Jeff Novitzky has spent a big part of the week leading up to UFC 232 explaining what happened to former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and why he’s still being allowed to fight on Saturday night.
The vice president of athlete health and performance explained that Jones had tested positive for oral turinabol — the same anabolic steroid that earned him a 15-month suspension after a previous failed test in 2017 — but experts, including scientists at USADA, cleared him of any wrong doing after investigating the matter.
According to Novitzky as well as a statement from USADA stated that Jones failed test from December 2018 was a residual effect from the previous ingestion of oral turinabol, not a new instance where he’s used the drug.
Obviously the entire situation has raised a lot of questions not to mention Jones has always maintained his innocence while stating candidly that he still has no idea how the substance got into his system in the first place.
In an effort to address the pitfalls of what happened to Jones as well as other concerns raised by UFC athletes enrolled in the anti-doping program, Novitzky says the company has a three-pronged plan of attack for 2019 and beyond that he hopes will solve some of the issues.
1. More Drug Testing
Earlier this week while appearing on the "Joe Rogan Podcast," Novitzky revealed that the UFC had just re-upped their current contract with USADA with plans to increase testing by 30 to 40-percent starting in 2019.
Novitzky said more testing is obviously a huge part of the plan to stop performance enhancing drug use in the sport, but there are also other benefits as well.
Going back to Jones’ original failed test in July 2017, part of the confusion came from two previous tests he had taken just a few weeks earlier that came back clean without any trace of a banned substance. Then he tested positive for the Turinabol and again came up clean after that as well.
Because of that extensive testing, Novitzky says Jones was able to lay out a timeline and argue his case about why he didn’t knowingly take this substance, especially that close to his fight last year.
“No. 1, our increase in testing,” Novitzky said about the new UFC plan in 2019. “The reality with Jon [Jones], especially in July 2017, if he had not had those negative tests on July 7 and July 8, I don’t think there would have been a way for USADA and the science to show that this was non-intentional ingestion. I think more testing acts to protect our fighters.”
2. Approved Supplements
Perhaps the biggest issue that has plagued many fighters in the UFC when it comes to failed drug tests have been athletes claiming that tainted supplements played a part.
Fighters such as Tim Means, Yoel Romero, Josh Barnett, Junior dos Santos, and numerous more have been victims of tainted supplements in the past.
Through an expensive adjudication process, many fighters have been able to argue that to their defense while ultimately receiving a reduced sentence from USADA in regards to the doping violation.
Still it’s a costly endeavor not to mention the process to find all of this out can be a time consuming effort. In Barnett’s case, he was out for 15 months waiting for an independent arbitrator to rule on his case. He was essentially exonerated for no wrong doing but he still missed valuable time in his career just to prove his innocence.
Novitzky says supplements have become the most asked question in his job with the UFC and that’s why he says the company hopes to give a definitive answer to the athletes in 2019.
“A big issue that we see with these low levels is due to supplement contaminations and it may be the most common question I get,” Novitzky said. “These athletes say ‘hey what supplements are USADA approved?’ and my answer is USADA doesn’t approve any supplements but as soon as I say they don’t approve of any supplements, everything else I say goes in one ear and out the other. They want to hear from me what supplements am I allowed to use that USADA approves? We are, I think early next year, going to have an approved line of supplements that will basically tell our athletes use these, if anything happens with one of these and we can prove that it came from it, then it’s basically a get out of jail free card.
“You may have to sit on the sideline while whatever it was clears your system but it’s a get out of jail free card. Major League Baseball has done that. In comparison, we had like 2,800 tests last year, baseball did 12,000 and had zero contaminated supplement cases. So look at that because they have an approved line of supplements that all their players know these are approved by baseball, I can use these. I think that will go a long way in solving that.”
3. New Testing Thresholds
It’s safe to say the majority of people involved in mixed martial arts had never even heard of a measurement as small as the picogram until this latest doping case involving Jon Jones.
The word has been thrown around non-stop as an attempt to clear Jones of any wrong doing — because he tested positive for a remarkably low amount of banned substances in his system. There’s been all sorts of analogies tossed around using the picogram measurement just to show that Jones barely had Turinabol in his body much less that it was actually enhancing his performance.
Now according to Novitzky, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has been investigating the possibility that drug testing has gotten so advance that labs are almost overdoing it by examining samples down to that microscopic level.
Novitzky claims that even water contamination could potentially trigger a positive result based on the sophistication of the current drug testing protocols used in many WADA approved labs.
That’s why the UFC is currently awaiting word from a panel of scientists and experts at WADA who are looking into this situation so they could potentially set new threshold limits in the anti-doping program that would cause a violation.
“Obviously the last issue is going to be the threshold issue and taking the recommendation of that working group,” Novitzky said.
There’s no exact timeline on when that could be instituted but obviously Novitzky believes it’s a big enough problem that the UFC needs to address it for the anti-doping program.
(Subscribe to MMAWeekly.com on YouTube)