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No. 1 scandal? UFC now claims I.V. use is legal, but Australia commission disagrees

While Islam Makhachev’s team continues to dodge I.V. questions, UFC has gone into overdrive to clarify how some potential I.V. use is actually now legal.

It sure is strange how the Islam Makhachev I.V. use story is developing in the wake of UFC 284 this past weekend (Sat., Feb. 11, 2023) in Perth, Australia.

On Monday, Alexander Volkanovski’s teammate, Dan Hooker, accused Makhachev of cheating by using an I.V. to rehydrate after his UFC 284 weight cut. Soon after, Makhachev’s manager, Rizvan Magomedov, came out calling the claim “completely BS” from “jealous losers telling lies.”

But, then some funny things happened: ESPN’s Brett Okamoto — who serves as a sort of reporter-liaison between the UFC and network — tried to clarify the legality of I.V. use in mixed martial arts (MMA). According to Okamoto’s sources, it’s not actually illegal for an I.V. to be used if it’s, “determined to be medically justified and within the standard of care by a licensed physician and administered by a licensed medical professional.”

“There seems to be a misunderstanding across the sport on the prohibited or non-prohibited use of IVs ... I myself was not completely aware of this until this latest high-profile example/accusation from UFC 284,” Okamoto wrote. “According to the UFC/USADA handbook, an IV can be used if it is ‘determined to be medically justified and within the standard of care by a licensed physician and administered by a licensed medical professional.’

“I sought further clarification and here’s the bottom line: If an athlete is administered an IV of more than the permitted 100 mL, as long as it’s done by a licensed pro it is NOT a violation, even in cases where dehydration (caused by a weight cut) is the issue being treated. In other words, IVs used to treat severe dehydration caused by cutting weight are not REALLY banned, as long as a physician is the one to justify and perform it.”

Makhachev’s manager, Ali Abdelaziz, then tweeted and deleted what sure sounded like an admission.

“For all those idiots out there, any fighter under the UFC banner can take 2-3 liters of IV as long as it’s done by a nurse or professional,” he wrote in the tweet, which was only up for a few minutes before disappearing. “Next week I’m gonna expose everybody. Islam Makhachev is the pound-for-pound king.”

A few hours later, UFC’s Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance, Jeff Novitzky, added his own clarification to the rules, stating that I.V. usage used to be illegal under USADA, but the rules were loosened up in 2019.

“UFC Anti-Doping Program’s (UFC ADP) IV rule was modified in 2019,” Novitzky wrote. “Athletes, managers and support have rec’d multiple advisories on this rule change beginning in 2019. All UFC ADP rules have been publicly posted since 2015.”

“The following IVs are now permitted without a TUE: Those rec’d in the course of hospital treatments, surgical procedures, clinical diagnostic investigations; Those rec’d from a licensed medical prof. after a licensed physician determines that they are medically justified; IVs of less than a total of 100 mL per 12-hour period.”

An email from UFC was then sent out to various news outlets with all these clarifications regarding I.V. use.

At this point, you’re probably thinking this is a whole lot of hullabaloo since Makhachev didn’t even use an I.V., right? Well, if you start to look at all the statements from Makhachev’s team, you may notice no one has said the words, “Islam Makhachev did not receive an I.V.”

But, if it wasn’t illegal, why hide it? Because Novitzky added some extra context that Okamoto left out regarding athletic commissions.

“Separate of the UFC ADP rules, athletic commissions require any athlete who receives an IV during fight week to (1) obtain permission from the commission before receiving an IV and; (2) disclose use of that IV to the commission after its use,” Novitzky wrote. “Despite the fact that IV use is now permitted under UFC ADP if administered by a ‘licensed medical professional after a licensed physician determines they are medically justified,’ the required disclosure of such use to an athletic commission could possibly jeopardize the commission licensing the fight.”

According to Novitzky, Makhachev may have been required to ask permission and / or disclose any I.V. use to a commission. But, it actually goes deeper than that: lots of athletic commissions have flat-out banned the use of I.V. hydration. Commissions like the Government of Western Australia’s Combat Sports Commission. And UFC 284 took place in Perth, under its jurisdiction.

“The Commission also prohibits the use of intravenous therapies which are used for aiding rehydration from excessive and deliberate dehydration,” a document on its website states. “Any promoter, trainer, or other person registered with the Commission found to be encouraging the use of such methods will be sanctioned by the Commission. Any contestant known to be using these methods will not be allowed to compete.”

There sure is a whole lot of movement on UFC’s side to make the use of an I.V. following weigh-ins seem legal, or at the very least, barely illegal. But, let’s be clear on something as someone who has followed the I.V. situation since the days it was legal and then banned in 2015: everyone knows it’s not allowed.

Fighters don’t do it any more because they know it’s not allowed.

If it turns out using an I.V. was “technically legal” since 2019, it’s “legal” in the same vein as Conor McGregor leaving USADA’s testing pool to use banned substances. Which means it’s a fancy loophole being exploited by a top fighter who everyone else will now drive a truck through.

Unless, of course, the local commissions step up and enforce their own very clear rules on the subject.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 284: “Islam vs. Volkanovski” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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