Written By: Josh Hemeon
When it was revealed Brock Lesnar would be fighting on UFC 200 it created a firestorm of publicity. There was a wide range of topics in the media including Lesnar’s motivations for getting back into the octagon, his training, whether or not this was planned beforehand, and of course about whether or not he would be successful in his return. One story that gained a lot of publicity due to its controversial nature was an exemption that Lesnar received from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Now to the person who just reads the headline and nothing more this would appear that Lesnar was getting out of being tested for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). The internet was abounding with conspiracy theories involving a corrupt USADA in cahoots with the UFC to save the UFC 200 card. Even Brendan Schaub alluded to it onThe Fighter and the Kid podcast this week. With Lesnar’s recent flagging for a potential anti-doping violation, we now know that this was not the case. While the exemption may have been legitimately suspicious, it is important to understand what that exemption was for and that Lesnar was in no way getting any favors from USADA. If anything, USADA was determined more than ever not to let Lesnar or the UFC get one over on them.
First of all, what was the exemption that Lesnar received for? If you followed the story of Conor McGregor posting a retirement tweet during his pre-UFC 200 drama with Dana White, you would have heard McGregor tweet out the next day that he was not retired “for the purposes of USADA.” McGregor clarified this so quickly because USADA has a rule that fighters coming out of retirement must inform USADA four months in advance of any comeback fight to allow for adequate testing. As Chael Sonnen explained on his web series Beyond the Fight, this rule is in place so that fighters cannot simply retire thus exiting the USADA testing pool, use PEDs, wait to be able to test clean and then re-enter the pool able to pass a drug test. However, fighters new to the UFC do not need to give this notice before their first fight. This is because it is not feasible for new fighters, who need to make a living, to sit out for a quarter of the year in order to be tested. This is especially important given the rise in fighters pulling out of events due to injury. New unknown fighters may be called up to the UFC simply because they are the only ones who can make the fight on short notice.
Brock Lesnar, a former UFC Heavyweight Champion, is obviously not a new fighter in the literal sense, but in relation to the USADA testing pool he is. Lesnar retired from MMA before USADA partnered with the UFC and therefore Lesnar had no agreement with USADA to give them the four-month notice. Lesnar was granted an exemption because technically he would need to be treated as a new fighter and not a fighter returning from retirement. Now in the court of public opinion, this seems unfair but as it relates to contracts and agreements the exemption was the right thing to do. Despite this exemption, USADA was not about to give Brock any special treatment in regards to investigating potential PED use.
If there is any suspicion of PED use, USADA is on that individual like paparazzi on a celebrity sex tape. Like any other fighter, Lesnar is required to report his whereabouts to USADA at all times and be subject to random tests whenever USADA decides to show up. If you fight for the UFC, USADA can literally come to your door at 3AM and ask for your blood and urine and you must comply. Fans of Lesnar would likely know about his intensely private lifestyle on his secluded property in rural Saskatchewan and the fact that he has to drive for miles just to use a phone. None of this would protect him from USADA. In my previous article Why You Shouldn’t be Surprised Jon Jones is off of UFC 200 I mentioned that Lesnar was tested five times in one week by USADA shortly after being granted the exemption. These tests were taken mid-June, and came back clean! The test which prompted USADA to flag Lesnar for a potential anti-doping violation was collected on June 28, still out-of-competition, but close enough to the event that it was not confirmed by a lab in time to pull Lesnar from his fight with Mark Hunt.
There is an important distinction to make between PEDs and steroids. Steroids are basically any medical agent that boosts the capacity of a regular bodily function. For example, asthma medications contain steroids that boost the respiratory system. The bodily function of anabolism refers to the body building up organs and tissues from smaller molecules, such as is in the building of muscle tissue. Anabolic steroids, therefore boost the capacity to build muscle tissue. Anabolic steroids allow the user to train more often and at higher intensities than a natural athlete who is subject to normal anabolic states. Steroids are controlled substances just like narcotics and are illegal to possess without a prescription. Contrarily, PEDs are any substances known to enhance the body’s ability to produce its own testosterone, help fighters make weight, decrease fatigue and the like. Many PEDs are legal to purchase and use, they are just banned in sports. While anabolic steroids are a form of PEDs, they are not the banned substances that most fighters are getting caught using. If anything, Lesnar would have needed to shed muscle to make weight thus steroid use would not have helped him in this situation.
So Brock Lesnar most likely did not take anabolic steroids. Let me rephrase that: Brock Lesnar most likely did not test positive for anabolic steroids on June 28, 2016. During his early WWE days, I think Brock would have pissed hotter than the planet Venus. Lesnar likely tested positive for a banned substance that was legally obtained and quite possibly consumed it by accident. What many laypersons do not realize is that many products sold in reputable supplement chains like GNC and Popeye’s contain substances on USADA’s banned list. Many energy drinks will result in a level of caffeine considered too high and banned in competition. Even Ibuprofen, known to many as Advil, is on the banned list. UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson once remarked that anytime he takes any medication whatsoever he calls USADA first because of how strict they are. But while USADA is extremely strict they also have adequate resources for fighters and are very available to answer questions about their policies. Lesnar could literally call up USADA and read the labels on all of his supplement containers to a representative to make sure he is in compliance. Could Brock have simply underestimated how strict USADA is? This is possible, but not likely. Brock would have had to go through USADA’s policies when he signed on to fight and agreed to become part of the USADA testing pool. Jon Jones is currently playing the “I didn’t know” card, and it doesn’t look like it is working out too well for him.
