Kurt Holobaugh probably wouldn’t have been disciplined by the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) had he not been honest.
On Tuesday, the veteran MMA fighter was suspended nine months and fined $750 due to prohibited use of an intravenous injection in July, prior to a fight on the first Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series card in Las Vegas. Holobaugh’s win over Matt Bessette was overturned to a no-contest by the NAC, too.
Holobaugh used the IV after weigh-ins July 10 to rehydrate from his weight cut without knowing that injecting more than 50mL of an IV within a six-hour period was prohibited in Nevada, his manager Bryan Hamper told MMA Fighting. Holobaugh knew IV use was banned by the UFC, under its USADA-run anti-doping program, but was unaware of the NAC regulations, which borrow from the World Anti-Doping Agency Code.
The Contender Series shows are separate from the UFC and do not share UFC deals with USADA and Reebok.
To further confuse matters, Holobaugh initially checked the box on his NAC pre-fight questionnaire that he planned on using an IV, Hamper said. A commission official told him to change his answer to say that he wouldn’t use an IV. That official, Hamper said, never told Holobaugh that IV use over 50mL in a six-hour period was a prohibited method in the state.
Holobaugh went on to beat Bessette on July 11 by first-round knockout and White offered him a UFC contract at the conclusion of the episode.
When Holobaugh began his screening process with the UFC and USADA a few weeks later, he was asked on a form if he previously used any prohibited substances or methods. He disclosed the IV use in July, Hamper said. USADA, which works directly with state athletic commissions and other regulatory bodies, informed the Nevada commission since it happened in the NAC’s jurisdiction, UFC vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky confirmed with MMA Fighting.
That prompted the commission to open up a complaint against Holobaugh for the infraction and at Tuesday’s NAC meeting he was handed his sanction. Holobaugh’s team believes the penalty was far too harsh, especially since the fighter attempted to be as transparent as he could be — and it’s possible no one would have ever known about the violation had he not admitted it to USADA.
“He willfully acknowledged it,” Hamper said. “There was never any positive test. There was never anyone saying he was caught in doing this. … Intuitively, he should have known that it was illegal in the state he was competing in. Upon realizing that he broke the rule, he disclosed it. He fully disclosed it on the USADA pre-screening paperwork.”
Hamper said Holobaugh’s team plans on fighting the commission’s discipline. The suspension is too long, Hamper said, and the loss of a win is unfair. Furthermore, because of a phone issue, Hamper said Holobaugh didn’t get a chance to articulate his case in front of the commission Tuesday the way he wanted to.
“He earned that victory,” Hamper said. “It doesn’t change the outcome of that fight. And now he’s labeled a cheater for something that could have easily been avoided if he had been educated in the proper way when he filled the paperwork out.”
Holobaugh is a single father with three children and it’s very possible he won’t be able to make any income from fighting for a year, Hamper said.
“We’re gonna fight as best we can,” the manager said. “We’re gonna make sure that his voice is heard, really because he complied with everything from the very beginning.”
Hamper said a “silver lining” was that the UFC has been supportive and Holobaugh’s contract standing with the promotion remains. His next fight, whenever that will be, is going to be under the UFC banner.
Novitzky places some of the fault on himself and his team. The Contender Series is technically a separate entity from the UFC, but he admits that there should have been more of an education process on USADA, the UFC anti-doping policy and commission rules, since fighters went directly from the Contender Series to the UFC on a weekly basis during its first season, which ran all summer.
“I really almost take a level of self responsibility on this one, because that Contender Series is a bit of a gray area,” Novitzky said. “We really didn’t, until this happened, educate those fighters towards the IV ban or even the Nevada rules they’d be subject to are. We do that now going forward, but I wish looking back that we had, because I probably could have prevented that.”
Still, Novitzky said the Nevada commission wasn’t out of bounds in its decision. Novitzky said a nine-month suspension is on the low end of NAC sanctions, per regulations, and Holobaugh did still break a rule.
“I think that they realized that this guy wasn’t trying to break this rule or try to cheat on purpose,” Novitzky said. “Again, if not for his honesty, no one would have known about it.
“This guy was being honest. There’s no evidence whatsoever that he was intentionally cheating. It’s just some tough circumstances here. I don’t think Nevada did anything wrong. If anything, I put it on myself. We should have educated those Contender Series better and we didn’t. I put a lot of the blame on myself for this one.”