The news of Chael Sonnen’s failed drug test spread like a California wildfire throughout the MMA community this past weekend. Like any industry that loves a juicy story, a great number of mixed martial arts fans and media alike couldn’t help but do what UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva couldn’t…hit Sonnen repeatedly with big shot after big shot, early and often. The irony of the very fighter who railed against Lance Armstrong for PED’s on a recent Pro MMA Radio appearance failing a pre-fight drug test was simply too easy for many to pass up.
As the story unfolded, California State Athletic Commission Executive Director George Dodd disclosed that Sonnen failed for having a “testosterone to estrogen level that is well above normal”, although the actual banned substance has not been identified. Most shockingly to me, however, was Dodd’s revelation that Sonnen told him one day before the fight that he was taking something that might provide a positive test result. Huh? Even if Sonnen were mainlining enough steroids to kill a horse, why disclose that to the CSAC on the eve of the biggest fight of his life?
I reached out to both Chael and his representatives several times since the news of his drug test broke and received the following statement:
“Received your voice mail requesting an interview with Chael. Unfortunately, we must decline. It is our policy not to comment on pending actions by the Athletic Commission. Chael is consulting with his legal advisors and physicians and will have a statement in the near future. Chael will file an appeal with the CSAC and looks forward to working with the Commission to resolve this matter.”
Those who question the normally verbose Sonnen’s silence or want to see it as some implicit admission of guilt have probably never had a serious charge levied against them. Unless he completely disregards the screams of his attorneys, don’t expect him to have much to say in any venue until CSAC board members are sitting in the room and listening.
So, again, why would Sonnen make that damning admission 27 hours before stepping in the cage against Anderson Silva for the belt? I just can’t believe that he could be that stupid. And let’s face it, that would be all-time stupid. As the person who did that infamous Armstrong interview with Chael, I’ve had the opportunity to interact him numerous times. He’s a highly intelligent, articulate fighter who can be outrageous at times and may be the best mixed martial artist we’ve ever seen at promoting and building interest in a fight. Sorry, I just don’t buy that Chael is that dumb, clinically insane or has a deep seeded desire to commit career suicide.
That only leaves one answer for me. He had no choice but to disclose it and he didn’t think he was admitting any wrongdoing when he did so. By process of elimination, the only thing that makes sense to me is that Chael has a medical condition and he knew he was bound to disclose whatever medication that had been legitimately prescribed to him to treat that condition because it had the potential to lead to a positive test result. If Sonnen were prescribed testosterone, a quick Google search reveals a multitude of legitimate reasons having nothing to do with performance enhancement ranging from testosterone deficiency to more serious and potentially life threatening diseases involving major organs and muscle wasting.
When I spoke to Dodd by telephone on Tuesday he informed me that California pre-fight medicals are conducted right before the weigh ins on the day before the event. In the case of UFC 117, Chael’s medicals took place at approximately 3:30 PM on August 6th, which would include standard health checks (blood pressure, etc.) and filling out a form that asks for a list of any medication that the fighter is taking. Putting aside the mental clarity of a fighter in the final hour of a massive weight cut, Dodd made it clear that “it is incumbent on the fighter to make the commission aware that you are taking an enhancing drug prior to taking the test as well as the medical reasons for using it.” According to Dodd, Chael verbally informed him of the potential for failing the test at 6:05 PM, ten minutes prior to the drug test being conducted, instead of during the prefight medicals. When asked if he had spoken to the doctor who examined Sonnen at the event to see if the fighter had disclosed the potential failure to that physician he simply responded, “no”. Dodd also stated that Chael did not offer a medical reason explaining why he was taking a banned substance.
Let’s also take a closer look at the statement issued by Sonnen’s representatives. “Chael is consulting with his lawyers and physicians…”. Not sure I’ve ever seen that one before but I’m quite sure that most people consult with their physicians about medical issues. If it said medical experts, I’d buy that they were assessing physiological reasons for the failure but that simply isn’t what those carefully scripted words say.
Lastly, the CSAC’s refusal to identify the drug that Sonnen allegedly failed for leads me to believe that we won’t be hearing about specific or exotic steroids as we did when Phil Baroni failed in California for veterinary drugs Boldenone and Stanozolol or Sean Sherk’s publicized, disputed failure for Nandrolone. It’s more likely to play out similar to when ex-footballer Johnnie Morton got his clock cleaned in 2007 at the Dynamite! USA event and then failed with a high T/E ratio for unspecified steroids. And, again, without knowing the numeric elevated level we should all pump the brakes a bit. According to Healthtree.com and numerous online sources, a normal testosterone/estrogen ratio is 50:1 in healthy males. If Sonnen’s ratio comes back at 60:1 that’s a whole different story than if he came in at 200:1. If he were under a doctor’s care and using a prescribed drug as directed, then that doctor will have to explain why he was prescribed a dosage of the drug that would trigger a high result or why Sonnen wasn’t blood tested more frequently to insure that his levels didn’t get out of whack.
Call me crazy, but when an intelligent fighter like Sonnen makes a career-threatening disclosure on the eve of the biggest fight of his life there has to be a better reason than a suddenly non-existent I.Q. A legitimate medical condition being treated with a medication that could impact a test makes all the sense in the world while providing perspective as to why a press release mentions consulting with one’s physician. If Chael neglected to inform the commission in writing of any banned substance usage but did so verbally, he didn’t handle the situation optimally but it would seem that heis actions are in line with the spirit of what was required of him. The CSAC shortened both Baroni and Sherk’s suspensions from one-year to six months…Baroni because he tested clean after the fact and Sherk because of alleged testing irregularities. If facts come to light that Chael was legally taking a medication for legitimate medical reasons and that his failure was more one of procedure, not substance, a successful appeal or significant shortening of the suspension is not out of the realm of possibility. And if that happens, neither is the rematch with Anderson Silva that fans were clamoring for nor the possibility that Chael’s inbox will be flooded with apology emails from all those who wanted to prematurely lock up his career and throw away the key.