Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of the United States Anti Doping Agency. | (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
The most rigorous performance-enhancing drug testing in the country is conducted by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, which screens athletes who are on the Olympic track. Unlike MMA testing, the USADA, formed in 2000 and funded in part by the federal government, tests an athlete throughout his or her training camp and utilizes blood testing to detect a range of PEDs that urine tests cannot.
In this February interview on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Rewind” program, USADA Chief Executive Officer Travis Tygart explained the state-of-the-art testing protocol and how it contrasts with what is and is not done in MMA.
For more in-depth discussion of the big-picture issues in mixed martial arts, tune in to the Sherdog Radio Network on Sunday, July 24 at 9 p.m. ET, when The Rewind relaunches. Hosted by Jack Encarnacao, the program will take not only a look back, but a step back in digesting the key developments of the week in MMA, including long-form "Sitdown" interviews with interesting guests.
On the July 24 show, Jack welcomes legendary professional wrestling announcer and MMA enthusiast Jim Ross to discuss the presentation and marketing aspects of the sport, including fight commentary.
To stay updated on the show, follow it on Twitter @SherdogRewind.
Sherdog.com: Tell us what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency does and does not do. As we know, it is up to athletic commissions to conduct drug testing in mixed martial arts, so does the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency serve in more of an advisory role or assist commissions that want a more state-of-the-art approach in doing this?
Tygart: Yeah, that’s right, or we can obviously run their programs for them if they desire to go down that path. I think you may be familiar with the boxing event that we did with [Shane] Mosley [and Floyd] Mayweather back in May of last year, which would just be an example of where, while we weren’t under the authority of the commission, the two boxers themselves asked us to run the program for them, in addition to what the commission was running; and we obviously worked pretty closely with the commission. But outside of that sort of scenario, we have generally provided expert advice, reviewed policies, helped assist where policies can be approved, where loopholes for cheating athletes can be closed and those sorts of things to ensure the safety and the health of all of the competitors, particularly in those combat sports like mixed martial arts that you mentioned, or boxing.
Sherdog.com: You folks have been around for 10 years. What was the impetus to get a group like yours started? I imagine there have been loopholes as long as there have been tests.
Tygart: It’s interesting, because while it’s been since late 2000, it’s a relatively new environment for independent agencies, and I use that term “independent” because we have, in large part, government funding. We have, as you mentioned in the opening, government recognition as the independent body, and that touches on a very important point, which is sport itself is in an awfully difficult, if not impossible, position to both police itself as well as promote itself. Because there’s this natural tension between the desire to put more fans in the seats, to raise TV revenues, to raise sponsorship revenues, and then being faced with the untenable decision, potentially, of having to take away a star athlete -- someone who fans want to pay a bunch more money, and TV companies and DirecTV and satellite TV companies want to pay a lot more money to see -- [and] having to discipline them or remove them from that competition. And so there’s always been this sort of “fox guarding the henhouse” notion prior to our existence here in the United States and what simultaneously happened on the world level with the establishment also in early 2000 of that World Anti-Doping Agency. So that independent mechanism is a key piece of why we were able to gain the confidence of athletes, because we treat every athlete the same with respect to how we enforce the rules. And we firmly and fairly enforce the rules, really, for two different reasons. One is to protect the safety and health of athletes. Because one thing we don’t want is our athletes who are covertly, secretly using these drugs that can add weight, can add strength, can add lean muscle mass, can add endurance, can add aggression, and then those athletes, particularly in the combat sports, get the benefit of those drugs or release the detriment of those drugs, which could cause serious harm or other health injuries to the competitors. And then equally as important in our mission is protecting the integrity of the sports. Sport has a unique place in the world’s culture but certainly in the U.S. culture. It’s a mechanism to teach life values; it helps people improve their health, their fitness, their ability to work in teams. I, as an employer, look for people who grew up playing athletics, and, you know, if they’ve had a good experience, they’re going to have the traits that we want as productive communities. And so that integrity behind what sport is supposed to be about, while it’s certainly sort of gone into the entertainment side, it’s, at the end of the day, a question of, “What do we want our sports to be?” And at least with respect to the Olympics movement, while there’s definitely entertainment value behind it, what’s valuable is not bigger, faster, stronger all the time; it’s what can our athletes do from a natural, human perspective, according to the rules that establish what the playing field’s going to be.
Sherdog.com: Tell us a little, if you could, about what extra was done in the Mayweather-Mosley testing program that we would not see for any other fight?
