Following his bout with Michael Bisping at UFC Fight Night 48 on Aug. 23 in Macao, Cung Le tested positive for elevated Human Growth Hormone (HGH) levels, but that didn’t quite tell the entirety of the story.
Le, a 20-year Vietnamese-American martial arts veteran, was initially suspended by the organization for nine months, which was quickly escalated to a 12-month suspension upon further review by UFC senior management.
Le’s reputation immediately fell into a downward spiral.
Maintaining his innocence, Le set in motion the first appeal of a positive drug test at a self-regulated UFC event. However, the case would never make it to arbitrators.
With the test result being reported as surpassing the normal limits for Human Growth Hormone, the entire story had yet to be told. Citing information provided with medical advice on the reported elevated total HGH present in Le’s system, the UFC eventually determined that it indeed did not prove that he took performance-enhancing drugs prior to competing at UFC Fight Night. As a result, the UFC rescinded Le’s suspension nearly a month after it initially announced he failed the test.
WADA-approved laboratories provide testing of human growth hormone on blood samples. They do not, however, do a total human growth hormone concentration test by itself. Erythropoietin (EPO) and Carbon Isotope Ratio (CIR) tests are both done on urine, not on blood. For anti-doping purposes, blood is not used to test for testosterone either. These are important details that bolster Le’s claim to his innocence.
On the front lines of support for Le is famed, if controversial, Balco founder Victor Conte, the man that’s been at the center of the sports world’s PEDs narrative. Conte points the finger directly at the UFC for the mismanagement of Le’s case and outlines multiple discrepancies.
“Well, what’s interesting here is, and I’m going to point out the specifics; these things I want to point out to you illustrate the incompetence of the UFC and their understanding of PED testing and how they are just not presenting the facts as Cung, and I, and Gary (Ibarra, Le’s manager) know them to be,” Conte told MMAWeekly.com.
“We’ll start with the very first sentence, ‘at UFC Fight Night Macao on August 23rd, the UFC contracted with an independent drug testing laboratory in Hong Kong to perform urinalysis testing on all fighters on the card.’ Well, let me say this, first of all, there was no urine testing done by the Hong Kong lab for Cung Le. That’s just a false statement; it’s not true. We have copies of the test results and Quest Diagnostic Laborites, specifically the lab in Kansas, and they took the urine samples for Cung at least, and everything that Cung has received from the UFC. They did pre and post analysis on his urine samples and they looked at the complete battery of anabolic steroids, stimulants, cocaine, marijuana, the whole battery that they do. And, the interesting part is even on that it says that this is a pre-employment (drug test).
“So, first of all, the basic information saying urine samples by all fighters on the card were done at the Hong Kong lab. That is just simply false regarding Cung Le, because the results that we have say Quest Diagnostic Laborites in Kansas. So, they start out by providing misinformation, the first sentence is just factually wrong. The second sentence in part exposes why the UFC should not be doing their own testing, and whoever is advising them. The second sentence reads, ‘additionally the UFC requested the laboratory to test blood samples from four fighters for human growth hormone (HGH), erythropoietin (EPO), and testosterone.’ Now, let’s take a look at that test by test. Yes, WADA approved laboratories do testing of human growth hormone on blood samples, but they don’t do total human growth hormone concentration test by itself, but I’m sure you’ve read they do the isoform test, the biomarker test, and the serum IGF-1 test. So, it’s like a table has to have at least three legs in order for it to stand up and they didn’t even do any of the three legs on the testing. They looked at something for clinical purposes, as other scientists have said, like (Dr.) Don Catlin and others, the test is worthless, it’s useless, ignore it. What they did is not an anti-doping test, the growth hormone test they did,” Conte continued.