ATLANTA – The UFC’s anti-doping czar says T.J. Dillashaw didn’t dodge any recent tests for erythropoietin, better known as EPO.
In addition to the test that caught the ex-UFC champion using the banned performance-enhancer, UFC VP of Athlete Health and Performance Jeff Novitzky said Dillashaw was tested for EPO in connection with fights against Cody Garbrandt, John Lineker and Raphael Assuncao. All came up negative.
An MMA Junkie request for comment to the UFC’s anti-doping administrator, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), wasn’t immediately returned.
Controversy arose over the agency’s handling of Dillashaw’s previous tests after issuing a two-year suspension to the former bantamweight titleholder, when USADA revealed that at least one test conducted on Dec. 28 wasn’t initially screened for EPO.
That prompted Dillashaw rival Cody Garbrandt to demand USADA test previous samples and claim he was rebuffed after requesting additional testing for a pair of fights against the ex-champ. He then blasted the agency for not re-testing previous samples due to cost concerns.
Even UFC President Dana White was taken aback at the idea that Dillashaw might have evaded scrutiny.
“What shocked me is what I’m paying USADA and that that didn’t get caught earlier,” he told MMA Junkie today following a press conference in support of the promotion’s second-quarter schedule.
Novitzky, however, said the promotion’s anti-doping partner is going through its database to identify and test any of Dillashaw’s previous urine specimens that haven’t been screened for EPO. The UFC executive admits not every fighter gets tested for the endurance-boosting PED. He said the price tag of between $500-800 for the “special analysis” is prohibitive. But he disputes the idea that USADA is letting people fall through the cracks.
“All the testing … is strategic testing,” Novitzky said. “There’s a reason behind the test that they do. And when it comes to EPO analysis, what I believe they’re doing is passport information, so they’re looking at urine and blood markers over time. That data is put into a computer, and there’s an algorithm that would spit out something that would have a red flag or be a bit suspicious, and those fighters are the ones that they want to dedicate extra testing dollars to.”
As for re-testing samples that may reveal further positives, Novitzky said USADA also thinks strategically when it stores previous samples. He claims the agency has produced around 12,000 bottles over the course of the UFC’s anti-doping program to date. It can’t physically accommodate every one, he said, so those that are deemed suspicious are given priority for storage.
“They’re not keeping a sample that there’s no red flags on their passport,” he said. “They’re keeping those samples that the algorithm, in theory, would spit out saying, ‘Hey, there’s something potentially going on here.’”
In the wake of Dillashaw’s positive test, there’s been a natural push to increase the frequency of EPO testing. But Novitzky counters that the current plan is actually more robust than the standard set by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
“Our EPO percentage, I was told this week, far outranks the WADA standard,” he said. “So we test more EPO than the Olympic movement and probably more than any other professional sports organization out there.
“So add to that, I think we need to take a couple weeks and let things calm down. I know everybody’s excited now about this high-profile (case), but from what I know about from percentages … we have an effective program to detect EPO use.”
Dillashaw will sit out until Jan. 18, 2021, two years after the date his provisional suspension was enacted. Meanwhile, the UFC has booked a fight for the vacant belt at UFC 238 between flyweight champ Henry Cejudo – who knocked out Dillashaw before his positive test – and No. 1 contender Marlon Moraes.
Dillashaw has since admitted responsibility and said he’ll move forward with his career. Novitzky stressed USADA will keep him honest with continued drug testing. He cited heavyweight Ruslan Magomedov, who tested positive while under a sanction, as an example of the agency’s diligence in enforcing the rules for those who are under suspension.
“If you still want to fight when that suspension is done, you are still part of that testing program,” he said.
Before he joined the UFC as an anti-doping czar, Novitzky thought EPO could be an issue for the promotion. As a former investigator into professional cycling, he knew how the drug had been used in one of the biggest doping scandals in sports history. The realization that he was right didn’t give him any pleasure.
“I look inward at that point and say, what did I do wrong to not express that there’s a chance you’re doing something that you’re going to get caught, and your legacy is forever going to be tarnished,” he said. “So it’s disappointing for me.”
For White, though, it shook his confidence in the whole system.
“We’re spending all this money for USADA to make sure there’s a fair playing field, so I’m always 100 percent confident that if you’re doing something, you’re going to get caught,” he said. “And that wasn’t the case. That bothers me.”
For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
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