Ali Bagautinov nabbed by random drug test, found positive for EPO

Demetrious Johnson, of the United States, throws Ali Bagautinov, of Russia, to the mat during the flyweight bout at UFC 174 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Saturday, June, 14, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward)

The third UFC fighter to be randomly tested for the usage of performance-enhancing drugs in the past seven weeks has turned in a positive test.

Ali Bagautinov, a flyweight who did nothing in a title fight loss to Demetrious Johnson on June 14 in Vancouver, British Columbia, tested positive for the hormone EPO. The British Columbia Athletic Commission suspended Bagautinov for a year.

EPO is banned in and out of competition and is on the World Anti-Doping Agency's 2014 prohibited list.

A favorite of cyclists for its ability to help improve endurance, EPO helps increase the body's production of red blood cells, which allows more oxygen to be delivered to the lungs and then muscles. That helps increase endurance and aid in recovery following workouts, allowing an athlete to train more vigorously.

Bagautinov's positive test comes on the heels of back-to-back positive tests by Chael Sonnen, as well as a refusal by Wanderlei Silva to submit to a random test requested by the Nevada Athletic Commission.

If this doesn't show the desperate need for full-time, on-going testing of all fighters, nothing will.

Testing in baseball is important to those who care about preserving the sanctity of the game's records, as well as those who are against cheaters. But nobody is being kicked or punched in baseball, and the gravity of a positive test in combat sports is far more significant than it is in baseball.

All-time home run leader Barry Bonds. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
All-time home run leader Barry Bonds. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Yet, Barry Bonds remains a pariah and can't get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and fighters can come back after a few months or a year under suspension as if nothing happened.

This is a problem that plagues all of mixed martial arts, not just the UFC. But the cost to randomly test every fighter is enormous.

It is believed it will cost the UFC in excess of $2 million, and perhaps in excess of $3 million, to hire a firm that will conduct at least one surprise test of all of its roughly 450 fighters at least once a year, as well as to perform other tests upon request.

White said he is committed to removing performance-enhancing drugs from his sport, but he balked at that cost.

"We had this conversation yesterday: Two to three million bucks is a big [expletive] number," White told Yahoo Sports. "But, we were talking yesterday, $300,000 to a half million, we can do it."

It's clear that the incentive for fighters to cheat is there. UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey said last week the penalties aren't harsh enough and fighters are willing to risk getting caught.

She has long been a proponent of random testing and more stringent penalties.

I think the reason why [fighters] keep trying to test that border is that there is not really that much punishment afterward. You have to pay a little fine and take a year off? People take a year off and go on vacation all the time. That fine costs a vacation, so pretty much, you get the year off without the vacation. I really do think there should be more strict enforcement of the rules, possibly career-ending things like that because if people think they might get away with it, they're going to try.

Rousey is correct, and the only solution is more surprise testing of athletes. The Nevada Athletic Commission, under the leadership of chairman Francisco Aguilar, has stepped up and done far more random tests than in the past.

That not only needs to continue, but it needs to increase.

The problem is that not all fights are held in Nevada, or in states with the budgets required to do even minimal testing.

The UFC has a show scheduled for Aug. 16 in Bangor, Maine. It's a pretty safe guess that the Maine commission won't be doing surprise tests of any of the fighters on that card. I'd love for it to prove me wrong, but the odds are overwhelmingly against it.

The same thing is true for the fighters competing on a card the UFC has planned the week after in Tulsa, Okla.

White insisted the PED problem isn't as widespread as the media is making it appear, and he said he had analysts at his company research it. He said the percentage of fighters who test positive is low.

In sheer numbers of positive tests versus the number of fighters under contract, he's probably correct, although he did not have access to the report he commissioned.

The problem, though, is that most of those tests that were held were routine, postfight tests, the kinds that are the easiest for the fighters to beat.

It's incredible that Bagautinov was caught using EPO, as was Sonnen in a test he took in June, because of how quickly EPO moves through the body. It clears the body in less than 24 hours.

Lance Armstrong has admitted using performance-enhancing drugs. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Lance Armstrong has admitted using performance-enhancing drugs. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, who now admits to regularly using EPO and HGH, was able to pass hundreds of tests for EPO over the years because of that simple fact.

In the United States Anti-Doping Agency's report, "A Reasoned Decision" on Armstrong, it noted, " … [T]he risk of Lance Armstrong ever testing positive was always relatively low and could be, and was, managed through precautions and evasive measures that were regularly employed by him and his team."

Later in the same report, USADA quotes from an affidavit that cyclist Tyler Hamilton gave in explaining how Armstrong's team managed to regularly pass tests despite using EPO.

"We also had another time-honored strategy for beating the testing – we hid," Hamilton said in the report.

Athletes who are cheating and know when the tests are coming have a huge leg up and very often are able to pass them by using a variety of techniques.

The solution is for the fighters to be tested without their knowledge. As the leading MMA promoters, all of whom have fights on major TV broadcast outlets, the UFC, Bellator and World Series of Fighting should band together and come up with a policy addressing the issue.

UFC president Dana White. (Getty Images)
UFC president Dana White. (Getty Images)

First, all should agree not to sign a fighter who failed a drug test while in another organization for at least one year after the date of the test failure.

Second, they should jointly agree to hire and fund a totally independent firm that would randomly test fighters in all of the organizations. This should be in addition to the testing done by regulatory bodies.

Third, the three major American-based promoters should agree that any fighter who tests positive not be allowed to appear on television or pay-per-view for a year after their return to competition.

And, finally, they should agree that no fighter can compete for a world title in their organization if he/she has a positive test in the previous 36 months.

The goal of these suggestions is simply to reduce the incentive for fighters to cheat.

White said, "I'm beyond disappointed" to learn of Bagautinov's positive test.

"We're not paying lip service to this," White said. "We're trying to clean this up. It's hurting everyone in the sport and we're all over it."

Harsher penalties and more frequent surprise tests are really the only way to curb it.

But it has to be stopped, and soon.