Tygart: Oh, wow. The differences in the program are night and day, quite frankly. It’s apples to oranges. Off the top, we do blood testing. The state commissions, at least in that state, Nevada, they don’t do blood testing. And if you don’t do blood testing, that means you have no deterrent and no ability to detect someone who’s taken Human Growth Hormone, for example, someone who’s had a transfusion, for example, someone who’s taken synthetic hemoglobin, for example. I mean, these are potent performance-enhancing drugs that are also dangerous drugs. If you don’t collect blood samples, you have no deterrent and no ability to detect. And as I’ve said before, unfortunately, if you’re an athlete in those states, you’re just not being competitive if you’re not using those drugs, where you know there’s no chance of being caught whatsoever using them. And that’s a sad, unfortunate situation for athletes that want to play by the rules, where their governing bodies aren’t allowing them the support or giving them the support they need to have a fair chance of victory, choosing to play by the rules that are in place. So that’s one example. They do no out-of-competition testing. So if you can take drugs three months, six weeks, two weeks, two days prior to the competition, the drugs will be out of your body and you will test negative at the competition or after the competition, where they typically test, if they test at all. And you will get the performance-enhancing benefit from the drugs you took six weeks ago or three weeks ago or two days ago or a day ago. And so, again, having no ability to do an out-of-competition test can provide a tremendous loophole for cheating athletes and doesn’t do anything to deter a drug-infested culture where these athletes, who want to make money and who want to win and who will do everything possible to be the winner; it just allows that to potentially be rampant. So those are a couple of examples. The clean process by which to receive medications is also one that is an important aspect of a program. Basic education that’s informative, I think, is also a key part of any successful program; a full list of prohibited substances that is very clear, that these anabolic steroids, these EPOs, these Human Growth Hormones are all prohibited. And the list in, for sure, Nevada, but some of the other states, as well, is just, frankly, entirely too limited and again allows an athlete to have a free-for-all or license to use the drugs that aren’t specifically listed in order to cheat their competitors and potentially endanger their own health. So those are some of the basics that are pretty fundamental. I guess the last point that comes to mind is the lack of sophistication, I’d say, in the testing collection process and laboratory analysis. There are about 38 sport-certified labs who are totally independent, who analyze blood and urine samples for these drugs. And it is a unique situation. You’re not going to find that ability at the level that it needs to be given what’s at stake for these athletes at your clinical lab on the corner street, the street corner. You need a specialty, because it’s evolved and it’s forensic and it has to be at a level that athletes can have comfort in, that you know that, one, there’s not going to be any false positives, but, two, you also know to the extent possible there won’t be any false negatives, meaning someone had used drugs but yet they still passed the drug test. And that, to me, was a significant weakness in some of the state programs.
Sherdog.com: One aspect of the Mayweather-Mosley sample collection process was having to hang out with these fighters and their camps all day -- while they’re watching TV and playing video games -- to take samples and ensure they weren’t corrupted. You basically have to shadow these guys, right?
Tygart: Yeah. Our team ... we’ve got about 75 doping control officers around the country, employees of this entity that go and test athletes unannounced. So I think there were a few clips maybe on the [Mayweather-Mosley 24/7] HBO special where they were in the middle of training and our testers showed up unknown to the athletes. And once we notify an athlete that we’re there for testing, we don’t let that athlete out of our sight, because there are various things athletes can do, from catheterization to taking certain other, Protease, and other sorts of drugs that can mask excess fluids. Those sorts of things can all affect, potentially, the outcome of the test and can defeat the test that they’re otherwise cheating. So it’s really important to have that live contract after that initial notification and continue to chaperone, as we call it, the athletes until they’re ready to provide a sample. And sometimes -- and I think there was an episode, maybe with Mayweather, where he was working out and couldn’t provide a sample because of the obvious dehydration. And we see that with long endurance-type events, marathons and what not, as our officers have to essentially escort him to wherever he goes. And those two fighters, in particular, were overly gracious in cooperating and allowing our employees to stay in sight at all times, even having them essentially sit there and watch them have dinner at their house until they were rehydrated and able to provide a sample.
Sherdog.com: Really, that’s what it takes to ensure, to the best degree possible, clean athletes in fight camps: being with them in their living rooms. I’d imagine your job can be a lot more stressful or difficult if a temperamental athlete decides he just does not feel like dealing with you guys today.
Tygart: Yeah, and the key is having well-trained, experienced staff that do that. I mean, can you imagine the environment after the fight when Mosley lost and how difficult it was to even think about obtaining a urine sample or a blood sample? Again, Shane Mosley and Floyd Mayweather -- they asked us to do this for them, which they didn’t have to do. And I can’t say enough good things about how they approved and handled every situation, even the ones that were very inconvenient to them. But that’s what our athletes do. We’ve got about 3,000 athletes in the Olympic movement that are in what we call our “registered testing pool,” and they [range] from maybe the elite swimmer who you’ve probably seen a face on the Wheaties box all the way down to a badminton player that you’ve never heard of and never will hear of. And that’s the commitment I think they show in how important sport as sport [is], not as a win-at-all-costs, trample-your-competitor-and-use-these-dangerous-drugs endeavor. It’s meaningful to do it the right way. We’ve had tremendous success in our athletes, who overwhelmingly agree to the inconveniences because they value the opportunity to play on a level playing field and not be cheated out of what they worked so hard and dreamed so frequently about achieving on their own natural ability.
Sherdog.com: One thing we hear about the USADA-style program is that it’s too expensive to implement. How much did it cost to do what you did for the Mayweather-Mosley fight?
Tygart: You know, I candidly don’t have that number off the top of my head. It’s not cost-prohibitive. I think I said at one point, look, take half of one percent or add a dollar to the pay-per-view as a dollar “clean sport integrity contribution.” You could even [do it] like the election fees and make it optional for people that want to contribute, and you could run a program that would raise, I think the numbers I have figured out, that would raise several million dollars, and you could run a program for these major fights for half of a decade, for five years, on a couple million dollars. So it’s not cost-prohibitive, and you look at the money that is available for these sports, and you mentioned the promoters and the pay-per-views and hotel and the casinos. It’s not a money issue. The money’s there.
Sherdog.com: Well, what is the issue then? Do they not want to do it?
