by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
The recent trends in MMA with positive drug tests have taken over the headlines on just about every website, forum and newspaper that covers the sport. Recently, the California State Athletic Commission released its most recent results for athletes competing in combat sports in the state and the numbers were staggering for the overall positive tests.
The State of California has set a precedent for how they will treat athletes with a positive steroid test, but what about other commissions across the United States where MMA routinely takes place.
The state of Nevada, who also leads the way with numerous mixed martial arts competitions taking place there, has a different precedent set forth for the amount of fighters that are tested and the punishment set forth on any fighter who does test positive.
Recently, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Keith Kizer spoke to MMAWeekly about this subject and educated everyone on how Nevada works with testing.
“Before July 1, which was our last budget, luckily we got the legislature to give us more money to test more and what we did was we tested every title fight and or main event, and we also did some undercard tests. I would say we test about twice as many fighters as we did 2 years ago, and with this extra money we have now it may be more as we go on.,” said Kizer.
The random drug testing and only testing main event fighters has still resulted in a number of positive tests in some of the marquee shows over the last few years and have resulted in positive tests for some major fighters including Vitor Belfort, Tim Sylvia, Stephan Bonnar and Pawel Nastula just to name a few.
Kizer also spoke about the severity of the suspensions handed down to fighters who do test positive for steroids in the state of Nevada.
“The most recent steroid suspensions have been 9 months from the date of the contest,” said Kizer “Plus a fine of say somewhere between 25 and 50 (percentage of their fight purse).”
The appeal process in Nevada is also very different from other states including California. Kizer, as executive director, acts as prosecutor in this instance presenting information before the commission in Nevada.
“I do not have the power to issue a suspension or a fine,” said Kizer. “At the initial hearing, its not an appeal process, it’s a hearing, its my duty as executive director to prove the case that they fought under the influence of some sort of prohibited drug.”
The hearing then allows the fighter to present their case of documentation, burden of proof, testimony, evidence or in many cases the fighter may come forward and have mitigating circumstances and basically throw themselves on the mercy of the court and ask for a reduced sentence.
Also in Nevada, they have handed down varying suspensions for different charges and have in the past also required the fighters to submit a drug test before being re-licensed in the state to be able to fight again.
The subject of the appeal/hearing process has come up in many places, especially now knowing that fighters like Sean Sherk and Phil Baroni, will be appealing their cases on August 6th and the question comes up about retesting the fighters for the positive drug sample.
In Nevada, this is also a different process as explained to MMAWeekly by executive director, Keith Kizer, who also speaks about how a test later than the fight night can actually hurt a fighter’s chances of getting a case overturned.
“Doing a test a week later, or 2 weeks later or 3 weeks later is irrelevant,” said Kizer about the retesting process. “All that proves is you probably did it intentionally. If you didn’t know any better and you were using it (a supplement) prior that had steroids in it, you should be very high in steroids when we test you and it shouldn’t be out of your system a week later. If its with you the day we test you and a week later its gone, that just means you intentionally took them and you messed up your cycle and now its gone. Now retesting the same sample (taken by the commission just before or after the fight), the lab still has the urine. Now if a fighter wants that retested, they’re free to do that, in fact fighters have asked and have done that before in Nevada. We have the lab send the sample to a third party lab and then re-test the fight night sample and in all the cases that we’ve done that its come back positive, not surprisingly.”
MMAWeekly also spoke to New Jersey State Athletic Commission member, Nick Lembo, who commented on the differences within the state of New Jersey in regards to positive drug tests and how the state handles the appeal process differently.
First, in the state of New Jersey, any athlete who tests positive for steroids or any other drug will not have that information released to the public.
Due to privacy and health laws in the state of New Jersey, these results are not released. The state has had athletes test positive in the past but are not allowed to disclose any specific information about the testing or the athletes involved.
The suspension process in New Jersey is different also and varying in time for punishment. On a first offense for a positive steroid test, the state will suspend the athlete for 90 days, and the athlete will have to speak to a state doctor about the dangers involved with these drugs.
A second offense will hand down a 6 month suspension in which time the athlete is required to enter drug counseling.
A third offense will cause a mandatory 2 year suspension from the sport.
This is different from the state of California, where executive director, Armando Garcia, of the California State Athletic Commission, stated he will always seek a minimum 1 year suspension on a first offense for a positive steroid test.
In the state of New Jersey, all athletes are tested in combat sports, with the minimum of at least a urine test while the state also institutes random blood tests that are more conclusive but much more expensive to administer and test.
Lembo did confirm that if an athlete does test positive for steroids in the state of New Jersey and then appeals, they would grant a retest based on the athlete’s request.
The severity of the punishment handed down is different from each state’s athletic commission and each has its own rules for the appeal process as well.
Recently, Armando Garcia commented that the state of California would not retest any of the fighters appealing the positive steroid tests that came back but each athlete has the right to use any testing, witnesses or testimony when presenting their case in front of the commission in the appeals process.
Each state is allowed to make their own rules when it sets forth punishment for the athletes but as of yet, no organization has come forth with their own drug policy instituted to enforce any other kind of sanction or punishment, although when speaking to MMAWeekly Radio, IFL co-founder and commissioner, Kurt Otto, did reveal that the IFL intends on setting forth a new drug policy for its fighters that will become effective in 2008.