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Sean O’Malley trying to look at suspension as ‘blessing in disguise,’ but hopes aspects of USADA program change

The first half of Sean O’Malley’s drug-testing punishment has been decided.

O’Malley was issued a six-month suspension by the Nevada Athletic Commission last week and ordered to pay $472.42 in legal fees as a result of his recent failed USADA drug test. “Suga” tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug ostarine in a September screening ahead of his UFC 229 fight against Jose Quinonez, a fight which was ultimately cancelled. O’Malley said he tested positive for just .08 nanograms of the offending substance — a minute amount that equals just .00000000008 of a gram — and believes the failed test to be the result of a tainted supplement.

With his six-month suspension set to stretch until March 2019, O’Malley now awaits the second half of his sentencing, which will come directly from USADA. And although he would be sidelined until 2019 anyway because of recent hip and foot surgeries, the situation has still been tough to reconcile for the undefeated 24-year-old.

“It sucks,” O’Malley said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I didn’t do anything, so getting suspended at all, it sucks, and getting fined also sucks. It sucks getting in trouble for something I didn’t do. Six months, I wouldn’t be able to fight within this next six months anyway; well, within the next three or four months, because the suspension came the day of the test, September 5th. I just got surgery three weeks ago on my hip, so I’m going to be rehabbing that and hoping to return within the next five or six months. So as far as the suspension goes from the athletic commission, six months, and then we’ve still gotta deal with USADA, figure out that. So I don’t know.

“My lawyers are working on it and trying to figure it out. We’ve still gotta test a bunch of supplements. I tested [positive for] .08 nanograms, which is a very small amount. They’re confident. The UFC knows I didn’t take anything. They know it’s a tainted supplement. I think USADA knows that, I think the athletic commission knows that. This isn’t a rare thing. It’s common, it happens, especially with the stuff that I tested for, which is Ostarine — it’s in a lot of stuff. I think my fans really have my back, and it does bother me when I read stuff online and people say, ‘You cheater,’ when I didn’t do anything. And I know those guys are just haters or they’re trying to get a rise out of me, or whatever it is, but it sucks hearing that from people because I really didn’t do anything. It’s just, it is what it is.”

O’Malley (10-0) said he is currently in rehab and doesn’t expect to be able to resume running for another three months after undergoing surgery to fix a torn labrum in his hip. O’Malley was dealing with the injury in the lead-up to UFC 229 and was willing to fight Quinonez because of the magnitude of the history-making card, but opted to get surgery to repair the damage after his positive drug test threw a wrench in his plans. In the meantime, O’Malley said he is still in the process of working with UFC executive Jeff Novitzky and USADA in trying to discover which of his many supplements resulted in the failed test.

“Jeff Novitzky, when he called me that day, I sent him all my supplements and he said, ‘I have a strong feeling it’s those caffeine pills.’ So those were the only things we sent in because he was sure it was those, and it ended up not being those, so we just sent in all of my other supplements last week,” O’Malley said. “And those take a couple weeks to get back, so I’m just patiently waiting. My lawyer is helping me a ton, Jeff Novitzky is helping me ton, the UFC is helping me a ton, so it’s just a waiting game right now.

“But really, it doesn’t matter. It’s just, I’m recovering from this hip injury and I’m going to get back in the gym. I have a fire in me. I want to train. I haven’t been healthy. Going into that last fight, that October fight when I was supposed to fight ‘El Teco,’ I wasn’t healthy. I needed this hip surgery, my foot wasn’t healed. So it’s a blessing in disguise. I’m healing up from a bunch of injuries and I’m excited to come back.”

Despite the Nevada Athletic Commission’s six-month sentence, O’Malley is still facing a maximum two-year suspension from USADA for his testing situation.

Historically, fighters who deal with issues regarding a tainted supplement receive far less than the two-year maximum, however O’Malley knows he must be prepared to deal with a worst-case scenario if it arises and he ends up sidelined for multiple years.

“I have to be,” O’Malley said. “If they gave me two years, being upset about it literally does nothing. I’m always trying to be in a positive mindset, no matter the situation. So, it is what it is. What I think is going to happen, come January, I think the UFC is going to do something about USADA. This can’t happen. This isn’t right. It was three weeks out before the biggest fight of my life, a six-figure payday, and a huge opportunity for me to gain a following. That’s not right. This can’t happen. Like I said, I don’t wish this upon any UFC fighter or any athlete. The UFC has to do something about it, as far as getting USADA, coming up with a new rule saying if you test below this certain amount that it shouldn’t even be counted. Either that or be done with USADA.

“I like the idea of USADA, I love the fact that they’re testing people and catching people cheating, but there’s gotta be more to it — .08 nanograms is absolutely nothing.”

O’Malley is opting to stay as positive as possible while he awaits his fate.

If he ends up just getting a duplicate six-month suspension from USADA, he hopes the UFC decides to re-book the Quinonez fight, even O’Malley he knows he won’t be able to replicate the kind of history-making stage he would’ve had at UFC 229 — a card which wound up being the highest-selling pay-per-view in the history of the sport.

O’Malley also pledged to use this rough chapter of his career as a learning lesson as he moves forward, especially in regards to how he approaches his supplement regime. He advised any UFC fighters who may be listening to take similar steps to ensure the same fate doesn’t befall them.

“A lot of people have been like, ‘Why do you take that many supplements?’ It’s like, go out there and train twice a day as hard as I do. Your body breaks down,” O’Malley said. “You need those supplements, you need that stuff. I’m taking joint supplements, vitamins, a bunch of things. I thought all athletes took supplements. So a lot of people don’t understand being a professional athlete, how bad your body breaks down. Everyone takes supplements that I know, so I think there’s gotta be something — and it’s so easy to get a tainted supplement unless it’s third-party tested.

“I didn’t know better. All the stuff I’ve taken is all-natural stuff, but it’s not third-party tested, which I guess is what is the safest way to make sure you’re not getting that. So I’m going to have to make sure I get all [of my supplements] third-party tested. And all of the UFC fighters who watch this, it’s good advice. Make sure it’s third-party tested.”

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