When media reports first surfaced last week reporting that Alistair Overeem had failed an out of competition drug test administered to the six heavyweight participants following their UFC 146 press conference held in Las Vegas, Nevada, back on March 27, 2012, the results were met with a mix of emotions.
Few were surprised, given the incredible muscular growth of the former light heavyweight turned 263-pound, ripped behemoth who was last seen retiring fellow monster Brock Lesnar at UFC 141 in Dec. 2011.
Add to that the weeks it took for "Ubereem" to submit to the out of competition testing ordered by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) before UFC 141 and the years he spent fighting overseas during his growth spurt where he would not be subject to testing, and the shock-o-meter for Overeem's high testosterone-to-epitestosterone (T/E) Ratio registered just below the collective surprise of the mixed martial arts (MMA) community when Cristiane Santos got popped for performance enhancing drugs (PED's) back in January.
But yet, even with all that, there was some surprise, because many feel that Overeem should have seen an out of competition test coming, whether in "Sin City," South Florida or Amsterdam.
The "conditional license" granted for Overeem to fight Lesnar at UFC 141 carried a condition that he was subject to two drug tests in the following six months. Speaking to NSAC Executive Director Keith Kizer, Overeem's failed test was the first of those two tests.
For those who argue that the NSAC had no jurisdiction to test Overeem because the conditional license he was granted at UFC 141 expired on Dec. 31, 2012 (one-day after the event), thanks for playing, but I wouldn't hang my future on that argument.
While the conditional license granted for UFC 141 expired, the agreement to the subsequent drug tests over the next six months did not.
Team Overeem should have been prepared for the reality that he would be tested at some point and it was a hell of a gamble to be riding the TEST train knowing that a test could and probably would be coming, twice, between January and June, 2012. And from a common sense perspective (the shock-o-meter is about to fall some more), he was booked to fight 239-pound Junior dos Santos, not exactly Lesnar-esque in size and strength, albeit superior in skill.
If there are heavyweight opponents where size and strength would be less critical for the "Demolition Man," a smaller heavyweight like "Cigano" is surely in that group.
For those unfamiliar with this whole testing and T/E mess when it comes to testosterone, here's a crash course:
When a fighter gives urine to the commission, two samples are sent to the lab, Sample "A" and Sample "B".
"A" is tested to determine T/E ratio while "B" is stored and maintained at the testing facility. A normal T/E ratio is considered 1:1, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and most commissions consider anything over 4:1 evidence of synthetic testosterone usage while the NSAC applies a more lenient 6:1 ratio.
Overeem wasn't exactly what anyone would call "close," coming in at 14:1.
He has the right to request that his "B" sample be tested to determine whether there might be some mistake with the "A" sample result. Personally, I would favor a Carbon Isotope Ratio test on the "B" sample as it is currently considered the gold standard for determining whether synthetic testosterone has been used but that's a discussion for another day.
What Team Overeem did (and did not) do the week his failed test became public has raised a lot of questions.
Overeem has not requested that his "B" sample be tested but did, on Fri., April 6, 2012, submit his request for a license to the NSAC to fight at UFC 146. If you're confused, join the club. It would seem that if someone knew they hadn't taken testosterone, they'd scream from the rooftops to have that "B" sample tested quicker than Duane Ludwig knocked out Jonathan Goulet.
And "The Reem" must feel that his odds of success are much better than 14:1 because filing for the license creates a risky scenario for the Dutchman.
According to NAC 467.087, if his license request is denied, he "may not file a similar application until one year after denial by the Commission, unless the Commission specifies otherwise at the time of denial." The ramifications are that if he gets KOed at his April 24th NSAC hearing, he could effectively be unable to fight anywhere for a year. Other states may not license him knowing he has been denied in Nevada and the UFC is not likely to put him on International cards and snub their nose at the NSAC either.
Think Josh Barnett circa his Affliction: "Trilogy" issue with the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC). Barnett purposely didn't apply for a license in California when he had drug testing issues because the denial would have sidelined him for a year if the application would have been denied.
So why is Reem willing to (A) roll the dice and (B) do it without asking for the "B" sample to be tested?
I'll play the game and take my best shot at a theory. Has Alistair called me and told me the plan? Nope, never spoke to him or interviewed him. Has the commission sent me any confidential paperwork tipping me off to what might happen. Sorry to disappoint, but again, no. This is just my theory based on the facts you and I both know as of today.
First, let's deal with the decision not to test the "B" sample. The only reasonable explanation is that he knows what the result will be -- exactly what the "A" sample showed -- synthetic testosterone usage. I hear your wheels turning and the question you're asking your computer screen. "Why would anyone submit for a fighter's license and risk being shelved for a year if they know their samples are accurately showing a wildly elevated T/E ratio? Pepe, you have lost your mind!"
