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Could USADA have gotten back Brock Lesnar’s positive drug test result before UFC 200?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Brock Lesnar beat Mark Hunt at UFC 200, landing 137 strikes in the process, according to Fight Metric. Five days later, the UFC was informed by its anti-doping partner USADA that Lesnar tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs — from a sample that came more than a week prior to UFC 200.

USADA did not get the test result back until July 14, according to the UFC. That timeframe between the sample collection and the result returning is standard in the industry.

However, USADA could have gotten the results back quicker had the agency requested it be expedited.

Lesnar's sample was sent to the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory. Anthony Butch, the lab's director, told MMA Fighting through a spokesperson that expedited results can return in anywhere from two days to a week. The cost for an expedited result starts at $35 per sample with the cost rising for weekend and holiday testing. The maximum is $450.

UCLA only charges the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) $30 to request an expedite, according to CSAC's contract with the lab obtained by MMA Fighting in a public records request. The contract states that an expedited result can come back in three business days.

Lesnar's sample was collected eight business days prior to UFC 200.

There was no guarantee had USADA requested Lesnar's result be expedited that it would have come back before the fight, saving Hunt from those blows landed by a potentially enhanced fighter. The UCLA lab, the largest WADA-accredited lab in the United States (and one of only two in the U.S.), is currently slammed with pre-Olympic samples and the Fourth of July holiday was in between Lesnar's sample collection and UFC 200.

An expediting request does not necessarily mean a result will come back any quicker than usual, but USADA in this case did not make that request. Lesnar tested positive for the anti-estrogen agent clomiphene in both the June 28 out-of-competition test and an in-competition test at UFC 200. Five earlier samples of Lesnar's did return clean before the eventual positive one.

"I'm very pro USADA — very pro USADA," CSAC executive officer Andy Foster said. "But I think asking for a fast turnaround on results of out-of-competition testing would make a difference. If the commission or promoter knows a fighter tested positive before the fight, they could have a chance to verify if a fighter is clean or not. I think by having that you'd take an already exceptional program and make it better.

"As a commission, we don't want a fighter on performance-enhancing drugs to fight another not on performance-enhancing drugs. It's a potential safety issue."

Dr. Margaret Goodman, the president of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA), said her organization requests expedites on all results, but the time they take to come back depends on various things, like the time of collection, the lab and unforeseen processes of that lab.

"Because different panels and methods of analysis require different processing times, some results may be available while other results from the same collection may not yet be completed," Goodman said.

Positive drug test results take longer to return than negative ones, because the labs double and triple check to confirm the positive before sending it back to an agency. Expediting all results might not be convenient for USADA, which screens more than 500 athletes in year-round random testing as part of the UFC's anti-doping program.

Another issue in the Lesnar case specifically is that the UFC waived the rule in its anti-doping policy that states an athlete has to inform USADA four months out of returning from retirement, so the athlete can be placed in the drug-testing pool. Lesnar only officially signed with the UFC about one month before UFC 200.

In a statement to MMA Fighting, USADA spokesman Ryan Madden said not all out-of-competition drug test results will come back before a fight, because the agency doesn't want to leave any blackout dates where it does not collect samples. For instance, the result from a sample taken two days before a bout isn't going to come back prior to the competition, but USADA can also not rule out testing fighters on those days. USADA did say it would be open to requesting expediting in the future.

"We never want to have a fighter enter the Octagon that may have used a prohibited substance," Madden said. "But the reality is that in order for the UFC Anti-Doping program to be as effective as possible, it will always be absolutely mandatory that you test in the weeks, days and even hours leading up to a bout. Because of this, the possibility exists that some samples collected will not have the time to be analyzed before the athletes step in to the Octagon. We cannot allow for blackout periods where athletes know they won't be tested because the window is too tight for samples to be returned. That being said, we are always looking for ways to improve the anti-doping program, and that includes evaluating the process for requesting expedited results from the laboratory going forward -€” which we will do."

UFC vice president of health and performance Jeff Novitzky told MMA Fighting that UFC execs sat down with USADA after the Lesnar situation and asked them what can be done about getting those results back before a fight.

"We never want to see that," Novitzky said. "The whole reason of this program being in place is to prevent things like that from happening, prevent two individuals from getting into an Octagon where one has an unfair advantage. But based on timing, that potentially could be inevitable."

Expediting test results sounds great, Novitzky said, but there are caveat given the sheer volume of UFC fights and fighters, costs and the limitations of labs.

"It's not as simple as it sounds," he said. "We're having an event literally every week now — 24 to 26 fighters per each card. A lot of those fighters are being tested in the two to three weeks before a fight. You would have to expedite every one of those tests. If you want to expedite one or two tests, the costs with the laboratory are relatively minor. When you start talking about 100 or so a month or more, you could more than double the cost of this program."

Lesnar is facing sanctions from USADA and the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC), which also has jurisdiction over the case due to the sample's proximity to UFC 200 in Las Vegas.

Goodman commended the NAC and executive director Bob Bennett for the proposition of stricter penalties for performance-enhancing drug users and new guidelines that also call for expedited test results.

Bennett told MMA Fighting that it is not his wish to see any fighter potentially enhanced go into the cage against an opponent, but sometimes it's difficult to prevent.

"We're going to make a concerted effort to work with the labs to see about the most expeditious way to get the results back," he said. "Especially in the event that it's in our best interests to have the results expedited, then we would request them. But I don't know in this case if they had enough time or it would have made a difference."

Bennett also said any speculation about a nefarious element — that the UFC and USADA knew about Lesnar's positive test before UFC 200 — is ridiculous. Bennett said the UFC pulling Jon Jones from UFC 200 three days out of his main event fight due to a failed drug test was evidence that the promotion will act if it knows about a result.

"Nobody is trying to hide things," Bennett said. "It shows they'll pull the trigger if they get the result on time.

"I think the UFC has done a phenomenal job with their 500-plus fighters and having an anti-doping program that's the best out there. Nobody else is testing all the fighters they have under contract. The UFC goes around the world — to China to Japan, everywhere — to test all fighters randomly, to look out for the health and safety of the fighters. It's an expensive program and that's to clean up the sport."

Hunt, though, is furious that he competed against a possibly enhanced opponent, tearing down the UFC and Lesnar publicly over the last two weeks.

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