Archive for January, 2014

It has been quite the week for doping headlines in MMA.  Starting with the Association of Ringside Physicians call for banning Testosterone Replacement Therapy to the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s admission of the influence of money there has been no shortage of publicity.

To cap it all off individuals from one of the most prominent athletic commissions, the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, have highlighted the neglectful PED testing standards that exist in MMA.

In response to scrutiny of their decision to grant a testosterone Therapeutic Use Exemption to Frank Mir the NJSACB defended their practices and deflected attention to athletes who do not request TUE’s.  In the process they made the blunt admission that testing standards for doping in MMA are all but useless.

BloodyElbow reports that Nick Lembo of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board admitted to having standards “akin to a don’t ask don’t tell” policy for most combatants.

The article goes on to quote Dr. Sherry Wulkan, lead MMA/kickboxing ringside physician NJSACB, and Association of Boxing Commissions Medical Committee Co-Chair with the following insightful admissions:

…some athletic commissions have been lax in their drug testing for PEDs for all athletes…

The glaring and overlooked concern… is the fact that the large majority of athletes using performance enhancing drugs are not, in fact, subject to ANY testing because measurements of PED are minimal or non-existent in many jurisdictions. 

Perhaps it might have been more prudent for the ARP to endorse the concept of regular and stringent drug testing for PED’s via hair, blood and urine by all athletic commissions. 

The ARP may have placed the cart before the horse by cracking down on TUE applicants who freely and voluntarily come forward seeking medical clearance at a time when commissions are still granting TUEs, while ignoring the fact that those who are not forthcoming are either not tested or are tested in a fashion that is not designed to catch PED usage, or testing that it fraught with obvious and glaring weaknesses. 

Why does all this matter?  Appreciating that Athletic Commissions expose themselves to legal liability for negligent testing and licencing standards, having prominent admissions of the influence of money and to “obvious and glaring weaknesses” in current testing standards can go a long way should a lawsuit ever arise following tragedy in the ring or cage.  This issue will not go away until sensible reforms are implemented. Until then anabolic steroids in MMA will continue to generate unwanted headlines as they did this week taking top billing in the first 4 stories on the MMA Underground.

UG TRT Story Screenshot

Criminal Code Image

Last September I highlighted an amateur MMA event which took place in Weyburn Saskatchewan without SMAA sanctioning.  (The SMAA is the body designated by Order in Council 479/2013 with the power to sanction and oversee amateur combat sports in Saskatchewan in compliance with the Criminal Code).

In a move that should come as no surprise to those that participated in the event it is reported that charges have now been laid.   Marlo Pritchard of the Weyburn Police Service provided the following media release:


Charges laid in MMA event Investigation

On September 28th  2013, a mixed martial arts event, promoted by Prestige Fight Club, was held in Weyburn. Allegations at the time was that the event was non sanctioned and as a result a police investigation was commenced.

This investigation was as a result of changes to the Criminal Code which came into effect in June 2013. The changes to the Criminal code require events such as a Mixed Martial Arts contest to receive sanctioning under the authority of a provincially authorized athletic board or commission.

The investigation and prosecutorial review have  been completed and as a result charges of ‘Engaging in a Prize Fight’, contrary to Section 83(1) of the Criminal Code have been laid against the owner and a promoter of Prestige Fight Club.

A 48 year old male from Beinfait, Saskatchewan, and a 45 year old male from Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan have been issued a Summons to appear for Court on Tuesday March 11th at 10am in the Weyburn Court House.


It is unfortunate it had to come to this, however, these charges serve as a teachable moment that unless events are held in jurisdictions with the proper legal framework required by the Criminal Code, prosecutions for illegal ‘prize fights’ are now a reality in a post Bill S-209 world.

Many jurisdictions in Canada lack this framework.  The upcoming Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Championship Series #3   in Ontario is another event which may face a similar fate.  Anyone considering participating in this event would be wise to contact the Provincial government for assurances that prosecutions will not follow.  It is unlikely the Province would provide such an assurance.