But that's exactly what he would do if he thought he could prove that he had a right to be elevated. Yep, I think Ubereem will be the latest in a growing line of fighters to claim that he is on Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) for low testosterone levels.
"How could he do that without a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE)," you ask?
Simple. An application for a TUE need only be submitted to the NSAC early enough for the commission to have a reasonable period of time to evaluate the request. A prudent fighter would probably submit all the appropriate paperwork and medicals a few weeks before the fight, but even the most diligent would be highly unlikely to provide the info two months before.
Accordingly, a fighter could fail the out of competition test because he had not already applied for or been granted a TUE, but appeal such failure on the basis that he had a medical reason to be on the drug in question (in this case testosterone) and that he had not applied for the TUE because the commission's own guidelines do not mandate that the application had to be submitted at the present time. Further, I expect that Team Overeem will show up in Nevada on the 24th with medical records, doctor verification and further testing in hand. What kind of testing?
Blood testosterone level testing.
T/E ratio only shows that synthetic testosterone has been used, thereby upsetting the naturally occurring 1:1 balance that is normal for most. But it doesn't tell you how much ACTUAL testosterone is coursing through the athlete's bloodstream -- only that all the testosterone in their blood wasn't provided by Mom and Dad but was increased through unnatural methods.
Overeem could argue, unlike Nate Marquardt's situation at UFC on Versus, that the actual amount of testosterone in his system as shown by a blood test is well within normal limits and therefore not performance enhancing at all. The closer the dates of those blood tests are to the date of his T/E Ratio failure (March 27) the more appealing the argument is from a public relations standpoint.
For example, the Reem might walk in on the 24th and say "I was prescribed testosterone by my doctor when he discovered that I had low testosterone and we were sure to keep track of my levels and keep them in normal ranges. I fully intended to disclose my usage to the commission when I applied for my license and submitted an application for a Therapeutic Use Exemption, all of which I am prepared to discuss today."
The further away from the date of the T/E ratio gone awry, the less palatable the argument becomes as discontinuing testosterone therapy can lead to rather rapid declines in blood levels of the hormone. Even if Overeem had the right to take TRT, no athlete has the right to take enough testosterone to put their blood testosterone levels above normal limits.
"Legal" TRT usage allows the athlete to have a high T/E ratio, NOT high actual blood testosterone levels. As crazy as it sounds, this could all come down to whether Team Overeem was proactive enough to have a blood testosterone test as close as possible to March 27, the date that the commission unequivocally knows he had a high T/E ratio.
Now let's be clear. None of this changes the fact that Alistair had a high T/E ratio, but if he explains the failure with a previously undisclosed TRT defense that he didn't have to disclose yet but intended to disclose closer to the fight, it raises an interesting case of first impression for the commissions.
Technically, under NSAC rules, there is no argument that Overeem had to file his TUE request two months before a fight. On the NSAC side, they absolutely had the right to conduct random out of competition testing. Therefore, there is a plausible argument that both sides acted consistent with their rights and responsibilities and that the commission may have to rethink their disclosure requirements regarding TRT.
Perhaps fighters should have to disclose TRT usage to the commission in any state in which they sign to fight within seven days of signing the bout agreement.
If Overeem can show that he qualifies for TRT under the current TUE guidelines, it is plausible that he could be successful and still be licensed to fight Dos Santos at UFC 146, if, in my opinion, he has blood work showing normal testosterone levels close to March 27.
There still could be other hoops to jump through imposed by the NSAC with little time to do so with a scant month between the hearing and the fight. Is any of this fair to "Cigano" as he prepares for his first title defense without knowing for sure who his opponent is?
Is it fair to whoever has been told they are Overeem's understudy should he not be able to fight at UFC 146, whether that be Fabricio Werdum, Dan Henderson or Frank Mir? Nope. But I wonder if fans really care if a fighter is enhanced? I hope they do but, unfortunately, I think they are becoming numb to the TRT and steroid issue, a dangerous lack of concern when chemically enhanced warriors are punching and kicking each other with bad intentions.
Team Reem may just have a legal left hook waiting for the NSAC with this TRT defense. If so, the question is how they will counter and whether that puts him inside the cage on May 26 -- or leaves him on the outside looking in.
Larry Pepe is the host of Pro MMA Radio and was the first to examine Chael Sonnen's TRT defense in the wake of his failed drug test following UFC 117 in late 2010. See more from "Pep" right here.