Most UFC athletes publicly support USADA regularly on social media, in interviews and elsewhere, unquestioningly repeating their claims to be working for a clean sport. Junior dos Santos was one of them until he found himself on the wrong end of a positive test caused by a contaminated supplement from a source he had gone out of his way to verify was clean.
Dos Santos expressed his disappointment with how his case was handled by USADA in a fantastic, in-depth interview with Fernanda Prates at MMA Junkie, detailing how he was forced to sit out and spend significant amounts of money attempting to clear his name, only to still receive a suspension, despite great effort to avoid contaminated supplements. His supplement was contaminated with hydrochlorothiazide, a diuretic that is notorious for even contaminating medications, let alone supplements.
What made things worse was that dos Santos, along with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Marcos Rogerio De Lima, had specifically chosen to get their supplements from a compounding pharmacy based on claims that its supplements are free from cross-contamination. Outside of being at a remarkable disadvantage of taking no supplements whatsoever, there isn’t much more a fighter could do to try to avoid contaminated supplements.
Junior discussed his initial reaction to finding out a friend who tested positive was blaming a tainted supplement for the issue, telling MMA Junkie,
“I remember I made a comment like, ‘Was it, really? Because if he hadn’t taken anything, he wouldn’t have been caught.’”
That’s a sentiment many fighters and fans share, but since going through the same thing, JDS has realized how little protection athletes actually have in situations of contaminated supplements.
“I have no words to describe it because it was a very sad situation,” dos Santos said. “Being accused of something that I always defended, which was USADA’s presence, making this a clean sport. And suddenly to have people labelling me a liar? That was heavy. That was very heavy for me.”
Dos Santos had previously told Ariel Helwani on the MMA Hour that he felt USADA treated him as “guilty until proven innocent.” He also felt that his prior support for USADA wasn’t reciprocated by the organization when it mattered, saying:
“In my mind, I was thinking it’s not right. Something wrong is going on here and probably [USADA] will find out the truth very fast and they will release me from this cage, from this situation. That didn’t happen. They started to investigate and investigate.
I’ve been supporting USADA all the time, I’ve been playing the fair game the whole time. The only organization in this whole world that could tell everybody else that I was saying the truth was USADA, but they were doing the opposite.”
JDS was still disappointed by USADA’s response in his interview with MMA Junkie, especially since he felt it should have been clear to them that his case was one of contamination from the start.
“I thought, with USADA’s experience and their understanding, that they would be able to say what was a contamination and what wasn’t,” dos Santos said. “Not just because of the substance, but the amount, as well. But that’s not how it happened.”
“I know I’m in a sport that has suffered, and still suffers, with guys who try to find shortcuts to win,”
“My hope now is that USADA does more studies on this,” dos Santos said. “It can’t be that with all their capabilities, all the experience they have, they can’t tell who was victim of contamination and who wasn’t. I know it isn’t that simple, but I hope they find a way.”
The UFC generally won’t book fighters who have a positive test awaiting resolution, and pulls them from any scheduled fights, meaning athletes sometimes have to choose between taking the time and expense to investigate their supplements and take USADA to arbitration, or just taking the suspension so they can fight and pay their bills.
Dos Santos had to pay to have his supplements tested, which cost thousands and thousands of dollars, he was unable to fight while trying to clear his name, and he even lost a gig commentating on UFC cards on network TV in Brazil.
“I think in situations like these, they shouldn’t take the fighters off fights,” dos Santos said. “They should keep the fighter in the fight, and in case culpability was proven, then they could penalize them in an even harsher way. I know it sounds scary, but what’s happening is that we’re getting punished before we’re even judged.”
“We need to discuss this more,” Dos Santos said. “We need to bring this subject to light so it doesn’t happen anymore. Because fighting is our life. It’s all that we do. Imagine, for instance, a case in which the person can’t defend themselves and get a longer suspension.
“This is an entire life on hold. This can’t happen. This is a very serious subject, so it’s important that we discuss it more and more.”
The kicker in this is that Josh Barnett was able to take his similar case to arbitration, and “won.” The arbitrator stated that Barnett’s efforts to avoid contaminated supplements meant he should only be considered to have a minimum degree of fault, and the appropriate punishment was a reprimand. It could easily be argued that Dos Santos also went to great lengths to protect himself from taking banned substances.
Unfortunately, it took almost 18 months for Barnett to get from his positive test to the arbitrator deciding the correct punishment is a reprimand. The investigation into Junior’s failed test apparently took nine months to come to the conclusion that he should get a six-month suspension.
Fighters are put in a situation where they either agree to the suspension USADA offers, or go through a process that will drag on for months, one that often involves the fighter paying for tests and attorneys. Even if they prevail at arbitration, they lose. No one reimburses them for the missed fights and the money spent defending themselves.
It’s no wonder most fighters don’t see arbitration as a viable option, and it’s no surprise fighters like JDS feel they have to accept the punishment USADA offers just to get their careers and lives back.