instruction, and I think they failed in giving us an education about everything," Machida said. "So, they only sent me a proper list of banned supplements after they decided on my suspension, so they sent me maybe two-to-three days later, they sent me the list of the supplements so I could understand everything. But before it was where it was supposed to be, it didn't happen."

In a Q&A with MMA Fighting, USADA spokesperson Ryan Madden responded to the claims made by Machida in an attempt to clarify the situation and why Machida got an 18-month suspension.

Marc Raimondi: It's somewhat explained in the release about Machida's suspension, but can you detail the process of the investigation from admission to sanction? He did also fail a drug test, correct?

Ryan Madden: It's a good question. The short version is that the whole situation would have been avoided if Mr. Machida had simply used the resources made available to him to ensure that his use of a product -€” called 7-Keto -€”  was permitted under the UFC Anti-Doping Program.

It would have been really easy, all he has to do was visit GlobalDRO.com -€” a resource that all athletes receive education on -€” and search for 7-keto. He also could have reached out to us directly. Either way, within minutes, he would have been able to determine that this product was not safe to use under the Program.

MR: Can you go into a little more detail about Machida's particular situation?

The longer version is that every time athletes are tested by USADA, they are asked to declare any supplements or other products they may be taking. On April 8th, Mr. Machida, after having been notified of a test, declared a product called 7-Keto on his doping control form. These forms are then reviewed by in-house experts.

So after reviewing his form, we reached out to Mr. Machida within a week -€” April 13th, I believe -€” asking him to provide some additional information on the 7-Keto he declared. That same day, he confirmed his declaration of 7-keto was in reference to a product called 7-KETO, containing 7-keto-DHEA. Under the rules, it constituted a clear anti-doping policy violation and he was formally charged on April 14th.

You asked about his sample; it was analyzed by the WADA-accredited laboratory at UCLA, and showed extremely elevated levels of DHEA consistent with someone who was taking 7-keto. (Correction: Madden said in a subsequent e-mail that this line should have read: "it was analyzed by the WADA-accredited laboratory at UCLA, and showed an extremely elevated 7β-hydroxy-DHEA to DHEA ratio, which is consistent with someone who was taking 7-keto.") As is within his rights, he then asked for his b-sample to be tested, which we did and that too came back with elevated levels. It's probably also worth noting that those levels were not just slightly elevated, but more than 15x higher than what we would expect to see from an individual who was not using this particular prohibited substance.

He never disputed the violation, so the only remaining issue to determine was the appropriate sanction. In June, he then exercised his right to have that determination made by an independent arbitrator; however, on the eve of arbitration, he accepted the 18-month sanction that was being offered.

MR : Machida said that USADA offered him the 18-month suspension and threatened him that if he went to arbitration the sanction could be harsher. Is that accurate?

RM: Threatened? No. Of course that's not accurate.

The important thing to understand here is that Lyoto Machida, like most all athletes who find themselves in this kind of situation, hired experienced counsel to represent him and provide guidance to him throughout the process.

With that said, in this case, I think it's entirely possible that given Mr. Machida's degree of negligence -€” which in all honesty, is extremely high -€” his team decided that it was in his best interest to take the 18 months instead of risking the possibility of having a full two-year sanction be imposed by an arbitrator.

And ultimately, that calculus speaks far more to the degree of fault that he was exposed to under the rules than it does anything else.

Plus, as people who are familiar with this space can attest, when you go to arbitration, all of the details surrounding the athlete's use of the prohibited substance are made public in the arbitrator's reasoned decision ... which is something that their counsel will advise them on and be taken under consideration.

Sometimes, I suppose, it's just easier for the athlete -€” at least from a public relations standpoint -€” to accept the sanction and then try to control the narrative in the media. It's unfortunate for sure, but that's what we're seeing here.

MR: The suspension was reduced from two years to 18 months. But why only a six-month reduction for someone who appeared to be honest about messing up and not knowing the substance was banned?

RM: Right, so when evaluating any potential reduction in period of ineligibility the primary driver is the athlete's degree of fault. In this case -€” and this is important -€” Mr. Machida took a product that listed a banned substance on the ingredient label and was itself named after a substance included on the prohibited list.

