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Guido Cannetti’s dogged fight to prove to USADA he didn’t knowingly take banned substances

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UFC bantamweight Guido Cannetti had to go to great lengths to save his fighting career.

Last October, just days away from his heated rematch with Marco Beltran at The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America 3 Finale, Cannetti was notified by USADA – the UFC's anti-doping policy partner – that he failed an out-of-competition drug test. The Argentine fighter was then immediately suspended and pulled from his bout with Beltran, as he had tested positive for four banned substances: Ostarine, hydrochlorothiazide, chlorothiazide and stanozolol.

Cannetti was upset by the news and claimed innocence, telling MMA Fighting that he had not taken any of the banned substances he had popped for. At the time he was pulled from his bout, Cannetti had spent two months away from his family in Argentina while training at Team Alpha Male in California.

Fast forward 10 months and Cannetti is now eligible to compete again in the Octagon. The cast member of season one of TUF: Latin America didn’t get a two-year suspension that would’ve been given for his type of case, since USADA concluded last month that the failed drug test came from a tainted supplement.

Despite being sidelined for a relatively short time, Cannetti’s suspension would’ve likely been longer if it wasn’t for his dogged efforts to prove he wasn’t at fault.

“In reality, the time that I was out of competition, you know, suspended, it was the time they (USADA) took to analyze the whole case,” Cannetti told MMA Fighting. “At the beginning, they didn’t trust me, so I had to search through all the possible means for a way to try to analyze the supplements here in Argentina and it was just basically impossible for me.

“The person from the supplements told me that it was impossible because they entered the country with a double test and the products were imported so they had to be tested and that they couldn’t have had any drugs. So I went around and tried in all the government services here in Argentina. I filed a complaint to ANMAT, which is the body that regulates all the food and supplements, and then I went to INTI, which is the National Institute of Industrial Technology here in Argentina, and they didn’t have the way, the machinery needed to analyze the supplement. I contacted a person that works for a very well-known brand that makes medicine and he was able to find the drug because they manufacture that same medicine, which is a diuretic, so he was able to analyze the supplement and conclude that the drug was in it.”

The company that helped Cannetti analyze the supplement only had the resources to test for one of the four prohibited substances found in Cannetti’s drug test. Yet, despite not having the complete proof, that analysis was enough for Cannetti to show USADA something was wrong with the supplement he was taking.

“So I sent this study to USADA and then they began to believe me,” Canneti explained. “They asked me to send the supplements there but I told them that it was impossible for me to analyze them here because they don’t have the machinery needed and that I had already been trying to find for over a month a way to analyze them, both with private and public institutions, and there just isn’t the adequate technology and machinery to test the supplements.

“I told them that the doping tests of Argentine athletes get sent to Colombia to get them tested there. I had no way of proving my innocence, you know, until I was able to find that person. So yeah, I let USADA know about the analysis and then they began to believe me and they told me to send them the supplements. I sent them supplements that I had been taking, I sent them some that were sealed and others that I was able to get a hold of from the same gym where they were being sold because I was afraid that the person that had given them to me would change them. So yeah, apart from that, I sent other supplements that were on sale at the gym and I also sent them another supplement that I was given by the same person at the gym.

“USADA told me that the supplements had the drugs (the four substances Cannetti tested positive for) and then they went on to ask questions to the owner of the supplements, they also asked me questions. They would even make me go through the same questionnaire to see if they would catch me in a lie or see if I would say something else, but they proved that I was right, and that I wasn’t lying. I never had the intention of doping.”

The provisional suspension from USADA took away Cannetti’s ability to collect a UFC paycheck at the TUF: Latin America 3 Finale and kept him from fighting for 10 months. That sets Cannetti’s decision win over Hugo Viana at UFC 190 on Aug. 1, 2015 as his most recent work day as a professional fighter. And despite operating his own MMA gym in Buenos Aires, Our Town MMA, Cannetti still underwent some harsh times not being able to fight.

“The problem with not being able to fight is that I had a few debts that I needed to pay, and the truth is that that got me in a very bad state because I knew that I had the debts, but I also knew I would be able to pay them after the fight with Beltran,” Cannetti explained. “So when that fight didn’t happen, and I returned to my country and saw that things were rough – this last year that passed with the economical situation in Argentina things were very hard with the change in government and all that – and the truth is that it cost me a lot to make a living.

“I have a gym here where I give MMA classes and I work as a teacher and apart from that, I also train and I’ve built team and a very good group. Today, I have two amateur champions and some of the guys are doing really well, so today I can train there comfortably since we have a solid level. But seeing that I almost couldn’t maintain my family with the minimum necessities, then how was I going to pay the debts that were more money? So the truth is that I wasn’t doing so well this past year in regards to my spirit and my mood because you really feel very depressed not being able to pay bills, not being able to fight, which is something I’ve done all my life. It was very rough.”

Since the prohibited substances Cannetti failed for weren’t on the label of the supplement he took, and being affected financially by the lack of description on the product, Cannetti has taken legal action in Argentina against the supplement company (Cannetti chose not to reveal the name of the product for legal reasons).

“The person doesn’t want to be accountable for the damage that he caused me, so I asked USADA if they could send their analysis and all that and I’m going to take legal action to at least recover some of the time that I lost,” Cannetti said. “I told him that I had a doping testing that was very advanced and that I couldn’t be taking just any product, and he was like, ‘No, relax. This is extremely good, you can trust us,’ and well, we saw how things turned out. Now, I’m at this age, 37, so two years without fighting is a ton of time for me. I lost a lot of time in my career.”

Having gone through this whole ordeal with USADA and the tainted supplement, Cannetti believes the UFC’s anti-doping partner needs to change the way they handle drug-test failures. At the end of the day, suspensions are not only affecting the time fans won’t get see their favorite fighters compete inside of the Octagon, but also people’s livelihoods.

“Yeah, I think it needs to be handled in a different manner,” Cannetti said. “If you fail a drug test and you say that you didn’t take anything, you should be able to immediately give them your supplements and they should analyze them as soon as possible to see if they’re contaminated or not so that everything can get solved faster.

“This whole thing could’ve been solved in two months, there shouldn’t be so many protocols and investigation. It should be, ‘You took banned substances?’, ‘No, I didn’t,’ ‘OK, then what did you take?’, ‘This, this, and that. Here’s the opened containers and here are the sealed ones, analyze them’. And if they test positive, OK, then you get suspended less time. We’re not only losing the fight and the money we were supposed to win, this is your job because every time you’re booked to fight, your’e counting on that money. It’s not like I get paid monthly to be in the UFC, so when we know that money is coming, we need it to do many things. Many fighters like myself, we’re surviving and we’re always waiting on the next fight so we can have a little more money and be able to get things done.”

Now being able to fight, it’s safe to say Canneti is now on a more positive track. Since he was notified that his suspension had been lifted, Cannetti feels like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders.

“When I got the news from USADA and I was off the suspension, people are telling me, ‘Hey, you look happier. You seem more content, you look good,’” Cannetti said. “That’s what people have been telling me. I don’t notice it, but I know that I’m in a very different state. It was an insane amount of happiness, it was like that knot that I had in my chest was gone. I had this knot stuck in my chest and I was able to get rid of it. It was something that I had nailed in my chest that wouldn’t let me live.”

Cannetti has already reached out to UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby and hopes to get a fight at UFC 217 in November. He’d liked to train again in Team Alpha Male along side Cody Garbrandt, who defends his belt against T.J. Dillashaw in the co-main event of UFC 217.