Allegations Of Steroid Use Hits Mma -current Ufc Champion Josh Barnettnamed In Nsac Complaint
Allegations of Steroid Use Hits MMA -
Current UFC Champion Josh Barnett
Named in NSAC Complaint
By Loretta Hunt
A bombshell was dropped on the mixed martial arts community late Wednesday, when it was reported that current UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett had tested positive for steroid use. Barnett voluntarily submitted to a urinalysis following his victory over former champion Randy Couture at UFC 36, held on March 22, 2002 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Upon receipt of the test results, Barnett had been verbally notified of the outcome during the week of April 15th and a formal written complaint, filed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC), was mailed to him one week later.
In the complaint released by Keith Kizer, Chief Deputy Attorney General and acting legal counsel for the NSAC, alleged violations included the use of the anabolic steroids Boldenone Metabolite, Fluoxymesterone Metabolite and Nandrolone Metabolite — drugs or injections that are not approved for use by the NSAC.
Kizer confirmed that all sixteen competitors that evening had gone through standard drug testing, which includes testing for marijuana among other foreign substances (including masking agents), but not steroids. However, the four participants of the title fights — Barnett, Randy Couture, Matt Hughes, and Hayato Sakurai — were tested additionally for steroids. Barnett’s urinalysis was the sole sample of the four to come back positive. All steroid tests were administered following the fights.
Barnett has twenty days to respond in writing to the allegations. At this time, he can admit to or deny the facts alleged in the complaint. Then, a hearing will be scheduled at the Commission’s offices, where Barnett will have the opportunity to plead his case himself or through an attorney of his choice before the five-member board, chaired by Luther Mack. Marc Ratner, the Executive Director of the NSAC, will present the evidence relevant to the case at the proceedings, with Kizer there to assist him. If Barnett fails to appear at these hearings, a decision can still be reached in his absence. Explains Kizer, "The Commission must first decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence to show that Barnett did indeed use these non-approved drugs or injections. We use very high quality labs, so it will be hard for him to argue otherwise, but he’s free to do so and he may be successful. If he is, then it ends right there." If the Commission does find sufficient evidence to prove that Barnett did use at least one of named anabolic agents, the fighter will then be penalized.
Presuming that he is found guilty, Barnett’s license to fight in Nevada could be suspended for any given period of time deemed appropriate by the Commission, including permanent suspension or revocation of license. The least severe response would be to give Barnett a warning. In lieu of or in addition to the suspension or revocation of his license, the NSAC can also administer a penalty not to exceed $250,000 or 100% of Barnett’s fighting purse, whichever is greater.
The NSAC does not have the jurisdiction to decide the status of the UFC Heavyweight title, which exchanged hands the night of testing. Says Kizer, "As the rules currently stand, there is no basis to overturn the decision [of the fight], and again, the belt is something that’s beyond our control. The Commission does have the right in the future, if they so desire, to change their regulations to include something like this." For now, any determination to revoke the Heavyweight belt from Barnett, rule the fight a no contest, or even reinstate Couture as champion are all considerations left in the hands of the UFC’s owners, Zuffa Sports Entertainment. When asked what the UFC may be considering in response to the allegations, UFC president Dana White had this to say, "There’s nothing we can do. Really for me to say anything right now… I can’t without seeing what the Commission says."
The NSAC has jurisdiction over the sports of boxing, kickboxing, "Toughman" competitions, as well as MMA, which it sanctioned as a sport in July of 2001. Starting January 1, 2002, the NSAC took a more aggressive stance with its drug testing and began regularly testing for steroids in title fights for all its unarmed combat sports. Josh Barnett’s case is the first instance the Commission has ever had in which an unarmed combat sports competitor has tested positive for the anabolic agent. The only "similar" circumstance the Nevada Commission has had in the realm of MMA came last year, when UFC competitor Bobby Hoffman tested positive for marijuana and one of its masking agents following November’s UFC 34. The Commission ruled to suspend Hoffman from the sport for one year. Will that case hold any precedent to this current one? Says Kizer, "The Commission has been used to marijuana or cocaine as being the drug that been tested positive in its competitors in the past, and those drugs usually aren’t considered performance enhancing. This might be something to treat differently because it is something possibly or probably performance enhancing, but that’s something the Commission will have to decide when they hold their regulations meeting in Nevada."
When reached for comment in Hawaii, where he is currently attending the SuperBrawl event, Barnett had this to say regarding the turn of events. "There’s more to this than meets the eye." Matt Hume, Barnett’s manager and trainer, could not be reached for comment.
It is public knowledge that Josh Barnett is in current contract negotiations with Zuffa, and rumors have run rampant regarding his future with the UFC as well as numerous MMA promotions around the world. When asked how these recent developments will effect negotiations with Barnett, again White stated, "It depends on what the Athletic Commission decides. If he gets suspended for a certain amount of time… it’s serious. It’s very serious. You have to look at us as a company and the money we’ve invested in Josh Barnett to build him up to the spot where he fights for the title, wins it, but then it doesn’t count — because he cheated?" But keeping in mind that the allegations are currently just that, he added, "The bottom line is, at the end of the day, we can talk and speculate all we want. Until he has a hearing, we really can’t speculate or make any decisions till we find out. But if that was the case that he is guilty, then that would be my position." As for rumors that Barnett was or is being courted by rival promotions and how these new developments fit in with that, White had this to say: "This has nothing to do with him wanting to go to Japan or anything like that. All of that is speculation, too. Every conversation we’ve ever had with Matt Hume and Josh Barnett is that Josh and Matt are fairly dealing with us and us alone and they want to be a part of the UFC. And we want Josh Barnett to be a part of the UFC, or we wouldn’t have made the investment we made putting him in the position for a title. As for the contract negotiations, I’m in them right now with Josh. I want Josh. I want him to be a part of the UFC, but it’s all going to depend on how this thing ends up with the Commission."
Following a ruling by the NSAC, is there the possibility the Commission will suggest a course of action to Zuffa regarding Barnett’s case? "No. I can’t imagine we would. We’re strictly under our own regulations – what, if any, discipline should be given to his license, and that’s where we leave it at." says Kizer. Once Barnett responds to the charges, the formal hearing may not be scheduled for months, meaning a resolution to this situation is a long way off. At that time, the ball will then be in Zuffa’s court as to Josh Barnett’s future in the UFC. Claiming to just have gotten news of the allegations on Wednesday, Dana White says he is just coming to grips with the whole situation himself. "We really don’t know what to do. We’re going to sit back and see how this thing unfolds." As will the world of MMA.
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