Recently released UFC heavyweight Josh Barnett was a guest on the first episode of Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show on ESPN, and had some serious complaints about how USADA handled his case.
Barnett tested positive for the banned substance Ostarine in December 2016, and was facing a multi-year suspension from USADA over the positive test. The case dragged on for over a year until Barnett became the first UFC fighter to win a significant victory over USADA in arbitration.
Rather than the lengthy suspension USADA felt was correct, the arbitrator ruled that Barnett should only receive a reprimand, and that he only bore the minimum amount of fault for his positive test.
Unfortunately, Barnett was unable to compete throughout the process, and on top of that, had to pay attorney’s fees for his case, and to test his supplements. Unsurprisingly, Barnett isn’t happy that the UFC’s anti-doping partner’s actions made him sit out for over a year when the correct punishment was a reprimand.
Here’s what Barnett had to say about the role USADA played in his leaving the UFC.
“If I was to stay in the UFC there is a massive red flag for me with dealing with USADA, because that process was so unnecessary in terms of how it all unfolded. I’m not against clean sport, or testing, or any of the sort of things that—on paper—a group like USADA is there to uphold and to institute, but when it came to it it’s like there is no ability for nuance or context,” Barnett said.
“For them, it feels as if the proof of the success of the program is by how many and how hard they can hammer people, and that to me seems like a very dangerous environment to deal with, and I dealt with it specifically.”
Barnett would go on to discuss how USADA seemed to look for a reason to punish him, even after a contaminated supplement was identified as the cause of his positive test:
“…We knew a few months in exactly what supplements were the problem, and what the levels of contamination in my system were, and also [the levels] in the supplements and how that lined up with a source of contamination and [would have provided] absolutely zero benefit in terms of doping for performance.”
“We had that sorted out, and a guy working at the lab for them saw the levels and said this is such a minute amount, so minuscule, it’s obvious what it is [contamination].”
“Yet it was like they just changed gears and hit a swerve and became a whole different group to deal with at that point, because now they were going to try to figure out, “Well what other avenue can we levy punishment against him and be just in doing so in our eyes?” In this case they tried to find different things, things from my past.”
“At that point the communication because much slower and much less and then they started bringing in heavier punishments and bringing up things form 2008 and I was like “oh okay I see where this is going to go” and they just seemed dead set on trying to punish me in some way. “
“I sent in my paperwork tried to apply to a be a cornerman only to be denied and told I’m suspended. There are commissions that are not going to allow you to work, the company you work for kind of put in a limbo situation, USADA themselves… You’re handcuffed until you get through it.”
“It became a very convoluted process. it became very clear they wanted to use me as an example of the greatness of their system by how hard they could punish me, and I wasn’t going to have it. Eventually it had to go to arbitration, and thankfully we presented our case and the arbitrator was able to see what was what.”
Barnett highlighted his distrust of USADA as one of the reasons he left the UFC throughout the interview, stating:
“…They seemed more interested in doling out punishment than being just and fair. I can’t fully trust that there isn’t someone there potentially that is harboring a grudge now and that might try to find a way to be vindictive in some case. It’s something I don’t want to give them power over me again, especially when they have proven themselves not to be someone who can wield that kind of power, in my opinion.”
Other UFC athletes who have had concerns about their treatment by USADA and the fairness of the process, such as Lyoto Machida, have also elected to leave the UFC for other promotions recently. Barnett is one of the few fighters to express such sentiments in public, but several fighters who have been through the process—and their teammates—echo his concerns in private.