Chael Sonnen’s latest war turned into a battle of attrition.
Sonnen, his legal team, and his doctor, met with the California State Athletic Commission on Thursday afternoon in Sacramento, Calif., to appeal a one-year suspension and $2,500 fine.
Following a three-hour hearing, Sonnen’s sentence was reduced to a six-month suspension, but the fine was upheld at $2,500. He has thus far served three months of the suspension.
The initial punishment was doled out on Sept. 2 following Sonnen’s UFC 117 bout with Anderson Silva in August in Oakland. He failed a required drug test for the bout. CSAC executive director George Dodd at the time released a statement that read, “A sample from Sonnen’s August 6 drug test came back with a high T/E (testosterone-to-estrogen) level, which is indicative of anabolic steroid use.”
Sonnen and his team went to great pains during his appeal on Thursday to point out that the reason for his elevated testosterone level was due to treatment for a condition diagnosed in 2008 called hypogonadism. Part of his treatment is self-injections of testosterone twice a week.
The problem though was that Sonnen did not reveal his condition on the required medical questionnaire that all fighters must fill out before competing in California.
During his testimony on Thursday, Sonnen indicated that he had provided the disclosure of his condition to the commission in the past – for an October 2009 bout against Yushin Okami in Los Angeles – via facsimile. The commission indicated it had no record of that disclosure.
Sonnen said that approval to compete, despite his condition and treatment, prior to the Okami bout came via a telephone call, but that he had no written record of the commission’s prior approval.
The CSAC has gone through various changes in personnel since that time, but Dodd indicated that records were still intact for the duration of the changes, and that he could find no record of Sonnen’s past disclosure.
After submitting his UFC 117 paperwork that did not disclose his condition or treatment, Sonnen says that he revealed his condition to Dodd the day prior to the fight with Silva. Dodd concurred with Sonnen, but said that he didn’t believe that he could call a halt to the contest because there was no way to have a drug test performed and results returned prior to the bout. Dodd believed he could not call off the fight, per California’s rules, without a positive test result indicating elevated levels of a banned substance.
After all of this was revealed, and following deliberation by the commissioners, it boiled down to two separated issues. First was the issue of whether or not Sonnen followed the proper procedure in disclosing his condition and treatment. Second was the issue of whether or not an athlete with a proven medical condition that required treatment that could interfere with the California’s drug test requirements should be allowed to compete.
“This issue is one of the single biggest issues we’re facing in our sport. We have to handle this the right way,” said Commissioner DeWayne Zinkin, whose major dilemma was disclosure. “I think it’s very important we send a message though in this commission that we have a policy of zero tolerance.”
The CSAC determined that Sonnen had not properly disclosed his condition via the paperwork that he was required to complete in order to compete in the state. At odds over whether he should then be required to fulfill the initial punishment, the commissioners eventually compromised, reducing his suspension to six months, but keeping the fine fully intact.
The commissioners determined that there is a need to address future situations where an athlete with specific medical conditions requires treatment at odds with the state’s drug testing procedures and how to handle such cases.
In stark contrast to his brazen demeanor leading up to the fight with Silva, Sonnen remained stoic throughout the proceedings and declined interview requests as he left the hearing.