Chael Sonnen file photo: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
The Weekly Wrap walks readers through the last seven days in MMA, recapping and putting into context the week's top story, important news and notable quotes.
The script was flipped entirely on Chael Sonnen’s galvanizing rise to prominence and the UFC middleweight title picture, as Sonnen was suspended for a year by the California State Athletic Commission after testing positive for elevated testosterone levels prior to his remarkable effort against champion Anderson Silva on Aug. 7.
The verbose Sonnen, who received notice of the test failure on Sept. 17, was mum on the situation all week and pulled out of a scheduled appearance on ESPN2’s “MMA Live.” Sonnen’s manager said he plans to appeal the suspension and $2,500 fine and is consulting with legal and medical advisors. Past steroid test appeals have resulted in suspensions being cut in half but rarely overturned. The California athletic commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 2.
The drug test was administered the day before Sonnen’s fight with Silva. During the testing process, Sonnen told commission head George Dodd that he expected to fail, Dodd told SI.com. Sonnen wrote down testosterone as a drug likely in his system on a pre-fight drug screening document but did not seek an official exemption for such use, SI.com’s Josh Gross told “MMA Live.” There was speculation that Sonnen’s pre-fight bout with an illness, which he admitted to in interviews, may have prompted him to use a remedy that could trigger a positive test result.
The commission said Sonnen’s testosterone-to-estrogen levels were higher than allowed by regulations. The levels were not specified, but the commission did reveal in a press release that they were indicative of anabolic steroid use. The commission first noted the elevated levels after testing Sonnen’s urine sample on Sept. 2. A second confirmatory test was performed at the Olympic Analytical Laboratory at UCLA, the same lab used by the United States Olympic Committee.
Just days after confirming a Vitor Belfort vs. Yushin Okami title eliminator at UFC 122, the UFC responded by removing Belfort from the Nov. 13 card so he can challenge Silva next. Sonnen was scheduled to rematch Silva in January or February. Nate Marquardt, who emerged unscathed from a first-round win over Rousimar Palhares on Sept. 15, was tapped to face Okami at UFC 122 in Germany. The Silva vs. Belfort date was not confirmed by week’s end, though Jan. 1 and Feb. 5 were in play.
The turn of events marked the first time in several years that a UFC main event was shaken up due to performance enhancing drugs and reopened online discussion about their prevalence in the sport. Several commentators called for the UFC to send a stronger message by terminating fighters who test positive or to somehow supplement commission drug testing. UFC President Dana White dismissed the calls, saying he thinks commission-imposed suspensions are sufficient punishment and that the UFC is not in a position, like the NFL would be, to create its own policies around steroid test procedures because the sport is regulated by the government.
Asked to comment on Sonnen, White told MMAFighting.com there was “more to the story” than was made public.