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Loophole closed? USADA adds condition to testing pool re-entry after McGregor incident

In a statement on T.J. Dillashaw’s removal from the USADA pool, the drug-testing agency referenced an extra condition for fighters looking to return to active competition.

F1 Grand Prix of Monaco - Qualifying Photo by Arnold Jerocki/FilmMagic

Some fighters push the sport forward in unique ways. Half the fouls in mixed martial arts (MMA) were added to the rulebook after officials watched in horror as Tank Abbott performed them in the cage. Chael Sonnen is the man responsible for that short and crazy period of time where fighters were being granted therapeutic use exemptions for testosterone.

And now Conor McGregor has opened fighters’ eyes to the idea of “retiring” to recover from injuries using United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA)-prohibited substances.

McGregor broke his leg clean in half near the ankle in his third fight against Dustin Poirier back in July 2022 (see it here) and hasn’t competed since. He withdrew (secretly, we may add) from USADA’s testing pool so doctors could use all the tools at their disposal to properly rehabilitate his leg. Now he’s back, his leg looks stronger than ever, and he’s ... gained 20+ pounds of pure muscle and is up a weight class?! If he gets his way, he’ll be eligible to compete again without spending six months in the USADA testing pool because of an “Exceptional Circumstances” clause in USADA’s bylaws.

So wait, can any fighter “retire,” use performance-enhancing drugs to heal injuries, and then come back bigger and badder than before? We haven’t seen the end result of McGregor’s attempt to loophole his way back into the system without six months of testing, but it looks like USADA is already attempting to stop other fighters from trying the same thing.

Yesterday, T.J. Dillashaw announced was retiring from the sport because of the shoulder injury he suffered leading up to his UFC 280 fight against Aljamain Sterling. It turns out if you just gut through that type of injury with the shoulder repeatedly coming out of the socket for months, it’s really, really bad. Is Dillashaw really retiring, or is he “retiring” so that he can “rehab” his shoulder and return down the line?

In a statement from USADA regarding Dillashaw’s removal from the program (via TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter), the drug-testing program cited another condition in the process for retired fighters to re-enter the pool.

“In the event of an athlete’s return to the UFC from retirement, they are required to remain in the USADA testing pool for six months before they are permitted to compete,” the statement read. “The UFC may grant an exemption to the six month written notice rule in exceptional circumstances or where the strict application of that rule would be manifestly unfair to the athlete. But in both cases, the athlete must provide at least two negative samples before returning to competition.”

That’s the standard part ... now this:

“Upon being added to the UFC Ant-Doping Program, athletes are also required to declare prohibited substances they have used in the previous 12 months, prior to being in USADA’s testing program. An Athlete who makes such a declaration, depending on the substance, will be required to refrain from competition for a period of at least six months and provide at least two negative samples to ensure that they do not compete in a UFC bout with a performance advantage.”

So, the idea here is to make it extremely explicit that any treatments being used by an athlete in the past 12 months must be disclosed to USADA. USADA will then look over those treatments and “depending on the substances,” USADA will decide whether they must spend another six months on the sidelines before competing in the UFC. There is no mention of UFC holding a veto over this requirement.

We’ll see if this keeps fighters from trying to pull a Conor McGregor in the future. But, if a bad shoulder injury can heal twice as fast and better than ever with USADA-prohibited treatments, even waiting the extra six months to re-enter the testing pool isn’t a bad deal for severely injured athletes.

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