Tygart: You hit it squarely on the head. There’s too much at stake. And you can only imagine the negative publicity and the questions and the attacks that we received when we announced this program and made it clear that if either [Mayweather or Mosley] had a positive test prior to the event, the event was off. And the fighters agreed to that, and both fighters also agreed to the two-year suspension. So how many people surround themselves with these athletes or make their livelihood off of these athletes, and there’s an awful lot for them to lose. The culture doesn’t want to be faced with the unfortunate situation where one of these athletes cheats and you have to call off a major event and promotions go away. Hotels, casinos -- they unfortunately lose.
Sherdog.com: One of the things that blew my mind in the Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather negotiations was how Mayweather, by insisting on Olympic testing, was framed in some media and fan circles as a guy trying to duck his opponent, play games with him and delay negotiations, as opposed to someone putting his neck out for the most stringent drug testing available. Why, if you agree with me, is that perception backwards?
Tygart: To the extent I saw that, I do [agree]. We certainly got the brunt of “stay out of our sport” and “you’re just trying to promote certain fighters” and all this sort of stuff that is frankly nowhere near the issues that we are dealing with. We’re here to support athletes who want to have a stringent drug testing program, to do as much as we possibly can do to protect their right to compete clean. Whether that’s Floyd Mayweather, whether that’s Shane Mosley, whether that’s Manny Pacquiao, it doesn’t matter to us. It’s about that issue; it’s about the importance of clean sport. And so, we’re willing to help anyone learn about these issues and not manipulate them for their own purposes. That’s not a game that we’re involved with. At the end of the day, it’s about having a program put in place. Whatever the motives are behind someone having a program put in place, we hope [they are] good reasons. And we saw nothing but good reasons to have it in place, which is why we stepped in and were willing to provide not only the advice. I mean, you go back to ... you mentioned how we initially got involved and ultimately did the Mosley-Mayweather fight, but we actually were initially contacted around the Pacquiao-Mayweather negotiations. And I don’t want to get into all that discussion, but we just simply provided advice, and we said, “Look, here’s why you need blood; here’s why you need out-of-competition testing; here’s why you need the top labs and not the secondary labs doing the analysis.” And so that was it. And then it became this big issue that the camps couldn’t agree on and somehow turned the drug testing into the reason that this fight got blown up. And I’m not ... I don’t know if that’s the case or not. All I know is I was told both camps couldn’t agree to do the full blood testing that we offered, and we said, “Fine, do whatever you want to do. We’re not going to run a program that’s not our Olympic-style program, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go do something else, if that’s what you want to do.” And they couldn’t figure that out, I guess.
Sherdog.com: A fighter who has recently occupied a similar position in MMA is Josh Koscheck, who lost to Georges St. Pierre in a welterweight title fight. When that fight was announced, Koscheck called for Olympic-style testing for the bout. St. Pierre totally agreed, though Koscheck’s request was sort of laced with the implication that St. Pierre ought to be tested and deserved suspicion. But divorced from that context, Koscheck was saying this is good for the sport. And then the promoter of the UFC, Dana White, came out and said, “That’s what I think an athletic commission is for. The athletic commissions have been around for a long time. When fighters start talking about other guys being drug tested, shut up. Worry about you. It’s been a long time since somebody on our roster tested positive for steroids. When we first took over, guys were popping here and there, and I said, ‘You have to be a moron to do steroids in this sport; it’s just dumb.’” The next thing we hear from Koscheck? “Media stories on comments I made about rumors of GSP are in no way factual. I’m known for polarizing comments, and I got caught up in hyping ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and our fight. I was wrong and apologize to GSP for trying to invalidate his hard work and talent.” That can’t sit entirely well with you.
Tygart: No, not at all. The issue you touch on is just individual athletes being able to express their desire and to promote change for the good for them from a health, from a safety and from enforcing the rules that are there [standpoint], despite what it might ultimately do in the short-term to the profits that others are making. And I think ... I don’t know all the detail of what you just said, but hearing what you said just frankly sends chills down my spine, because it tells me athletes aren’t able to voice their opinion about their rights without it being shut down. And that is contrary to what we’re here about. We’re here to stand up for athletes. And look, we know it’s tough, and we’ve heard it’s tough. And prior to us as an independent agency coming into existence, you frequently heard athletes were scared to speak out because they didn’t want to be taken off the playing field and sat on the end of the bench so someone else who wasn’t going to speak freely or truthfully about what was really going on in the culture [could move in]. And so that’s the group of athletes we’re here to represent, and we’re here to say those people can align with us at any point and we will carry that torch for them and fight and get in and mix it up and call people out where they need to be called out for not doing everything possible within their authority to ensure the rules are enforced. That’s what we’re talking about. Look, don’t have the rule. That’s what I say. If you think people are willing to pay to see a chemical freak show, do away with the rule and let’s call it what it is, but don’t operate under this premise that you’re operating a clean sport where clean athletes can possibly thrive when you know better, when you know the culture is not that way. That’s what just, frankly, infuriates us. And really, it touches on the vulnerability or the weakness of some athletes. And it does take courage to step up and speak out against that culture. And look, it ain’t easy, but we’re happy to play that role for clean athletes.
Sherdog.com: Because some states don’t test or test for less, promoters can “commission shop” to ensure their fights go off no matter what substances are in their fighters’ bodies. To what extent is this something anyone can do anything about, getting a consistent standard in all states for testing?
