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UFC says Cortney Casey has been exonerated in doping case, but Texas sanctions remain

UFC 211 photos
Cortney Casey was suspended and had her UFC 211 win overturned by Texas last month.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The UFC has received results that Cortney Casey was free of prohibited substances at UFC 211, MMA Fighting has learned. But sanctions levied by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) have yet to be lifted.

UFC vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky said Thursday that the UFC and the TDLR got the results back from Casey’s ‘B’ sample this week. Those results, which have been obtained by MMA Fighting, came back negative for banned substances in isotope-ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) testing, done at the WADA-accredited SMRTL lab in Salt Lake City.

Casey’s ‘A’ sample came back last month with an elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone level over the Texas threshold of 4-to-1. As a result of that, the TDLR suspended Casey for three months and overturned her victory at UFC 211 on May 13 against Jessica Aguilar to a no contest.

Per Novitzky and other anti-doping experts, an elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio does not necessarily mean an athlete was taking prohibited substances, nor does it even mean a testosterone level is high. The epitestosterone level could be low. In the case of an elevated T:E ratio, additional testing, like IRMS, is needed to determine whether or not the athlete was taking anything illegal.

In Casey’s case, Novitzky believes the TDLR jumped the gun on sanctioning her and releasing her drug-test results in an open records request to media before doing additional testing to see why she had a higher T:E ratio.

“Her slightly elevated T:E ratio was just a product of her natural physiology and not anything she did wrong,” Novitzky said. “She didn’t cheat. A T:E ratio, in and of itself — especially mildly high — is never grounds for a public announcement of a positive test.”

Novitzky said Casey has been tested multiple times by USADA, the UFC’s anti-doping partner, in her two years with the UFC and has never come back positive for any prohibited substances. Novitzky said Casey’s T:E ratio has been high in USADA tests, but she’s been cleared with more sophisticated testing, like IRMS and carbon isotope ratio (CIR) screening.

“I believe it’s sickening how Cortney has been treated by the Texas commission throughout this,” Novitzky said. “From my experience, the worst thing you can do in anti-doping is a public announcement of a false positive test and that’s what Texas did to her.”

When asked for comment on the situation, TDLR spokesperson Susan Stanford said she could not confirm that the state has gotten back Casey’s ‘B’ sample and that it was clean, because the investigation is still open.

“At this point the Casey case is still under review,” Stanford said.

Casey, 30, said she didn’t find out about her suspension and the overturning of her victory until she heard about it from the media last month. She said she told TDLR officials afterward that she was not taking any banned drugs and that maybe her birth control was making her epitestosterone level low. Casey said when her sample was collected at UFC 211 the TDLR form never asked her if she was taking any kind of medication.

The strawweight contender is hoping Texas will lift her sanctions and make some kind of public retraction. But she knows that even if that happens she might still be viewed as a performance-enhancing drug user in the public’s eyes.

“Even now with the result in my favor, people will just say I found a loophole,” Casey told MMA Fighting. “I will always be considered a cheater in some people’s eyes. If you look at the science, there is no loophole to it. It sucks. It just sucks.”

Casey said the TDLR made her pay out of pocket for the additional testing. Novitzky confirmed that the UFC footed the bill for the IRMS testing, at a $469 cost. Casey said she has been supported by Novitzky and the UFC on this issue from the start, and even got a reassuring call from UFC president Dana White.

“The only good thing that I can say to come out of this is it’s a good example of what USADA and what I can do in my position to ensure athletes get their proper due process when it comes to athletic commission drug testing,” Novitzky said. … “There’s been some criticism and I think we’ve educated people on it, but there’s been criticism from media and commissions on why USADA takes so long to come back with results. I think this is a glaring example of why. When USADA announces something publicly, they’re 100 percent sure. They’ve dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s.”

In a statement, Stanford said the TDLR frequently reviews combat program rules, including those involving anti-doping, and “welcomes” additional comments and concerns from the public and stakeholders.

“The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) consistently reviews all Combative Sports program rules, including those related to anti-doping,” Stanford said. “During the last review of the rules TDLR received a single public comment related to drug testing procedures. That comment sought to include all prohibited drugs in the standard testing panel.

“The Department welcomes additional comments about anti-doping and other concerns from the public and industry affecting the combative sports program.”

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