UFC drug czar patience running thin with aspects of anti-doping tests

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

On June 7, 2018, Muslim Salikhov tested positive for a long-term metabolite of the prohibited steroid oral Turinabol, and was provisionally suspended by USADA, pending an investigation. Salikhov was tested six times since, with four showing nothing, and two showing trace elements of the long-term metabolite, but none of the short or medium-term or the Turinabol. Neither of the trace elements were sufficient to be performance enhancing. USADA will not sanction Salikhov, who is now free to fight. Salikhov, Grant Dawson, Jon Jones, and a fourth league athlete have each experienced "pulsing" of the metabolite.

UFC Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance Jeff Novitzky spoke candidly with Marc Raimondi for MMA Fighting.

“USADA determined based on looking at all those data points, based on learning about this M3 metabolite probably within the last year, they’re unable to meet the burden of showing that however that got in his system — and I don’t think there’s any question that at some point it got in his system — but they’re unable to show that whenever it got in his system was during USADA jurisdiction,” said Novitzky. “That just shows you how weird, how unique this M3 metabolite is.

“That’s a big concern that I have now, that the level of sensitivity is becoming so great. I want to make sure that the science isn’t getting ahead of itself, because that’s a nightmare in my world for somebody to be sanctioned when it comes out later, ‘Oh, we really didn’t understand the science yet.’ So, that’s certainly part of my job to be eyes and ears for the athlete and make sure this program is being administered fairly. And that’s certainly why we're having discussions with USADA now with certain thresholds.”

World Anti-Doping Agency has put together a working group of accredited lab directors to study the issue, but nothing definitive has emerged.

“We’ve been fairly patient on this,” Novitzky said. “Our patience is running a little thin and I think maybe USADA’s is as well. WADA can tend to be a little bit slow to react. This is a case where the careers and reputations of our fighters are on the line. And so, we’re not gonna be waiting much longer for that working group to come up with something. If they don’t, we have to look at all possibilities, including figuring out a solution outside of the WADA world.”

“In the three, four years the program has been up and running, the sensitivity levels have increased I don’t know how many fold in that period of time and so now we’re at a level that I don’t think anybody — including the world experts — are sure when, how things enter the system and the level of sensitivity they can tested to."

The UFC used to announce potential anti-doping violations, but the gray areas are such that that is no longer appropriate, if ever it was.

"Absolutely that was a wrong decision to announce [potential violations] when we were contacted by USADA and that lies on me," said Novitzky. "I think I was the main one to argue for it and I take full responsibility for that.”