Tygart: I’m with you. This might be too blunt, but the money people don’t want this happening, because it might change the dramatic effect of what currently is being seen within the ring. So that’s what’s really going on here. I hope, and I testified before the Nevada State Athletic Commission and I said this: “I hope it’s not a big-time scandal like baseball had to suffer with BALCO for them finally to put in the right program and a decent, effective program. I more importantly hope it doesn’t take some athletes actually dying from these dangerous drugs. I really hope it doesn’t come to that. And I hope that, whether it’s us asking the tough questions or having the courage to stand up and say, ‘Look, Nevada, your program’s a joke, come on.’” That’s not a role we like to play, but if we truly believe in the rights of clean athletes, that’s our obligation to do that, and you better believe we’re going to do that. But what is it ultimately going to take, outside of scandal, outside of some serious consequences or some sort of media pressure to get them to do the right thing? It’s not necessarily in their financial interest, so I don’t see it happening.
Sherdog.com: I’m glad you touched on how dangerous these drugs can be. Every time we talk about steroids, I get the emails from people who say there’s no ill effect to this, or they can counter every research point you can mention about any steroid. And they say the only fair thing is to let athletes put what they want into their bodies and allow that free-for-all you talked about. People have convinced themselves that this is just, that that makes sense, that there is no price to be paid medically for doing this. It’s just a question of fairness.
Tygart: On a real simple level ... OK, if we think the culture, if we think that is a culture people want to see or we’re truthful and we recognize that is, in fact, the culture despite what our rules are, just change the rules and make it open; make it honest. Don’t continue the sporting fraud for those who might want to hang on to some belief that it’s something that is not that drug-infested culture. So just do away with the rule. Of course, I’m not going to advocate that. I don’t think the free market advocates that. I think that, at the end of the day, the reason [promoters and regulators] don’t do that is because fans would go away. And fans don’t want to buy tickets for a freak show. You can go to the circus, right? And you can go see ... the free market’s not going to support that. What sport is -- and sport is unique in this country as an influencer but also as something people want to rally behind -- and why it brings communities together is because it’s us. It’s our dreams, one day that we see through other people. And the belief that, “Hey, maybe I could have hit 70 home runs because I worked hard and I stayed [for] extra batting practice and I had great coaches,” as opposed to, “Oh, I just injected myself with a bunch of steroids or whatever the case may be; obviously speaking hypotheticals. The other thing that opening it up would do ... one, it would create an arms race between the athletes, so you would literally have athletes pushing themselves to get as big, strong, fast as they can on these drugs in abusive doses, more so than might currently be going on, [and] push them closer to that brink of death or serious, adverse health consequences. The other is the role model effect. I mean, let’s be candid. Despite what elite athletes want sometimes -- and you remember the Charles Barkley “Well, I’m not anybody’s role model and you should not look at me as a role model” [commercial] -- they’re role models. And they’re on Sports Illustrated and they’re on your show; they’re on ESPN. That’s what kids see, and kids idolize these athletes. And if we suddenly open it up where it’s known they can use them or everyone knows they’re using but nothing is done, what’s going to happen? Well, it’s exactly what we saw happen in the late 90s and early 2000s in this country, the trickle-down effect where you now, as a young athlete, high school athlete, junior high athlete or lower, have to use these drugs in order to achieve the athletic dreams that you had as a 6-year-old, as a 7-year-old. And that is in an untenable situation that we just can’t afford to have, or we’re truly going to lose a generation of athletes and people, whether they turn out to be elite athletes or not. The second, I think, important characteristic there is if you don’t crack down on it -- and it’s ok to cheat as long as the culture allows it -- that’s a lesson that athletes at junior high school and high school are going to learn. And you know, we ask the question, and not in a joking fashion, in a serious fashion, what lessons did Bernie Madoff learn as a high school athlete? Did he learn it was OK to crush your competitor in violating the rules? Did he learn it was OK to cheat your coach and cheat your competitor? And were those the same values that he learned through sport at the high school level or the college level that he then took into his business practices? And, look, I don’t even know if he played sports. I’m just telling you today there are millions of kids in this country who are learning values through sport, and they have no other mechanism or avenue to learn those values. And if we don’t protect the values that they’re learning, they’re going to eventually grow up to be terrible cheats and thieves in whatever professions, sports or otherwise, that they go into, all because of the values they learned as young athletes.
Sherdog.com: Beyond just the ethics kids would form if it was a free-for-all drug culture, talk about health effects. There is this sense that if you are judicious and conscientious in your steroid input or your HGH intake and that you’re smart about it, you can do it completely safely for the rest of your life with no ill health effects. I don’t know why that doesn’t ring true.
Tygart: Yeah, you know, I’ll tell you. You know the photographs of the Lyle Alzados and the young athlete Taylor Hooton? There are plenty, but unfortunately a number of those sorts of stories that are out there of the dangerous effects, you know ... it is well-studied; it’s well-researched. Top scientists around the world have written about it, peer-reviewed articles. It should be beyond question of not only the physiological effects but the psychological effects. And we’re talking steroids, but the acne, the male pattern baldness, the liver and kidney damage, the increased aggression, abnormal sexual side effects. And make no mistake -- I think you’d mentioned this in the question -- cheating athletes aren’t using therapeutic use doses. They’re using doses that are going to give them as great of an advantage as they possibly can. And really, you look at BALCO, of a group of athletes, a controlled study of athletes who’ve been open and honest about their involvement; [you saw] adverse health effects, from high, high blood pressure and cholesterol, again classic side effects of anabolic steroid use, [to] the acne, the menstrual cycles that happened three and four times a month for four and five days on end. We’ll see if there’s any permanent damage. But go back a generation to the East Germans, again a control group of abusive doses of anabolic steroids, and you see, one, a number of sexual changes, transgender situations; and I don’t know the statistics right off the top of my head, but a number of birth defects in the babies that were born to the women who were on the East German doping program, in addition to the liver damage and the other side effects that happened to that group of athletes that were taking essentially these drugs to improve their sport performance.
