At UFC on ESPN 6 Greg Hardy fought Ben Sosoli and was handed a decision victory. Subsequently the result was overturned by the overseeing regulator to a no-contest. The reason being Hardy used an inhaler during the bout.
The bout was overseen by the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission (MSAC). A real question is whether the MSAC was within their rights to overturn the bout result. The analysis can be broken down into two components. First whether an anti-doping violation took place. Second, whether a regulatory transgression occurred allowing Hardy’s win to be overturned.
On the anti-doping front, both the UFC with their private USADA contract and the MSAC rely on the WADA prohibited list. It is not known what exactly Hardy consumed but assuming it was the asthma medication salbutamol then no violation occurred. Salbutamol can be ingested in doses of up to 1600 micrograms over 24 hours without a WADA violation and WADA has no further restrictions over in competition use. Unless there is proof something else was ingested the anti doping analysis ends here.
This takes us to the MSAC regulatory front. There are two issues here. First whether an actual rules violation took place by taking an inhaler in the middle of a bout. Second whether the MSAC has a rule allowing them to overturn the in cage result in these circumstances.
Many jurisdictions have regulations dealing with ‘consumables’. These are rules that state what an athlete can consume during a bout. Some jurisdictions only allow water to be consumed. Others permit other electrolyte drinks as well. On my review Massachusetts does not appear to have a consumables rule on the books. This puts the regulator on thin ice saying a violation occurred. If their rules were violated the onus is on the MSAC to point to the specific rule that was broken. They may not be able to do so.
Even if a rule was broken the MSAC have limited authority to overturn a decision victory. According the MSAC regulation 14.20 the commission will only review an in cage result if there are “compelling and plausible allegations” of
(a) collusion or fraud affecting the result of a contest or exhibition; or
(b) scoring error resulting in a decision given to the wrong combatant; or
(c) flagrant referee error resulting in a decision given to the wrong combatant
At best the last ground is the only one which can be in play.
A last complication overlaying all of this are the actions of the MSAC’s in cage supervisor. Hardy’s corner asked the supervisor if he could take the inhaler and he was given the nod. While the inspector exceeded his authority in doing this Hardy’s corner ultimately relied on this representation. Even if the MSAC can point to a rule violation and then point to a further rule authorizing them to overturn the win, the inspector’s in cage blessing may raise an issue of estoppel. The principle of estoppel may prevent any applicable rules being applied to Hardy’s detriment when an MSAC inspector made a representation relied on by Hardy.
Many jurisdictions have poorly written combat sports regulations. The lesson here may be the need for the MSAC to review their regulations and ensure they are drafted so they cover situations like this adequately. Regulators cannot apply rules they want to exist, they have to apply rules that actually exist.