• UFC

Fighters clash over drugs testing before fight

Josh Gross | ESPN.com
September 12, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »

Two months out from Georges St-Pierre's UFC welterweight championship defence in Las Vegas against Johny Hendricks, a dust-up has emerged over drug testing ahead of their anticipated five-round title fight.

St-Pierre, the long-reigning 170-pound French-Canadian star, wants the world to see he is drug-free. So the 32-year-old mixed martial artist officially agreed late last month to undergo random testing through the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, a Nevada-based non-profit organisation that designs and runs drug-screening programs for athletes.

When St-Pierre first mentioned his intention to participate in the VADA program, which features World Anti-Doping Association protocols and laboratory testing, Hendricks, 29, claimed he would follow suit. However, the welterweight challenger has yet to enrol in VADA after "red flags" prompted him and his team to move away from the program.

During a conference call on August 13 arranged by the UFC to raise awareness of an alternate supplemental screening program conducted by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, tensions were raised when St-Pierre's trainer, Firas Zahabi, spoke about the expense of VADA versus NSAC testing. According to NSAC executive director Keith Kizer and Hendricks' manager, Ted Ehrhardt, Zahabi claimed VADA agreed to pick up the full cost. This surprised Ehrhardt, who had been led to believe the UFC champion was committed to paying for everything himself.

Three days after the conference call, St-Pierre's co-manager, Rodolphe Beaulieu, emailed Kizer, Ehrhardt, and UFC attorney Michael Mersch to clarify that Zahabi's statement was a "misunderstanding." Kizer classified it as a "misrepresentation".

"I may have been unclear. I should have been more clear," Zahabi told ESPN.com. "I should have repeated myself. But I didn't think about it at the time. What I said was VADA was willing to sponsor some of it."

The original quoted price by VADA to St-Pierre's camp in early July was $20,000 for a four-month program. The fee per fighter was $7,500, while VADA agreed to use funds at its disposal to cover the other 25%. Since St-Pierre didn't officially sign on until August 29, the price dropped to $16,000, though VADA, headed by neurologist and former NSAC ringside physician Dr. Margaret Goodman, could no longer help with the fee.

Currently, VADA is holding a check that covers costs for testing both men through November 16. St-Pierre would receive an $8,000 refund if Hendricks holds firm and opts against working with the independent group.

As far as Ehrhardt was concerned, the damage had been done and Hendricks isn't going to enroll with VADA because he cannot trust the relationship it shares with the UFC champion. Hendricks also told MMAfighting.com that UFC advised him against agreeing to VADA testing.

On September 4, Canadian Web site TVAsports.ca reported Hendricks had yet to become a "member" of VADA. Then over the weekend Ehrhardt publicly expressed his concerns to MMAJunkie.com, which first reported the call and St-Pierre's apparent refusal to participate in NSAC's program.

Like VADA, the NSAC would utilize WADA-accredited facilities and guidelines. Fighters are required to be accessible at all times for random urine and blood collection.

Unlike VADA, where there are no consequences outside of bad press for failing a test, NSAC's program enrolls fighters into a much more penal process. VADA is expected to report results to the appropriate regulatory bodies, which take the information under advisement, but an NSAC campaign could include fines, suspensions, or other commission-prescribed punishment for a failed test, or failing to take a test.

During the conference call, and in a subsequent email chain, Beaulieu and Zahabi said they only wanted to understand the limits of NSAC testing because they hoped it was as stringent as possible. St-Pierre's agreement with VADA calls for screening of human growth hormone in every test. Zahabi desired this in Nevada as well because HGH is the substance most often rumoured in connection with St-Pierre.

"I just wanted to guarantee that the most highly effective drug is taken off the table," Zahabi said. "Test everyone for it. We were asking for the highest degree of testing. We were just trying to be as honest and get the right answers. I think there was a misunderstanding and different opinions."

Kizer declined to discuss specifics of what would be screened for, and he took umbrage at Beaulieu's repeated inquiries, which included references to HGH, EPO and testosterone. "You don't get the details before the test," Kizer told ESPN.com.

In an email sent to the group on August 16, the executive director expressed NSAC "does not allow any licensee to dictate or craft the testing. Not only is this inappropriate, it is not something the Commission would even consider."

"I will take the latest email as a refusal by Mr. St. Pierre [sic] to request enhanced steroid and drug testing by the Commission, which is his choice," Kizer continued. "Of course Mr. St-Pierre and Mr. Hendricks must comply with any and all testing by the Commission."

St-Pierre is a "very specific" person, said Bealieu. Their intention wasn't to craft the process, only to understand exactly what he was agreeing to. Compared to the program outlined by VADA, NSAC testing felt like an "act of faith," Beaulieu said, because certain policies and procedures, such as urine and blood collection and a fighter's rights in those instances, had not been spelled out to their satisfaction.

Beaulieu declared to Kizer, Mersch, and Ehrdhardt on August 17 that "Georges has decided that if Johny Hendricks does not want to do VADA and prefers your proposed enhanced steroid and drug testing by the Nevada Athletic Commission, Georges will also do it, in addition to VADA." He asked for "all documentation, a detailed invoice and payment instructions necessary to proceed" be sent to him in Montreal.

Kizer balked at the idea of sending a detailed invoice, because, he said, it could tip off some manner of testing. He has not responded to Beaulieu.

After receiving Beaulieu's final email, Kizer informed Mersch that the process "was done," but if UFC, St-Pierre and Hendricks came to an agreement - like Top Rank had with boxers Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez ahead of an October 12 contest in Las Vegas - then they should bring him into the fold.

Zuffa, which promotes the UFC, would have to wire the fee directly to NSAC's WADA-accredited lab in Salt Lake City, and the commission would step in from there.

This article first appeared on ESPN.com

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