Sherdog.com: There’s so much more compelling evidence that it is a problem. It just seems like people undress every example. And what you were talking about with acne, male pattern baldness, sexual dysfunction, that’s anabolic steroids. But there’s also a sense that Human Growth Hormone, testosterone therapy that gets a little out of hand, these things can also be dangerous. It’s sort of an evolving science, but it has become clear there are risks there, as well, right?
Tygart: Yeah. I focus more on the anabolic steroids, but you could certainly take the Human Growth Hormone -- sort of the peptide hormones, which would include Human Growth Hormones, HCG, EPO, Insulin -- [and] you could take the BETA IIs, you could take stimulants, you could take the transfusions and all the related health consequences. It’s roulette, and you’re playing a dangerous game depending on how much you’re doing and how frequently you’re doing it. And I think that, to the naysayers who want to attempt to say there are no adverse health effects, they’re just wrong. And they should read the studies that are out there, and there are plenty that are there, and you could look at testimony. They’ve made these, many of these controlled substances in this country, it’s for the very reasons that they do cause adverse health effects ... and you could certainly look at all the testimony back in the late 80s, early 90s, when the Controlled Substance Act was passed and added anabolic steroids as a category to the Schedule III list here in the United States and made it illegal to use those without being under a doctor’s care. So there’s really no debate about that. People want to say, “Well, show me the causation; show me the direct link on this case or this case or this case,” and that’s just the justifiable mode. They’re just attempting to justify their use of these dangerous drugs, despite what the research says, despite what the laws say, and you’re not ever going to convince that group of people. And just one follow-up: the health effect is totally separated from the cheating. The cheating is black and white. Hey, the 100-meter dash is 100 meters; it’s not 80 meters. And a marathon means you can’t ... when you run the Boston Marathon, that doesn’t mean you can hop on the subway and ride half the way. Those are the rules. So whether you agree with the rule or think the rule’s not a good rule, those are the rules all competitors agree to. And as long as it’s published in advance and it’s reasonably fair -- and I’d submit all of these rules are more than fair -- you got to abide by it. You can’t say, “Well, I don’t think they’re dangerous, so I’m going to use them despite what the rules are.” It is black and white from a cheating standpoint.
Sherdog.com: But you’re not being sanctimonious to suggest that, yeah, maybe I don’t want mixed martial arts fighters taking every performance enhancer they can get their hands on because I don’t want to see them drop dead like pro wrestlers have.
Sherdog.com: Now tell me about what work you have and have not done with the Nevada State Athletic Commission. There was some talk last year that they were going to reexamine what kind of testing procedures they have in place and how they could expand them and be more comprehensive and follow the lead of the Mayweather-Mosley requirements. Did that go anywhere?
Tygart: We remain in the same position. We’re willing to sit down and talk with anybody that’s interested, at any time, in having to learn about these issues and having a quality program. With that side, my chief science officer and myself met with [NSAC Executive Director] Keith [Kizer] and the president, the chairwoman of the commission at that time, I’m not sure if she’s still there or not, and this was prior to the Mosley-Mayweather fight. And we walked through the World Anti-Doping Agency’s code, and many of the tenets of what I’m talking about are all rooted in this world code that, frankly, the governments, including the United States, have signed off on. I think it’s 180-plus governments of the world have signed a treaty; our Senate has ratified and our President in ’08 signed a treaty that says, “We will embody the tenets of this code,” and it reflects all the things I’ve just talked about; as well as all the sport governing bodies of the world, with the exception of, I think, the state athletic commissions and some of the pro sports here in the United States, pretty much the rest of the world has adopted the World Anti-Doping code that again provides the basic principles of an effective program. So we sat down with them and explained that to them and walked through what that really means and how easy it would be to adopt those rules. I mean, there’s a template on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Web site that had these rules all written out, and all they would have to do is insert “Nevada State Athletic Commission” or whatever state athletic commission, and it’s really that simple. But they haven’t done that yet, as far as I’m aware. I’m not sure if that’s something they’re continuing to pursue. They did have a hearing at which they invited us to testify, I think, last May. I think it was in May, and again, in a live public forum, we addressed these issues and explained these issues. Unfortunately, there were those that have the interest not to have this in place. And they seemed to have more sway or influence over that hearing, and I’m not sure, ultimately, where they’ve come out.
Sherdog.com: Well, nothing has happened. I’m sure they’d say the right things if you asked them about expanding their programs, but the action just isn’t there. I want to ask you about comments from Dr. Margaret Goodman, who was the chief physician for the Nevada commission for years and years; they were made on Eddie Goldman’s “No Holds Barred” radio show just as those Nevada hearings we talked about where happening. She said, “You know, back when I was there, it seemed adequate what we were doing, and, truthfully, it just wasn’t, but we weren’t aware of it to that degree. But as the last couple of years have gone, obviously you know it doesn’t; you don’t have to be slapped in the face to recognize that you’re not catching enough athletes and you’re not creating a deterrent for them. They’re slipping by. It’s unfair fights. It’s possibly a huge danger to the opponent if they’re not, you know, if their opponent is using something like this -- a performance-enhancing drug. So, you know, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the testing needs to be changed.” Do you quibble with anything Goodman says there?
