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Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- In-Depth Coverage: Vitor Belfort & Pawel Nastula Suspended after Steroid Hearings
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly
Breaking News on MMAWeekly: Vitor Belfort and Pawel Nastula have each been suspended for nine months by the Nevada State Athletic Commission as a result of their positive tests for banned substances following their respective fights at Pride: The Real Deal on October 21st.
In addition to the nine-month suspensions, each fighter was fined approximately one-third of their purses, which worked out to a $10,000 fine for Belfort and $6,500 for Nastula.
Drug testing at mixed martial arts events in the United States is handled by state athletic commissions, not by the MMA promotions such as Pride or the UFC.
The commissioners of the NSAC mentioned Stephan Bonnar when determining the length of the suspensions. Bonnar was suspended for nine months after he tested positive for the anabolic steroid boldenone following his fight against Forrest Griffin at UFC 62. The commissioners concluded that Belfort and Nastula should receive similar suspensions, and they unanimously agreed on the length of the suspensions for Belfort and Nastula.
Kevin Randleman's disciplinary hearing is tentatively scheduled to take place in January. The NSAC has alleged that Randleman provided a fake urine sample during his drug test at the same Pride event on October 21st. Providing fake urine or otherwise trying to defraud the drug testing system is regarded as being just as much of a violation as actually failing a drug test, if not more of a violation.
Nastula tested positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone and the banned stimulants phenylpropanolamine, pseudoephedrine, and ephedrine. Belfort tested positive for 4-hydroxytestosterone, which is also legally defined as an anabolic steroid and banned in Major League Baseball and other sports.
Belfort, a former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, lost to Dan Henderson by unanimous decision on the Pride card. Nastula, who won a gold medal in Judo at the 1996 Olympic Games, lost by submission to Josh Barnett on the card.
As with all NSAC drug-related suspensions, Belfort and Nastula will not be automatically reinstated in July 2007 when their suspension terms expires. After the terms expire, Belfort and Nastula will become eligible to re-apply for fighters' licenses in Nevada. This step requires a urine sample to be provided and for the sample to come back negative for all banned substances before the fighter can be re-licensed.
For as long as a particular fighter is suspended in the state of Nevada, companies that are licensed to promote events in the state of Nevada are strongly discouraged from using that fighter anywhere in the world, which includes Pride's events in Japan. On this subject, Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer told MMAWeekly, "I would expect a licensed promoter to respect any and all NSAC suspensions."
Vitor Belfort's Hearing
While Pawel Nastula was represented by an attorney and an agent/interpreter, Vitor Belfort represented himself and passionately pleaded his case to the commissioners. As for how he could have unknowingly ingested 4-hydroxytestosterone, Belfort said that it could have been in the rehabilitative injections that he was given by endocrinologist Dr. Rodrigo M. Greco following surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee over the summer; or it could have been from a nutritional supplement called Max Tribustak.
That particular supplement does indeed contain 4-hydroxytestosterone and is touted as helping to maximize the user's testosterone output. The commission seemed to believe that the Max Tribustak was much more likely than the post-surgical injections to have been the cause of Belfort's positive drug test.
Belfort was emphatic in saying that he is not a cheater. Belfort added that many fighters in MMA are cheaters and steroid users, but he is not one of them. Belfort said that he was very surprised by the positive test result, adding that he has lost a lot of sponsorships and has had his name, reputation, and career tarnished as a result of this.
The commissioners stated that even if Belfort was given injections by a doctor who did not inform Belfort that the injections contained anabolic steroids, it would still be a violation of the banned substances policy and "it would be malpractice for a doctor to do that here in the United States, to be giving someone anabolic steroids" during recovery from surgery.
The NSAC received a written statement from Dr. Greco in which he said that he gave Belfort post-surgical injections containing testosterone, which the NSAC said would be a violation of the NSAC's drug policy in and of itself.
The conclusion was ultimately reached that Belfort's story is fairly consistent, but that it's still a violation of the drug policy to have a banned substance in your body at the time of a fight. Regardless of when or how he took the banned substance, he should not have been fighting with 4-hydroxytestosterone in his system, and it is the fighters' responsibility to make sure that they're clear of all banned substances going into a fight.
Pawel Nastula's Hearing
Pawel Nastula's primary defense, as laid out by attorney Howard Jacobs, was that Nastula's positive test for the anabolic steroid nandrolone was a result of supplement contamination, not deliberate use. Jacobs presented several studies on the subject of supplement contamination to the NSAC, but none of them were specific to Nastula's case.
After Jacobs spoke extensively about the subject of supplement contamination in general, one of the commissioners said, "We have [detected] certain prohibited substances in his urine. We don't know how they got there, and he's responsible for that."
The commissioners further stated that in many cases where supplement contamination is alleged as the reason for a fighter's positive test, the defense chooses to have sample pills from the same manufacturing batch tested to determine if the supplement was, in fact, contaminated. Jacobs responded that it would take four to six months to run cross-contamination tests, and with Nastula being unable to fight during that timeframe, it would be a de facto suspension for that four to six month period.
The commission responded by telling Jacobs that if he chooses not to have the samples tested and if Nastula is suspended today, he could potentially be suspended for longer than four to six months. Jacobs then asked if NSAC policy would allow Nastula to temporarily be able to fight until the disciplinary matter is resolved.
Keith Kizer, the Executive Director of the NSAC, said that would not be allowed. Kizer said that an athlete who is taking performance-enhancing drugs in track and field would run faster or throw the javelin farther, but in MMA you're hitting another human being harder, so they can't allow MMA fighters to compete while they have pending disciplinary matters stemming from positive drug tests.