While there is much work to be done before a proper framework for Amateur MMA exists throughout Canada, the solution is not to host unsanctioned events.  Stakeholders are better served lobbying their Provinces to pass appropriate laws.  Until that time participating in events in Provinces lacking a legal framework risk colliding with the Criminal Code.

I previously highlighted why Athletic Commissions can be vulnerable to lawsuits if they implement negligent PED tests which allow cheats to easily slip through the cracks.

Random out of competition testing would catch more cheaters but also derail more events.  This is harmful to the economic interests from those who profit from the sport, however, safety not profit should be the concern for regulators.  Recent comments from the Nevada State Athletic Commission show that these priorities may not be straight.

ESPN’s Outside the Lines reports that Dr. Timothy Trainor, consulting physician to the NSAC, “would advise the five-member commission against granting a therapeutic-use exemption to Belfort or any fighter who previously tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance.“.  Safety first right?  The Commission should take this feedback to heart.

Not so fast says Commission chairman Francisco Aguilar.  Outside the lines reports that Aguilar “cautioned, however, that a prior failed drug test is not an immediate disqualifier and that any request from Belfort would be heard and decided upon by the full five-member commission, with input from Trainor.”  That much is true, a failed drug test is not an automatic barrier to a TUE, however, the legal test for a TUE is almost insurmountable if the NSAC follows its Rules.

So what other priorities are on the mind of Aguilar?  Reportedly money.  The article notes:

Aguilar said he would rely on information provided by the commission’s medical doctor, but that he would enter any discussions with an open mind and also cognizant of the title fight’s importance to Nevada and the reluctance to lose the potential payday to another state. “The economic development impact to the state could be huge,” he said.

As point of fact, Aguilar said the UFC transferred to the state general fund almost $500,000 just in ticket sales and pay-per-view taxes from the Dec. 28 Weidman-Anderson Silva title fight. The tax figure from all fight cards last year was more than $5 million, he said. The estimated non-gaming impact to the venue hosting a boxing title fight (no figures are known for MMA) exceeds $11 million, according to Las Vegas convention officials.

Cynicism is one thing but outright admissions of profit playing a role in licencing and TUE decisions would be very damaging in litigation.

Safety is, legally, the top priority of the Athletic Commission and for proof you can simply look to the NSAC Executive Director Job Posting which holds “The Athletic Commission administers the State laws and regulations…governing unarmed combat for the protection of the public and to ensure the health and safety of the contestants.”

Yes positive economic impact of high profile events are a reality, however, Athletic Commissions would be wise to pay no mind to this and keep their focus on combatant safety where it belongs.  Failing to do so can lead to costly litigation and if money is such a concern the NSAC would regret learning this lesson the hard way.

Education is key when it comes to the sensible regulation of combat sports.  To this end the Association of Ringside Physicians is doing a good job addressing some of the key issues in combat sports, namely PED use, weight cut practices and issues related to head trauma.

In addition to their highly publicized consensus statement calling for the elimination of TRT TUE’s, the Association of Ringside Physicians has released three further consensus statements addressing the use of headgear in amateur boxing, the safest mouthguards for combat sports and a list of recommendations to improve boxing safety which include caps on weight cuts.

You can find these latest statements here:

ARP Consensus Statement on Mouthguards for Combat Sports Athletes

ARP Consensus Statemet on Headgear in Amateur Boxing

ARP Medical Recommendations to Improve Boxing Safety

Below are the highlights:


The Association of Ringside Physicians supports and recommends
the use of custom-fit dual arch (upper and lower) mouthpieces for
the protection of the teeth and temporo-mandibular joints. The
continued research into additional benefits of dual arch
mouthpieces is further encouraged.

Headgear for Amateur Boxing

There are fewer head and facial injuries when using headgear in
amateur boxing. Amateur boxing is a relatively safe sport and
eliminating headgear will make amateur boxing less safe. The
Association of Ringside Physicians supports the continued use of
headgear in amateur boxing as well as efforts to improve the
effectiveness of the headgear.