Tygart: No, not at all. I think she’s spot on. I know Margaret well, and she truly cares from my experience about athletes and their health and their safety. And she’s spot on.
Sherdog.com: I’m not sure how familiar you are with the set of circumstances around Chael Sonnen, a UFC middleweight fighter who had an amazing trash talking campaign back in August leading up to a great title fight Anderson Silva. He tested positive for an elevated testosterone to epitestosterone level after the fight, was suspended, got the year’s suspension and got it cut in half by six months. It put a lot of questions on the table about testosterone replacement therapy and the therapeutic use exemption. I wonder where you come down on that. Have you seen justified testosterone replacement therapy? Are they common enough that we shouldn’t be so cynical when an athlete claims he needs one?
Tygart: Absolutely not. They’re not common, and you should be very cynical when you see an athlete making that claim. Does that mean they’ve never happened? No, I think in certain life and death situations, athletes certainly go through a process and can get those granted, but they’re extremely rare. I mean, I think we’ve done two in our existence. I think what is most important -- and you touch on sort of who’s right, who’s wrong -- there has to be a fair process. You can’t just allow an athlete and a doctor, who, as you said, may be getting tickets to the show, might like hanging around athletes, whatever the case is, have the decision-making of what therapies an athlete is going to be able to use that would have a performance-enhancing effect in sport. And so, back to the independence that I mentioned at the very beginning of this show, we have an independent process by which we have set criteria. Is it for a legitimate medical situation that is documented? So we receive medical documents from the doctor; we have the right, if we want, to interview the doctor. Is there a reasonable alternative to the medication that the athlete is seeking? And if you have certain long-term diseases, there might not be. So the third criteria is the level you’re seeking approval for. One, can it be monitored to ensure you’re not abusing any license you might get to use that through a therapeutic use exemption? And most importantly, does it, your use of that, would it provide you a performance-enhancing benefit other than just restoring you to your normal, healthy self? And we have a pool of expert doctors in every field; someone applies for human growth hormone, and, again, that’s very, very, very rare, although we have had someone attempt to do that. We’ve had someone attempt for testosterone. What’s more common is sort of the ADHD, someone wants permission to use Ritalin or something to that effect. But we hold the notion. And, look, half of our job is to be in the skepticism business, but we have seen and have tried and have proven a fraudulent prescription of testosterone, not for any legitimate medical reason but what was tried to be cast and tried to convince us was a legitimate medical reason but in fact was a doping reason. And we’ve said around our office, the most sophisticated dopers out there are the ones that try to legitimize it by going to their doctor to fabricate a medical situation in order to give them these potent drugs. Who doesn’t want athletes to get the sort of medications they need to have a healthy and safe life? But you have to be overly skeptical of that, given what’s at stake.
Sherdog.com: In appealing what happened, Sonnen spoke of a condition, hypogonadism, which caused lifelong issues and caused him to feel really withdrawn. He had his physician testify to this. He said in camp he was feeling abnormally tired all the time and showing a lot of signs of having issues. And then he got a prescription in 2008 for testosterone to get his levels up to normal. Fighting for two years getting injections, he said twice weekly he was taking testosterone shots. Twice weekly testosterone shots, isn’t that an awful lot? Isn’t it supposed to be once every two to four weeks?
Tygart: I don’t know anything about that case. I mean, a bunch of red flags in my mind go up. We had from what you described a similar case, the [George] Hartman case. Actually there’s a written arbitration decision on our Web site about it, a classic example where a judo athlete goes from a certain weight category, suddenly bumps up a weight category and becomes from decent at a lower weight to the best in the country at a higher weight. And what was put forth was this, in our opinion, fraudulent reason to provide testosterone, and it was a less frequent cycle than what you just described; although I think different doctors can do different things depending on the diagnosis. One important thing is there’s a reason for any sort of hypogonadism, and you’ve got to find out what is that reason. Is it a pituitary gland problem? Is there some cancerous tumor that has caused this? There’s a litany of medical reasons that someone could be hypogonadal. One reason also is that someone had previously abused testosterone. And so it raises that question, and you’ll see, I mention our criteria by which we give permission to give medications. One of the criteria is that you can’t have previously abused prohibited drugs to now justify, because the damage you did to your body, your use and request for permission to go back using additional drugs that are prohibited.
Sherdog.com: How in the world do you prove that? How do you prove someone has this condition because they abused steroids or testosterone?
Tygart: Well, you have to do a medical analysis. Look at the medical records. Look at what it’s causing, what is the root cause of hyper- or hypogonadism.
Sherdog.com: You can determine that with certainty, why somebody has that condition?
