Foolproof System for Supplement Verification Is Needed in MMA

It’s either a go-to excuse or a valid explanation for fighters who test positive, but with more and more cases of tainted supplements being cited, the doubt needs to be eliminated.

by Peter Carroll
Apr 14 2016, 5:34pm

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Zuffa LLC

Yesterday, Lyoto 'The Dragon' Machida became the latest fighter to point to a tainted supplement as the reason behind a failed drug test.

The Brazilian has been forced out of his bout with Dan Henderson this Saturday at UFC on Fox 19. Machida took to his social media to explain his situation and apologize to his fan base about his late withdrawal from Saturday's card.

"Guys, I just wanted to let you know that I was caught off-guard, too," Machida said, as translated by "It's been very hard for me. I trained very hard for this fight. I dedicated myself a lot with my team. I want to tell you that I didn't know about this substance. It was something that actually declared in my test. I said, 'No, I'm taking all these things,' and this substance was banned in 2016."

There have been so many cases in which fighters point to contaminated supplements that it's either become a go-to excuse for fighters, or it's a genuine explanation. recently interviewed Oliver Catlin, whose company BSCG examines supplements to ensure they are free of banned substances.

According to Caitlin, an expert in the field, there are a lot of cases of legal dietary substances that carry contamination.

"The issue of dietary supplement contamination is certainly real. More specific to SARMs (selective androgen receptor modulators), you're not actually talking about contamination. You're talking about the illicit, overt addition of illegal ingredients that are put in dietary supplement packaging and masquerade as legal dietary supplements. Those shouldn't be on the market in the first place, so athletes shouldn't even have the option of finding those and having a possible drug test result."

To back up his statement, IMMAF noted that UFC Vice-president of Athlete Health and Performance Jeff Novitzky recited a "surprising number of horror stories" regarding contaminated supplements when he spoke at a meeting in Dublin in October.

IMMAF reported: "Supplement education is an ongoing mission with many seemingly innocent products being taken with good intentions that contain hidden banned substances. Novitzky explained that all UFC newcomers are required to list their supplements upon signing with the promotion, and detailed the surprising number of horror stories that arise as a result of products with unlisted ingredients."

Genuine Excuse

The cases of Tim Means and Yoel Romero highlight that USADA do see the potential for a fighter to ingest a tainted supplement accidently.

Bloody Elbow reporting that Tim Means' initial two-year suspension could be shortened due to the fact that he failed a test due to contaminated substance adds substance to his claims that his usage was completely accidental.

"Now, after more than a month spent on the sidelines, Bloody Elbow has learned that Means may catch a break when it comes to punishment. A source tells the site that the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has taken the normal two-year ban for first-time offenders off the table."

To add to that, USADA shortened Yoel Romero's suspension to six months after they discovered his use of a tainted supplement began after his last fight at UFC 194. In a statement, USADA highlighted the concern around contaminated supplements.

"This case clearly demonstrates some of the dangers inherent to supplement use," said USADA's Special Advisor on Drugs and Supplements, Dr. Amy Eichner. "When considering whether to incorporate supplements into a training plan, it is vitally important that athletes exercise the utmost care in order to avoid making a decision that could endanger their eligibility, reputation or general health and wellness."

Foolproof System

Jeff Novitzky is currently the point of contact for fighters when inquiring about the drug-free nature of supplements. However, based on the cases of Means, Romero and potentially Machida now, there are still cases that can slip through the cracks.

In the same meeting cited earlier with IMMAF, Novitzky highlighted that fighters must declare what supplements they are taking when signing with UFC. However, as supplements are likely to be changed regularly by athletes, perhaps it would be more efficient to make them declare all of their supplements before each contest.

A dedicated hot desk needs to set up under the guidance of Novitzky, which will allow more for quicker clearance and guidance for fighters. A far more strict system could also be introduced whereby USADA introduce a list of accepted substances from which fighters would have to select from. However, the likelihood that such a list would contradict sponsorships for fighters is quite probable.

With more and more fighters pointing to tainted substances as the reason behind their failed drug tests, a comprehensive investigation is definitely necessary to establish a more efficient way to safeguard other athletes from similar pitfalls in the future.

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