Jacobs also argued on Nastula's behalf that the relatively low levels of nandrolone found in Nastula's system were consistent with unintentional ingestion and not deliberate use. The commissioners responded by saying that low levels of a banned substance can sometimes indicate unintentional ingestion, but low levels can also sometimes indicate that a fighter was trying to cycle off of the banned substances and simply didn't stop taking them soon enough.
The commissioners said that they have no way of conclusively knowing which one of those scenarios holds true in this case, but they do conclusively know that Nastula had more than the maximum allowed amount of nandrolone in his system, and that was grounds to suspend him.
Pride "Allows Usage of Doping"?
Nastula's original written response to the NSAC stated that his promotional contract with Pride "allows the usage of doping." The commissioners asked for clarification on what exactly that means, and Nastula's agent/interpreter Michal Szymanski responded by saying that Nastula's Pride contract does not specifically allow doping, but it does say that fighters will not be tested for performance-enhancing substances at any of Pride's events in Japan. (It's a completely different scenario in the United States, where it's up to the athletic commissions and not the MMA promotions to handle the drug testing.)
The NSAC's Kizer further clarified to the commissioners that from what he has been told by Pride, they test for marijuana and other recreational drugs at their shows in Japan, but they do not test for steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs. The commissioners agreed that they need to look into Pride's drug testing policies more in the future, although no specific plans to that effect were laid out.
According to the NSAC, the exact passage in Nastula's contract with Pride in Japan is as follows: "Fighter agrees to be tested immediately preceding and following the fight in each event, to confirm negative results of the use of marijuana, cocaine, barbiturates, and other illegal substances. Should any test be positive, fighter shall forfeit all amounts payable under this agreement granted for such event. Performance-enhancing stimulants of the steroid-based family are specifically excluded from the scope of the tests and the prohibition in this section."
At that point during the hearing, Kizer said that when Nastula's representatives were informed of his positive test result back in November, the first question that agent Michal Szymanski asked him was whether or not the NSAC had legally ratified the drug policy that Pride has in Japan. Kizer added that attorney Howard Jacobs' first question to him was also whether the NSAC had legally ratified the drug policy in Japan.
Kizer asked rhetorically why either of them would have asked that question right off the bat if the fighter had not intentionally taken steroids. Jacobs responded by saying that it was just a formality to make sure that the NSAC's policy allowed for the testing of fighters for performance-enhancing drugs.
Nastula Plans to Retire, Would Have Fought on Pride Shockwave if Cleared
When asked if Nastula or his agent had anything else to add, Szymanski said, "We have a contract with Pride to have Nastula's last fight on December 31st... and they told us that if Nastula is cleared and there is no suspension, Nastula can be used on the 31st of December... Nastula is 36 years old and this is his last chance... he would like to finish his career on the 31st."
Szymanski also inferred that Nastula is a top-level athlete and an Olympic Gold Medalist who would have no need to use performance-enhancing drugs. Kizer responded by saying that Nastula is indeed a tremendous athlete and an Olympic Gold Medalist, but he could have still potentially had motivation to use performance-enhancing drugs because his MMA record going into the fight against Josh Barnett was 1-2, while Barnett is ranked as one of the top five heavyweights in the entire world.
NSAC Commissioners "Putting the Hammer Down on the Steroids Issue"
After the Belfort and Nastula hearings were finished and everything else on the NSAC's meeting agenda was completed, commissioner T.J. Day said, "We're putting the hammer down on the steroid issue. This is real, this is important, and the tougher we are on it, the lesser the chance that we're going to be asked in the future why we didn't do anything about it."
It remains to be seen how accurate those words will turn out to be, given that the majority of fighters on any given fight card are still not drug tested.
Other Agenda Items
A few of the NSAC commissioners also said that with the popularity of MMA growing so much, they feel that all of the commissioners should fully understand the judging criteria and the referee procedures related to fight stoppages in MMA. The commissioners proposed that at some point in the future, there should be a seminar for the benefit of the NSAC, during which top MMA referees and judges would explain these matters in great detail to the commissioners.
The vast majority of the rest of the NSAC's agenda on this particular day related to upcoming boxing matches in the state of Nevada involving Jose Luis Castillo and Ricky Hatton, which will be relevant to MMA in the future if any main event fighters fail to make weight and subsequently face the kind of disciplinary action that Castillo has faced.
Castillo once again failed to make weight (or even come close to making weight) for a big-money boxing match against Diego Corrales earlier this year, which cost Showtime, the NSAC, and the event's promoters millions of dollars in lost revenue. Castillo was suspended until the end of 2006 and fined $250,000 for his repeated offenses, but that fine has yet to be paid.
At the meeting on Thursday, the NSAC insisted that the full fine of $250,000 must be paid before Castillo can fight in a proposed title elimination bout on January 20th, and that Castillo could be fined again if he fails to make weight for that bout.
Castillo’s promoter, Top Rank, presented plans to have Castillo and Hatton face different opponents at an event in Las Vegas on January 20th, and then if they are both victorious, Castillo and Hatton would fight each other in Las Vegas on June 2, 2007.
The NSAC was willing to approve those plans if and only if the $250,000 fine was paid before January 20th, or if Castillo pays at least $150,000 before the January 19, 2007 weigh-in and Top Rank puts into writing a formal agreement that they will be fully responsible and legally liable for the fine if Castillo does not pay it in full by June 1, 2007.
Top Rank was expected to compose such documents and return to the athletic commission at a later date in order to get formal approval for the June 2nd showdown between Hatton and Castillo.