Tygart: I mean, you can rule things, and, again, let’s be clear, I’m not a doctor. With that said, I’ve tried that case, the Hartman case I mentioned, and we asked his doctor, well, did you do a pituitary gland check? Well, no. Did you look at any prior medical records? Well, no. Did you think about doing an additional blood test, which is sort of the general practice way to determine whether someone is truly hypogonadal or not? Well, no. And so you sort of go to the same conclusion that, well, the basic checklist of what any reasonable healthcare professional would do wasn’t done. And again, I know nothing about the case you mentioned. I’m just saying part of that independent and necessary process is to ask those questions. We had this athlete checked out by an independent medical examiner, and the independent medical examiner’s report was, hey, this guy doesn’t have low testosterone. I don’t even think he has hypogonadism, because here’s his blood test, and while it’s on the lower side, it’s normal. And for a 28-year-old, 30-year-old, there is no good reason why they would be hypogondal. Something must be causing it. In fact, I don’t think he is. But if he is, what’s causing it? We see no evidence of what’s causing it. No pituitary gland problem. You just have to ask the right questions, and that gets to the sort of the complexity of this world and what athletes and their doctors and their entourages will do to allow them to cheat to be successful; and, frankly, whether or not politically-appointed state athletic commissions have the time and the experience to deal with all those kinds of issues.
Sherdog.com: I’ve watched some hearings when mixed martial arts fighters and boxers appeal to state athletic commissions, and some of the things these commissioners say shows woeful ignorance about the level of sophistication of this use. Did you hear about the James Toney situation, where he pretty much said, ‘Do I look like I use steroids?’ and cursed at the California State Athletic Commission and called them morons and got his suspension thrown out?
Tygart: (Laughs) No, but I sat through one in California and one in Nevada and I was ... it can be done better. It should be done better. The athletes are owed it to be done better.
Sherdog.com: What does it indicate if someone’s testosterone-to-epitestosterone levels are awfully high?
Tygart: It means you’ve used testosterone. The simple fact is we all produce testosterone and epitestosterone at the same levels. And so it’s 1-to-1. Now I might be 100 nanograms of testosterone in the afternoon, but I’m also going to be 100 nanograms of epitestosterone in the afternoon. At night, I might be 200 nanograms of testosterone, but I’m also going to be 200 nanograms of epitestosterone; which means my ratio is 1-to-1, even if the absolute concentrations of testosterone and epitestosterone change. So what the test does is it looks at, in the urine, that ratio. And based on controlled studies and the public peer-reviewed publications that are out there, it is abnormal to be above 4-to-1. Some people might produce testosterone at 200-to-100 of epitestosterone, or 400-to-200 of epitestosterone, but they’re always going to be 2-to-1. But most people are always 1-to-1. But there are no people, essentially, unless they’ve doped, who are 4-to-1 or greater. You may remember the Floyd Landis case, the cycling case. He was 11-to-1 on his T/E ratio, his testosterone to epitestosterone.
Sherdog.com: Chael Sonnen was 16.9-to-1.
Tygart: Yeah, I mean, look, 4-to-1 is the cutoff. Anything above 4 to 1 is a violation; 16 to 1 is clear indication of use of testosterone or another designer steroid that would affect the testosterone pathway.
Sherdog.com: And what does that do for the athlete? What does that do for an MMA fighter?
Tygart: The strength, the recovery, pound-for-pound power. I mean, it’s a potent ... it’s the male sex hormone. If athletes could use that in a combat sport without consequence, those who are using the most of it staying within their weight categories would be the ones that dominate the sport.
Sherdog.com: Here’s what Sonnen said, and I’d like your response to this: “Saying testosterone is a steroid is like saying mouthwash is alcohol.”
Tygart: (Laughs) Oh, man. I don’t even know how to respond to that. I don’t know this fighter, I don’t know his case, but that’s just totally inaccurate.
Sherdog.com: Isn’t testosterone the very base of steroids in the first place?
Tygart: Yeah, it’s the principle. Naturally occurring testosterone is the male sex hormone. It is the compound that -- I want to say all other, but at least most other -- anabolic steroids are derived from. As I said, I don’t know the specifics of that case or that fighter, so it’s hard for me to give full fair picture. But that just is not right.
Sherdog.com: Forget knowing the fighter, but if I told you a fighter who came in 16.9-to-1 T/E ratio said that, it doesn’t matter who we’re talking about, I think your reaction would be the same.
Tygart: Yeah. Yeah.
Sherdog.com: Talk about the effect steroid use has on testosterone production to begin with. We found out in this one case that there are fighters that have been approved to use TRT in Nevada. Dan Henderson and Todd Duffee were both approved to use it; we’re not sure for how long. California’s athletic commission’s director has acknowledged there is at least one fighter who is approved to use it, but declined to name names. But I think the implication is that really, if you have low testosterone production and you’re an athlete and you have a very impressive physique and have had it for a long time and have competed for a long time, it’s not unfair to assume that it’s probably steroid use that caused your low testosterone production to begin with. Is that too harsh?
