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WADA flaw leads to false positive for Rob Font, USADA overturns to ‘no violation’

UFC Fight Night: Font v Garbrandt Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Rob Font will not face any sanctions after the United States Anti-Doping Agency deemed that a positive drug test was caused by a non-prohibited substance.

Font, who defeated Cody Garbrandt via unanimous decision in his first promotional headliner at UFC Vegas 27 in May, was one of the names posted on the upcoming Nevada Athletic Commission’s next meeting agenda on July 7 “for possible action,” which MMA Fighting has learned stemmed from a positive drug test on May 22. The New England standout tested positive for traces of 4-Chlorophenoxyacetic acid, a metabolite of meclofenoxate, which is a substance on the UFC’s prohibited list.

Upon further investigation, USADA identified that chlorphenesin, a cosmetic preservative, was a common ingredient among “topically applied products” used by athletes who recently returned adverse samples for 4-CPA. After working with multiple World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratories, along with research and human studies, USADA concluded that Font’s positive test was caused by a non-prohibited substance, MMA Fighting has learned.

With the ruling, Font will not receive any suspension or fines that would be handed down by USADA.

While Font has gotten cleared by USADA, he remains on the agenda for next week’s NAC meeting as he has been temporarily suspended. The New England Cartel co-founder, along with his team, believe transparency is the best course of action.

“Rob has never taken any prohibited substances and USADA has already cleared him of any wrongdoing. The Nevada Athletic Commission is still examining the facts, however,” Font’s manager Tyson Chartier wrote in a statement released on Friday.

“We recently learned that in January of this year, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) put forth a ‘technical letter’ advising all WADA-accredited laboratories (the laboratories used under the UFC/USADA program) to begin reporting out cases in excess of 1000 ng/ml of 4-CPA as ‘adverse analytical findings’ for the stimulant meclofenoxate, even when no meclofenoxate is present. We have learned that Rob’s case, and one other in the Olympic world, were the first two positive meclofenoxate cases reported out under this new ‘technical letter’ guidance. Rob’s sample was reported to contain over 1900 ng/ml of 4-CPA, but no traces of meclofenoxate.

“We knew immediately that Rob didn’t do anything wrong. Rob is a professional and very detailed in all aspects of his preparation. That professionalism and attention to detail saved Rob in this case. We were rapidly able to provide UFC and USADA with everything Rob consumed leading up to the fight. Food, certified and tested supplements, even skin and hair products were provided to look for answers. All backed with receipts of purchase. Team Font provided a 35-page document, listing EVERYTHING he did in preparation for this fight, including photos of what he consumed and used.”

Font is currently ranked No. 3 in the UFC’s bantamweight division and is riding a four-fight win streak, which includes a first-round TKO win over Marlon Moraes, and a pair of decision wins against Sergio Pettis and Ricky Simon. The Massachusetts native is 9-3 in his UFC run and could be a win or two away from fighting for a UFC title for the first time.

As the investigation into the positive test continued, it showed that chlorphenesin can metabolize into C-4PA, which is used as a synthetic preservative in cosmetic products such as lotion, hair products, and sunscreen.

“We also learned that UFC/USADA checked on all of the other samples from fighters who participated on the May 22nd card, and that ALL of them had some traces of 4-CPA in their urine,” Chartier’s statement said. “Because of Rob’s diligence and professionalism, we were able to trace several products that he used regularly leading up to the fight, including hair products and body lotion, that contained chlorphenesin. We were able to show when the products were purchased with receipts (several weeks before the fight). At this point we knew we had a source and the answer.

“About a week later, the UFC informed us that USADA had conducted a single use administration study of the effects on urine excretion of 4-CPA after the one-time use of sunscreen containing chlorphenesin. And sure enough, after applying sunscreen containing chlorphenesin just one time on a study subject, their urine provided after the use had elevated 4-CPA levels up to 1400 ng/ml.”

MMA Fighting reached out to Jeff Novitzky, Senior Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance for the UFC, who confirmed the false positive test.

“This is a true ‘false positive’ case,” Novitzky told MMA Fighting. “And the blame lays squarely on the shoulders of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Their scientists put forth guidelines to their accredited laboratories that were flat-out wrong. We know definitively that the use of an allowed substance, chlorphenesin, commonly found in cosmetics, can result in 4-CPA levels well in excess of 1000 ng/ml.

“I’m very happy that USADA was able to resolve Rob’s case quickly, but I’m very disappointed that WADA has let down clean athletes with a lack of care in instituting flawed scientific guidelines, that as of today, still have not been rescinded. WADA needs to act immediately.“

As of Friday afternoon, Font’s name was still on the agenda. The hope is that the NAC will join USADA and the UFC by exonerating Font and allowing him to continue on with his journey towards the top of the division.

“NAC has all of the above facts in this case, but has decided to temporarily suspend Rob to further investigate,” Chartier wrote. “As we have all along in this process, we will cooperate in every way, shape and form with them. Our expectation is that once the testing methodology is put forth and implemented by [the Sport Medicine Testing and Research Labaoratory], Rob will be cleared by NSAC and his suspension will be lifted. Although extremely frustrated and saddened by this process, we remain resolute that it will soon be over.”

Following this recent battle, Chartier, Font, and the New England Cartel team want to pass on some advice to up-and-coming fighters trying to make their way into the biggest promotion in the sport.

“Do yourselves a favor and keep food logs, supplement logs and food receipts,” Chartier wrote. “Never use the full bottle of supplements of hygiene products, keep a small amount on hand until you get your next test back and it says you are clear. Take photos of labels and ingredients just in case. Had we not done all this stuff, I don’t think we would have been able to clear Rob’s name.”

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