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Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Info from today's meeting of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, to which I listened via teleconference:
Both Brock Lesnar's attorney/agent David Olsen and UFC executive Michael Mersch (who is also a former attorney for the NSAC) are arguing the case to the Nevada commission that Steve Mazzagatti should not be one of the referees considered for the upcoming Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin fight.
They are both arguing that Mazzagatti is biased against Brock Lesnar, and they both cited comments made by UFC president Dana White about Mazzagatti’s competence as grounds for Mazzagatti not being considered.
NSAC Commissioner and Chairwoman Pat Lundvall rejected their claims, so Mazzagatti’s name was officially still on the list of referees under consideration for the fight.
Fortunately from the perspective of Lesnar and the UFC, all of that was a moot point.
The referees are determined by NSAC Executive Director Keith Kizer, who "recommends" the officials for title fights to the commissioners, and I have personally never heard a single instance of the commissioners not accepting his recommendation.
Kizer has never recommended Mazzagatti for a Lesnar fight since Lesnar's first fight against Frank Mir, and he didn't recommend Mazzagatti this time, either. He recommended Josh Rosenthal, and of course, the commissioners immediately and unanimously agreed.
What was different today is that instead of it just being the usual (Lesnar's attorney basically saying "we don't like Mazzagatti" because of the first Mir fight), this time UFC executive Michael Mersch also testified and he said that Steve Mazzagatti has a perceived bias AND an actual bias against Brock Lesnar.
I have never heard a promoter argue that before, and Commissioner Skip Avansino commented that he doesn't recall Zuffa ever saying this about any official in the past.
Commissioner/Chairwoman Lundvall seemed unconvinced and dismissed Mersch's allegations pretty clearly... but it was all Kabuki Theater because the appointment of officials is always based on who Keith Kizer recommends, and he recommended Josh Rosenthal.
The primary item on the agenda today, unrelated to the selection of officials for the upcoming UFC event, was a very lengthy discussion about drug testing in MMA and boxing.
Hopefully this isn't the case, but the forces of inertia and the status quo might prevent anything from actually changing.
The most anticipated speaker of the day, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) head Travis Tygart, is testifying now. His testimony could best be described as very politely explaining the shortcomings of the NSAC's drug testing system.
Tygart emphasized that you need to have both urine testing and blood testing in order to have a legitimate drug testing system that can detect various different kinds of banned substances.
The line of questioning by the NSAC's commissioners seemed to be trying to focus on the limits of blood testing and the things that it can't detect (ie, defending the status quo of Nevada's urine-only testing), but Tygart kept emphasizing that if you only have one or the other (only urine testing or only blood testing), you're missing out on detecting entire groups of banned substances.
Tygart added that even if the NSAC were to give itself the authority to order blood tests on fighters and then rarely use that authority, that would still be a big step in the right direction. Tygart said that just the fact that the NSAC would have the authority to order blood tests would act as a deterrent to cheaters, and it would be up to the NSAC to decide how frequently or infrequently these blood tests would be ordered.
Another point that Tygart made is that when a fighter is ordered to take an out-of-competition drug test under the NSAC's current system and the fighter has 24 or 48 hours to submit a urine sample from the time when they are notified, that is plenty of time for any drug-savvy fighter to beat a drug test. Under World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and USADA standards, athletes must either submit to a drug test immediately, or the athlete must not leave the sight of the inspector until the athlete has submitted a sample.
The NSAC's commissioners appear to be getting a bit defensive, as Commissioner Avansino defensively told Tygart, "We at the Nevada State Athletic Commission have been devoted to random drug testing for years!"
Travis Tygart referred to "the money excuse" and said to the NSAC commissioners (paraphrasing), "The money is there. You just have to decide how you want to prioritize it. You could take one dollar, or one percent, from every PPV buy of the Mayweather/Mosley fight and that could fund your drug program for the next five years."
I feel that it's starting to get more contentious now. Commissioner Lundvall asked Tygart to evaluate the NSAC's current drug testing program, and Tygart said (paraphrasing), "You can do better. You can do a lot better, and I ask you to do so on behalf of clean athletes."
Tygart said that when athletes are coming to him for drug testing because they know the NSAC's drug testing is inadequate, something is wrong. Tygart would be referring to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Shane Mosley, and there were also statements that were made recently by Josh Koscheck indicating that he wants USADA testing for his upcoming UFC fight against Georges St. Pierre, to which St. Pierre reportedly agreed.
(Update: UFC president Dana White later said in public interviews that Josh Koscheck needs to "shut up" about his desire for USADA-level drug testing in his UFC fights.)
Earlier, a doctor who works for the NSAC, Dr. David Watson, started his testimony by saying that anyone who wanted to pass an NSAC drug test could do so very easily just by injecting clean urine into their bladder, and then urinating out the clean sample in front of an NSAC inspector...
... and Dr. Watson eventually ended his testimony by saying (paraphrasing), "We're doing a great job!" and saying that the NSAC shouldn't be changing its drug testing protocols at this time. Maybe it's just me, but that seemed like an odd thing to say, given how easy Dr. Watson said it is for fighters to beat NSAC drug tests.
Dr. Watson did suggest that one possible solution to the "fighters injecting clean urine into their bladder" problem would be if the NSAC required that a fighter give one urine sample (which could be their own urine, or it could be urine that they had injected into their bladder); and then after the fighter's bladder was empty, then the NSAC inspector would have to wait for potentially an hour or more in order to receive another urine sample, which would theoretically be the fighter's own urine because the fighter would have had no opportunity to give themselves any additional bladder injections.
Of course, the problem with this suggestion is the difficulty of establishing when exactly a fighter has an "empty bladder." What would stop a fighter from injecting his bladder with clean urine, providing a urine sample without fully emptying his bladder, and then releasing the rest of the clean urine 30 or 60 minutes later?
Another witness was Las Vegas-based Dr. Robert Voy, who (like Travis Tygart) talked about the fact that there is a reliable, urine-based test for EPO that the NSAC is not currently using. Dr. Voy said that this would cost $400 to $500 per test, although Tygart later said that those amounts sounded very high to him.
Though Dr. Voy did not get into this, $400 to $500 per test is more than the NSAC currently spends on drug tests, but when you think about how much money the NSAC brings in just from the percentage of the live gates of big boxing and MMA events, it would be nothing in the big picture.
Dr. Voy also said some ridiculous things about the need for EPO testing (or the lack of need for it), such as saying that he doesn't think EPO is a performance-enhancing drug in boxing because endurance is not that important in boxing.
Also, as Tygart said when he was discussing the same urine-based EPO test (which all parties agreed was a rock-solid, reliable test), urine samples can only be tested for EPO at World Anti-Doping Agency-approved labs.
Unlike its neighbors to the west, the Nevada State Athletic Commission does not currently use WADA-approved labs (it uses Quest labs for fight night drug testing, and it uses LabCorp for out-of-competition drug testing). The California State Athletic Commission does use WADA-approved labs for "B" samples if the "A" sample comes back positive.
In the end, no resolutions were made today and no changes were promised, nor was any time frame given when something might be done. The discussion about drug testing was not an "action item" on today's meeting agenda. It was just an information-gathering item on the agenda.