Tygart: It’s tough to do complete generalizations. In fairness, and your statement may very well be fair, I just don’t know the sport well enough. I think it is a known fact that if you take testosterone -- and many of the other anabolic steroids -- that your own naturally produced testosterone will shut off. And, so, you will naturally produce zero once you start taking the synthetic version. And that once you stop taking, if you do stop taking the synthetic version, there is a period of time before your own natural testosterone recovers or rebounds and begins producing again. There’s a delay in how long that takes, and most doctors, credible doctors, will tell you it’s about the same period of time that you’ve been using it. So if you’ve been using synthetic testosterone for a year, you destroyed your endocrine system where it’s going to take about a year before you start regenerating or reproducing your own natural testosterone. That’s a known fact. And, you know, it is what it is. What scares me about what you just said about the permission to use testosterone is why. But even if you determine as a state athletic commission there’s good reason to allow this person to use it, what sort of testing are you doing to ensure that they’re only using a therapeutic use dose? None of them that I know of do blood testing for testosterone. And, so, you’ve just given an athlete a license to use testosterone. And it’s, hopefully, you said you can only use X amount for therapy, assuming it was legitimate to begin with, right? X amount for therapy, but what monitoring do you have in place, If you’re not doing any blood testing, which is how you get an absolute concentration, and if all you’re doing is the urine testing after a fight and you see someone with an elevated [level]? Well, yeah, he’s elevated because he got permission to use it. But the T/E ratio is not going to necessarily tell you the amount that they’re using prior to when the test occurs. So that’s a big concern. Another loophole in the policy is that if they’re actually giving fighters permission to use this testosterone, what are they doing to monitor it to ensure that they’re doing it on the medical basis that they were given permission to do it on?
Sherdog.com: Are you convinced we have a reliable test to detect HGH usage at this point?
Tygart: Yeah, absolutely. And don’t just hear me; hear the athletes that have been caught with it. You’ve had an English athlete, you’ve got a U.S. athlete, Canadian athlete who’ve tested positive. And actually, it’s an English athlete and a Canadian athlete who tested positive from the tests who said, “Yeah, I was using it.”
Sherdog.com: That’s only two of how many athletes tested? And only two of them were using HGH?
Tygart: Two that have been sanctioned tested positive and sanctioned and admitted using it.
Sherdog.com: I don’t doubt that that happened, and I don’t doubt that they admitted it. But I thought part of the idea about HGH was that it was popular because you needed blood testing, and urine testing wouldn’t pick it up and it was believed to be a lot more widespread than that. You weren’t surprised that only two folks have been caught so far?
Tygart: No. I guess your question is -- does that signify the amount of usage that’s going on? One, I think the world hasn’t been doing blood testing for long; really, essentially since the HGH test came up and was available. I think the HGH test has a small window of detection. It’s anywhere form 48 hours to 72 hours. So those sports that only test at events, of course they’re not going to test anybody positive for HGH because you’d have to be a fool to use HGH and show up at an event and test positive. You’re going to use it so it clears your system before you show up at an event. So it really limits those groups that are doing true out-of-competition testing. I pray to God that the deterrent is as effective as I think it is. We certainly hear from athletes knowing that there’s a risk that you could get caught; they’re not going to take that risk.
Sherdog.com: Right -- and that changes the game substantially.
Tygart: Yeah, absolutely.
Sherdog.com: Have you ever heard a legit claim that legal supplements cause a positive? That’s a classic, Travis.
Tygart: From buying something over-the-counter that’s prohibited, that is possible. So you use DHEA. DHEA is a controlled substance in most of the developed world. It’s not here in the United States given, in our opinion, the less-than-perfect regulation that oversees the dietary supplement industry. So that’s one you can legally go and buy tomorrow at your local health foods store or grocery store and use it and you could test positive for it in sport. So that could be legitimate. The other is this sort of contamination issue. And it’s possible. It’s very, very rare. I think if it happens, we’ve had one case, actually two cases where the athletes have proved through the arbitration process that that is the cause of their positive test, and the sanction obviously was considered in light of that. It highlights the importance of having a process by which you analyze. You can’t just take an athlete’s word that, hey, my doctor says I have hypogonadism, so I do, so I’m going to take a bunch of testosterone; or, hey, this positive for nandrolone or deca (decadurabolin) or winny (winstrol) or stanazalol came from the supplement that I bought. You have to challenge that, because we know if athletes are going to cheat, they’re also going to lie to get out of being caught for their cheating. So you have to have somebody there asking those obvious questions, that knows how to ask those questions and [get] the proof that would go along to prove whether or not that’s true or not.
Sherdog.com: The rich athletes are always going to be a step ahead of the testers, correct?
Tygart: Well, certainly the well-resourced and the sophisticated have a better chance of defeating the testing program, and it’s certainly possible. I mean, we saw with Marion Jones, 100-plus tests, she beat us and beat the United States Olympic Committee from a testing standpoint. She was cheating with a number of drugs and got away with it. That highlights the obvious importance of what we do, which is partner closely with law enforcement to ensure that where this is illegal -- and let’s make no mistake, the distribution, the use in certain circumstances, the manufacturing, the trafficking of many of these drugs, anabolic steroids, EPOs, the medical transfusions, that’s illegal. And it is a public health issue that this country ought to enforce the laws that are on the books about. And so that’s a way in a Marion Jones situation we’re able to provide a deterrent for the future by our detection, when we’re able to cooperate closely with law enforcement.
Sherdog.com: Is there any excuse that flies with you for not testing every fighter on every card throughout training camp without warning? Is there any excuse to not subject every fighter on a combat sports card to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency program?
Tygart: I don’t think so. I haven’t seen one yet that flies.
Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted and transcribed by Jack Encarnacao. Some questions were paraphrased; answers were not, with the exception, in most cases, of “you know,” “um” and incomplete thoughts. In addition, James Toney’s suspension was cut in half, not thrown out as stated in the interview. Furthermore, since this interview was conducted, it was reported that a third unidentified fighter was given a therapeutic use exemption by the NSAC.