And let's be entirely clear here, the athlete in this case did not utilize any of the resources available to him -€” resources that he has been educated on numerous times -€” to determine the status of the product before taking it. Because of this, at the end of the day, it was rightly determined that the athlete's degree of fault was high; however, to your question, because Mr. Machida was willing to cooperate and be forthcoming during the investigation -€” the time in which we collect information, review the facts, and ultimately assess the athlete's degree of fault -€” we believed that a six-month reduction in his sanction was appropriate.

MR: There seems to be a bit of controversy over 7-keto-DHEA and its presence on the WADA list. Some have said it has no performance-enhancing benefits. Why is it on the list and are there any plans to evaluate it?

RM: The reality is though that this particular substance is on the WADA Prohibited List because it meets at least 2 of 3 criteria for inclusion.

And look, we talk to athletes all the time and tell them that by taking untested, unproven and potentially harmful products for no clinical purpose, they run the risk of not just of an anti-doping rule violation, but negative effects on their health, well-being and probably their legacy.

MR: Machida said he was not adequately educated by USADA prior to taking the banned substance. He said he only got information about what was and what was not prohibited after he was provisionally suspended. Does USADA have a response to that?

RM: Yes, look, I think this is probably the most important point that we need to talk about. We've read some of the headlines out there the last few days, and we should be very clear about this: the idea that Mr. Machida wasn't properly educated is just flat-out false.

Keep in mind that when this program was first put in to place we understood that for a lot of the fighters this was going to be a culture change -€” most of whom had never been exposed to an anti-doping program of this nature before -€” so the first six months of the program was focused almost exclusively on educating athletes, with limited testing.

USADA program went live on July 1, 2015. Specific to Mr. Machida, we sent him an invitation to a voluntary education webinar on August 10th. Neither he or a representative, attended the session. Then in September of 2015, he completed a mandatory online education program known as Athlete's Advantage; it's a course that covers everything from the Prohibited List, to TUEs, to where to find all of the resources -€” including GlobalDRO -€” that he can use to make sure he remains compliant with the program. Also, it's worth noting that this course was available to Mr. Machida in Portuguese -€” his native language. We also sent relevant education information to his manager, in the event that any of our correspondence went unseen by Mr. Machida himself.

In December of 2015, he again completed the Athlete's Advantage video -€” this one tailored specifically to athlete's who had been in the testing pool, providing further education on the prohibited list, supplement awareness and a bunch of other issues pertaining to the program.

Further, that January, we sent out information on updates to the Prohibited List, as well as dietary supplement information a month later with link to our primary resources.

He also was sent a pre-event reminder in March that guided him towards further educational resources.

So while it may be a convenient sound bite to say, "well, I didn't know" or "I wasn't educated enough" the reality is that as an organization we can only provide athletes with the resources and the information to be successful. How seriously they take it, how engaged they choose to be in the process, and how diligent they choose to be in their actions is up to them. And if athletes are going to delegate out these educational responsibilities, they have to stay engaged.

So yeah, Lyoto Machida was given everything he needed from an education standpoint -€” as are all other athletes -€” to be successful in this program.

MR: Why is the difference between Machida's case and the cases involving Yoel Romero and Tim Means? Romero and Means only got six months, while Machida got 18.

RM: It's completely based on degree of fault. The other athletes you mention were able to definitively establish that their positive tests were caused by their use of contaminated supplements that did not list prohibited substances on the product labels. So it was determined in those cases, that their degree of fault was relatively low.

In Mr. Machida's case, you have an athlete who used a product that was clearly identified as a prohibited substance, listed a prohibited substance as an ingredient and ultimately, contained a prohibited substance as verified by the laboratory's analysis of his sample.

And unlike Romero and Means, Mr. Machida could have easily avoided his doping violation by checking the product against the Prohibited List -€” a list that he was educated on numerous times dating back to the launch of the program in 2015.

They are very different situations and Mr. Machida's degree of fault, compared to those other cases you mention, is simply much higher.