Safety Recommendations for Improved Safety in Boxing

Uniform regulations and safety standards are required to protect combat athletes. In any
inherently dangerous sport, it is imperative that these recommendations be reviewed,
considered and adopted. Evidence based on sound research is always needed to keep any
such recommendations relevant and we ask all of our ringside physician experts to continue to
investigate and develop protocols to improve combat sports.

Below are the Association of Ringside Physicians’ Recommendations:

1. All sparring should take place with oversized gloves to minimize the cumulative forces of
the punches during training. (i.e., Heavyweights 20-22 oz gloves…Middleweights 16 oz gloves
and lightweights 12 oz gloves, etc.)

2. Minimize head shots during training to decrease the likelihood of pre-existing damage prior
to entering the ring for the competition.

3. All states immediately adopt the minimum medical requirements of the ABC and ARP. If
these requirements are not adopted, the ARP asks promoters and sanctioning bodies to
consider not holding boxing matches in these venues until they comply with these

4. Boxers who have not fought for over 12 months should not fight more than 10 rounds. The
question of inactivity raises concerns about the likelihood of increased risks of injuries based
on inactivity and conditioning.

5. Fighter’s not be permitted to lose more than 3% body weight at the weigh-in before a fight.
Additionally, no fighter gaining more than 5% body weight should be permitted to compete
after the weigh-in.

6. Medical data bank is implemented immediately to follow the medical history during a
boxer’s career.

7. Promoters, managers, corner men, commissioners are encouraged to anonymously report
boxer’s whom they believe are showing early changes consistent with brain damage. This
information will then be investigated and (if necessary) be utilized to require more tests or to
terminate a boxer’s career.

8. The ringside physician and EMS personnel should remain at the venue until all the
competitors have left the competition/locker area.

9. The ringside physician should notify the local hospital and on-call neurosurgeon that a
boxing match will be taking place.

10. No fighter who is Hepatitis C or HIV antibody positive should be permitted to fight even if
the virus is undetectable in their blood.*

11. Further research (i.e. the medical severity index, the Impact concussion study, rapid
HIV/infectious disease testing, etc.) is encouraged and should be utilized to determine those
at greater risk for injury.

12. A minimum of two ringside physicians should attend every boxing match

association of ringside physicians logo






If doctors are to blame for bringing Testosterone Replacement Therapy into combat sports perhaps they will also be the ones to take TRT TUE’s out.  The American Association of Professional Ringside Physicians has issued a press release calling for a ban of  TRT TUE’s in combat sports.  Given the integral role ringside physicians play in combat sport regulation this public statement is bound to have influence with policy makers.

The press release can be found here (Association of Ringside Physician Press Release TRT TUE) and reads as follows:

For Immediate Release January 27, 2014

Association of Ringside Physicians Releases Consensus Statement on
Therapeutic Use Exemptions for Testosterone Replacement Therapy

The Association of Ringside Physicians (ARP), an international, non-profit
organization dedicated to the health and safety of the boxer and mixed
martial arts athlete, has released a consensus statement on therapeutic use
exemptions for testosterone replace therapy in professional combat sport
athletes, as follows:

The incidence of hypogonadism requiring the use of testosterone
replacement therapy (TRT) in professional athletes is
extraordinarily rare. Accordingly, the use of an anabolic steroid
such as testosterone in a professional boxer or mixed martial artist
is rarely justified. Steroid use of any type, including unmerited
testosterone, significantly increases the safety and health risk to
combat sports athletes and their opponents. TRT in a combat sports
athlete may also create an unfair advantage contradictory to the
integrity of sport. Consequently, the Association of Ringside
Physicians supports the general elimination of therapeutic use
exemptions (TUE) for testosterone replacement therapy.

