2017: The USADA year that was – First Time Failures

In the latest of our regular pieces looking back at 2017 from an anti-doping perspective, we investigate the spate of positives from fighters newly signed to the UFC.

In the second half of 2017 the UFC had a problem. Between June and November no fewer than seven fighters would fail their very first USADA test, with two more barely making it to their second fight before falling foul of USADA.

photo: instagram @amandaribasufc

In May it was announced that Brazilian strawweight Amanda Ribas would be making her UFC debut the following month. The 6-1 American Top Team fighter would never make it to the cage. On June 15, she was pulled from the card for what later turned out to be a positive for Ostarine and her fight against Juliana Lima was off. Ribas would cite a tainted supplement as the cause – Ostarine is an issue to the degree that USADA have even warned against it specifically – but unable to pinpoint the supplement at fault she accepted a two year suspension.

In August it was announced that Nick Roehrick had failed his first USADA test. The light heavyweight fighter had made his debut in July against Jared Cannonier losing by third round knockout, and it got worse for him when it was revealed that he had tested positive in an out of competition test one month later. He would accept a one year suspension from USADA, the substance in question, clomiphene.

In September the run of first time fallers became a flood. First Jesse Taylor, then Carlos Felipe and finally Azamat Murzakanov popped up on the dreaded “potential violation” press releases.

Jesse Taylor fresh of his win on the Ultimate Fighter “Redemption” received a one year suspensions for clomiphene. Carlos Felipe would be pulled from his debut against Christian Colombo and ultimately suspended for two years and released by the UFC for his Stanozolol positive, while Azamat Murzakanov’s case is still ongoing six months later.

Photo: Youtube/DWTNCS

Azunna Anyanwu impressed on Dana Whites Contender Series and earned himself a UFC contract. After losing by split decision to Justin Ledet he too would fail his first USADA test weeks later and is currently on provisional suspension with his case pending.

And finally Amanda Lemos.  On 30 November, it was announced that the recently signed Brazilian had become the seventh victim of “first test syndrome” failing her very first USADA test earlier that month. Lemos made her UFC debut, fighting for the first time outside her native Brazil and losing to Leslie Smith.

So what is the reason for the glut of positives. Is it simply a sign of the pervasiveness of ped’s outside of the UFC?

In October last year UFC Vice-President of Athlete relations Jeff Novitzky told MMAJunkie that matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard emphasise to newly signed fighters the consequences of testing positive.

We’ve actually seen an uptick in recent instances where managers will tell Mick or Sean, ‘Ah, you know what, I think my guy’s good. He’s not interested. I think what this means is that information is passing down to the aspiring UFC fighter that sees: Hey, usually my foot in the door is that last-minute replacement. I never know when that call is coming, and if I’m doing anything within four to six months of that call coming, I’m screwed. I’m not going to be able to fight, and if I do, it’s one and done.” – Jeff Novitzky October 2017

But are they doing enough? We have already seen with the Andrea Lee fiasco that perhaps the booking team aren’t as on the ball as they can be and ultimately the one that pays the price is the athlete. In that instance an athlete was signed, announced as fighting, and then withdrawn when it was realized the diligence had not been performed.

Merely informing a fighter that they face serious consequences should they test positive is not enough.

There needs to be education, which there is. USADA provide countless pieces of literature, in multiple languages. They issue regular warnings against the dangers of supplementation, they appear at UFC events to talk to fighters. Before submitting their whereabouts data athletes are required to watch educational videos and answer questions.

But that takes time. When the program was launched in July 2015 the first three months were dedicated to education. Visiting fighter gym’s, answering emails, taking fighter phone calls. And that is something that fighters joining the UFC in 2017 do not enjoy. They do not get three months to learn the process, they do not get three months to understand the risks of supplements or compounded medications.

Is asking the athlete “Have you taken anything prohibited in the last twelve months” enough? Or do we need to sit down with them, examine their supplements, identify if there is anything there that would be considered “high-risk” and liaise with USADA prior to signing bout agreements.

Returning to the case of Amanda Ribas. If, as she claims, a supplement is the cause of her positive test, she has learned the lesson the hard way. But I cannot help thinking, it was a lesson that had it been given before she signed a bout agreement, may have been learnt without facing two years on the sidelines.


Also in this series:

Part 1 – The fights that didn’t happen

Part 2 – The most tested match-ups of the year


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