So if Brock did take a banned substance, what would the substance be? One theory is that Advair Dikus, a respiratory medication prescribed to Lesnar for Reactive Airway Disease (RAD) is to blame. This theory emerged online allegedly from one of Lesnar’s teammates and is yet to be verified. In the message, the writer claimed that Lesnar needs the medication in spring and summer months particularly in his previous residence in Minnesota. Advair Dikus is on the banned list but only states not to take more than directed by the manufacturer. Might Lesnar have taken more than the recommended dosage due to his size or in a coughing fit or in desperate need of air, who knows? In the coming days and weeks, we will see if this is the case. If it is Lesnar would certainly be found not guilty in the court of public opinion, as for USADA he would receive some kind of discipline depending on whether he ever disclosed his condition or the medication previously.
If I had to venture a guess about the substance in question I would say it is some kind of banned diuretic. Diuretics are drugs that increase the passing of urine. If you have taken a banned substance that would show up in a urine test, diuretics would help to empty your system of the tainted urine quicker. However, in Brock’s case, this would not make sense given the previous tests which were clean in mid-June. However, fighters also use diuretics to help make weight for fights. Throughout his initial run in the UFC, Brock had some difficulty making weight and is one of the few heavyweights in the UFC that need to cut weight in order to get down to the heavyweight limit of 265lbs. Lesnar may have been behind schedule cutting weight and either intentionally took something to help this, or used some kind of weight loss product containing the substance not knowing he would fail the drug test by doing so. If this was the case Lesnar would likely receive a two-year ban from competition by USADA.
Anytime where PED use comes up in combat sports there are always a lot of people who feel the need to express their views on the subject (insert shit-eating grin here!). But the person who has the most right to complain is undoubtedly the accused fighter’s opponent. When hearing of the news of Lesnar’s potential violation Mark Hunt, who Lesnar defeated at UFC 200, said he wanted half of Lesnar’s $2.5 million purse or a release from his UFC contract. He later retracted this statement and said he wanted all of Lesnar’s purse saying that cheaters do not deserve to get paid. Hunt was also critical of the exemption Lesnar was given before the fight saying he thought Lesnar was “juiced to the gills.” Hunt reasoned that there is no deterrent for PED users if they can break the rules and still walk away with millions of dollars. It is hard to argue against that logic. Additionally, Lesnar becomes Hunt’s third opponent in a row to receive anti-doping violations after fighting Hunt. We don’t yet know how the UFC will respond to Hunt, a contender like Hunt stepping away from the sport due to wide-scale PED use among opponents would definitely be a PR nightmare for the UFC. It may be a worthwhile step to have Lesnar forfeit his entire purse to Hunt. Remember, the bulk of Lesnar’s pay was the percentage he received from PPV buys for which he likely received somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million. Parting with $2.5 million may be the best way for the UFC to save face while still compensating their biggest PPV draw generously.
Another person put into a precarious position resulting from Lesnar’s anti-doping violation is Vince McMahon. Many older WWE fans would know about the lawsuit against McMahon in the early 90’s where he was accused of distributing steroids to his wrestlers. Despite the lawsuit against him being unsuccessful, the issue of steroids in professional wrestling was raised again following a string of wrestler deaths in the 90’s and 2000’s. After wrestler, Chris Benoit murdered his family and subsequently committed suicide in 2007 the WWE instituted a wellness policy for its wrestlers to follow and implemented its own drug testing system. This wellness policy has been criticized as ineffective and purely a PR move by fans. As more information of Lesnar’s anti-doping violation emerges, the WWE may be forced to suspend Lesnar as a means of legitimizing their wellness policy. Even if the WWE wellness violation only results in a 30-day suspension, it may cause the WWE to rethink Lesnar’s reliability as a major player in the WWE roster. Perhaps worst of all, Vince McMahon may take Lesnar’s violation as an insult seeing as McMahon allowed Lesnar to fight for a promotion which he has longtime considered a competitor.
While nothing is set in stone as of the date of this article, some things are likely to occur. For one, Lesnar’s decision win over Hunt will be overturned and changed to a no-contest. This will also remove Lesnar’s #8 placement from the heavyweight rankings and place Hunt back in that position. Depending on the level of fallout that occurs, UFC 200 may very well be the last time we see Brock Lesnar in the octagon. A two-year ban from USADA would put Brock on the wrong side of 40; and if UFC 200’s PPV buys were lower than expected, his multi-million dollar payout may be infeasible for the UFC moving forward. Additionally given the WWE’s PG branding, McMahon may not be lenient with Lesnar working with other promotions in the future if it means a potential doping scandal. And while Lesnar may have made millions and did it without being knocked unconscious, the lasting impression from his UFC return may be this anti-doping violation which may ultimately delegitimize his original championship run with the UFC.