For more about the ARP, visit its website at

hourglass image

Caught doping in an Olympic Sport?  WADA will hit you with a 4 year ban for the first offence.   If you get caught doping a second time you face a lifetime ban.  Major professional sports, on the other hand, start with the equivalent of a slap on the wrist before moving to escalating suspensions.

What about MMA?  The sport, which arguably has the greatest need for protecting participants from those who seek advantage by using illicit PED’s, has no uniform policy.  MMA penalties for PED abuse will vary at the discretion of State and Provincial Athletic Commissions and in some circumstances at the discretion of fight promotions.  If a uniform model is adopted the question is which way should it lean; the no nonsense way of WADA or the more lenient ways established in professional sports?  If science is used as a guide the former is likely the answer.

The issue of PED’s in combat sports has taken the spotlight again with one of MMA’s pioneers, Ken Shamrock, admitting the not so well kept secret that PED abuse is prevalent in the sport.  Shamrock told AXSTV

I never entered into the ring while using steroids…just to get that clear…but I have used steroids in the past….it is a problem because what is happening is the people who are making the most money are the people who can obviously spend money to cheat, to get around the testing.  That’s the issue you run into.”

Shamrock goes on to call out for reform arguing change needs to take place at the entry level to weed out PED cheats before they get a foot hold in the sport.

While Shamrock’s calls for reform are welcome his distinction of using but never “entering the ring” while on steroids is artificial at best.  Recent scientific study demonstrates that there are long term gains to PED use which can continue well after the drugs are discontinued.

The Science:

In a 2006 study involving power lifters it was found that the athletes continued to enjoy advantage over their clean peers years after they stopped using the drugs.  Specifically the research concluded that “Based on the characteristics between doped and non-doped power lifters, we conclude that a period of anabolic steroid usage is an advantage for a power lifter in competition, even several years after they stop taking a doping drug.”

In a study published last year in the Journal of Physiology researchers looked into long term benefits of anabolic steroids after discontinuance and concluded that “brief exposure to anabolic steroids might have long lasting performance-enhancing effects.”.  The study involved mice who were treated with testosterone.  The researchers hypothesize that PED use can result in a 10 year advantage in human beings even after discontinuance and are currently working with the help of WADA funding to further explore this topic.

These studies suggest combatants who use illicit PED’s can gain long term benefit well after cycling off the drugs.  In other words, there may be no such thing as a fair fight after doping.  Appreciating that PED bans exist to protect clean competitors, the real question is how long of a ban is appropriate?  If studies such as these form the foundation of a regulatory norm then long term WADA style bans would be well justified.

The Problem with Karate…

Posted: January 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

owen sparring photo

Last year I highlighted that Bill S-209 criminalized many traditional martial arts combative competitions but allows Provinces to overrule this default position.

Since then Provinces have been slow to pass appropriate laws and the expected problems are now surfacing.  Last November the PEI government shut down an amateur kickboxing event which ran in previous years without incident.  Now scheduled Karate competitions in Provinces without appropriate laws may be facing a similar fate.

Karate PEI is advertising the Atlantic Karate Championships scheduled to take place in Fredericton on February 17.  Events such as these have taken place for years without government oversight however without Bill S-209 compliant laws on the books events such as these are now in question.

This is an unnecessary and fixable problem.  BC and Saskatchewan are a few of the Provinces who have addressed this issue.  Other Provinces would do well to pass similar laws or else risk creating unnecessary uncertainty for those wishing to compete in such events.






Vitor Belfort’s controversial use of Testosterone Replacement Therapy will be in the spotlight again if his title shot takes place, as rumoured, in Nevada.  Belfort has never been granted a Therapeutic Use Exemption by the State with NSAC Executive Director Keith Kizer stating it is doubtful one would be granted.  This is a well grounded comment given the test Belfort would need to pass to receive a TUE in Nevada.

Given the above, reports are now surfacing that Belfort may simply not apply for a TUE if asked to fight in Las Vegas.  (Update January 23 – Belfort now confirms he will indeed ask for a TUE)

Whether Belfort applies for a TUE or not the NSAC is put in a troubling position.  If the NSAC follows their rules not only is a TUE a tough sell, getting an MMA Unarmed Combatant’s licence may also be out of reach for Belfort.  The reason is simple, TRT without a TUE violates the NSAC Rules and this breach allows a licence to be denied in the first place.

Here’s the legal breakdown:

NAC 467.850 adopts the World Anti Doping Agency Prohibited List of Substances.  The WADA 2014 Prohibited List includes anabolic agents both in and out of competition.  Out of Competition bans mean that without a TUE there is no time that the prohibited substances can be taken.  That means that, absent a TUE, all of Belfort’s TRT treatments amount to illegal doping in the eyes of the adopted WADA standards.  NAC 467.850 adopts similar language prohibiting unapproved “drugs or injections…either before or during a contest“.

Failing to apply (or receive) a TUE does not take away the commission’s knowledge that Belfort uses TRT.  In addition to the media spotlight on this topic, Belfort will be forced to disclose his TRT use to the commission when he applies for a licence to fight.  NAC 467.027 requires Belfort to “provide with the application for a license…an original or certified copy of the results of medical tests which were performed by a laboratory during the calendar year for which the licence is being issued“.  Given that Belfort admits to regular blood tests such records clearly exist.

Once the Commission “officially” learns of Belfort’s TRT use they need to address this situation and decide whether to issue an unarmed combatant’s licence.

NAC 467.082 discusses when the Commission may deny a licence.  The grounds include violating any provision of Chapter 467 which includes the anti doping rules.  Notably the commission has the discretion to provide a licence but it would be peculiar to not grant a TUE yet fail to address past NSAC unapproved TRT use or Belfort’s medical condition requiring TRT.  If a licence is denied the rules even have a built in timeline to address this situation.  Rule 467.087 calls for a one year waiting period for refiling.

Another troubling aspect of not applying for or receiving a TUE is that the commission is forced to grapple with medical clearance to fight. In Belfort’s situation he has stated that his underlying medical condition needing TRT “is something that can cause serious health problems and even death. You can have problems, big problems, if it’s untreated. ”  To quote VADA:

Vada Tweet re Discontiued TRT Use




This paints the NSAC in a corner. If he needs TRT and without it he risks ‘serious health problems’ he should not be licenced to fight without it.  However, his prior failed PED test makes the legal test for an NSAC TUE tough to meet.  If he does not need it then the commission must come to terms with his prior use.    They can either deny his licence for one year, grant a TUE or allow him to be licensed without a TUE.  Whatever the result, if Belfort seeks to fight in Nevada the NSAC will have to address the controversial TRT situation head on.  Whoever gets the job as the new NSAC Executive Director will quickly have their skills put to the test navigating these waters.



Welcome FightOpinion Readers

Posted: January 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

FightOpinion Logo




Earlier this month I discussed the potential liability of Athletic Commissions for insufficient PED testing standards.  Zach Arnold at FightOpinon has republished a modified version of this article focusing specifically on the Nevada State Athletic Commission at his site.  For those of you visiting for the first time, welcome! Also, a quick thank you to Zach for allowing my work to be highlighted on his site.

Ontario Ministry of Sport Reply Letter Screenshot

The Ontario Ministry of Tourism Culture and Sport has replied to my requests regarding the Province’s intentions now that Bill S-209 has passed.

The Ministry advises that the Government is “reviewing the changes in the law and considering the best approach for the province“.

The Ministry is seeking feedback from the combat sports industry and advises that “it is important we receive advice from people with an informed interest in combative sports.  In this regard, if you would like to discuss this issue further, I encourage you to contact Craig Stewart, Manager of Sport and Recreation, at 416-326-4370

All those looking to have a hand in shaping the landscape of Ontario combat sports law ought to take advantage of this invitation to ensure your voice is heard in encouraging the Ministry to make informed changes to the law.