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More details on Cung Le's drug test and the UFC's decision to terminate his suspension

A look at some of the major facts that led the UFC to end the suspension of Cung Le following his controversial failed drug test.

Anthony Kwan

This is a guest post by Gabriel Montoya. Any opinions expressed within are those of the author himself. Cung Le's official Quest Diagnostics drug test results can be found at the end of the article.A

On the afternoon of Tuesday October 21, 2014, UFC/Zuffa Entertainment released a statement rescinding the 12 month suspension levied upon MMA fighter Cung Le for what was erroneously deemed “elevated levels of hGH” following his August 23 fight with Michael Bisping. The statement was far from an apology.

“At UFC Fight Night Macao on August 23rd, UFC contracted with an independent drug testing laboratory in Hong Kong to perform urinalysis testing on all fighters on the card,” the statement began. “Additionally, UFC requested the laboratory to test blood samples from 4 fighters for human growth hormone (hGH), erythropoietin (EPO) and testosterone.”

Documents obtained by this writer confirm the UFC in fact used two separate labs, The Hong Kong Functional Medical Testing Center in Hong Kong, China and Quest Diagnostics in Lenexa, Kansas, to test Mr. Le's samples. Two separate labs not one as the opening paragraph of the UFC's statement suggests. Mr. Le gave blood and urine samples before and after the fight. The Hong Kong lab tested Le's blood. Quest Diagnostics tested Le's urine. Hong Kong performed non­doping tests. The lab in Kansas did comprehensive testing for anabolic steroids, masking agents, stimulants and recreational drugs. However, neither lab is World Anti­Doping Agency accredited and as such, neither is able to perform anti­doping tests for exogenous hGH or EPO.

A blood test for doping purposes that will detect exogenous EPO or Testosterone does not exist. There are two types of sports doping Testosterone tests: Carbon Isotope Ratio (CIR) testing method and the T/E ratio test. Both tests are conducted on urine samples. The WADA­ approved sports doping HGH tests are the Isoform hGH test (which is done in conjunction with the serum IGF­1 test) and the Biomarker test. Both are blood tests. Neither Quest Diagnostic or the Hong Kong lab are WADA ­accredited labs, which are capable of performing these more sophisticated types of blood tests.

The Hong Kong lab tested Le's blood samples for Human Growth Hormone (hGH), Erythropoietin (EPO) and Testosterone (T) levels using standard medical diagnostic tests instead of the approved sports doping tests. All three of the above hormones are naturally produced by the body. The tests performed on Cung Le's blood sample were not anti­-doping tests.

The UFC statement continued, “The laboratory results from Le’s blood test were sent to the UFC and showed that his blood had a total HGH level outside the reference range.”

However, the expected range for total hGH concentration post­-exertion is 20­30 ng/mL. Le's result was 18.1 ng/mL, actually under the expected range.

Further confusing matters is the fact that after testing Le's A blood sample, the Hong Kong lab threw away his B blood sample. The B sample is always retained in case an athlete chooses to appeal the initial finding. But the point is moot considering the tests the Hong Kong lab performed weren't doping tests used to detect PEDs. However, it does confirm that the lab the UFC chose to use is not up to WADA standards.

Less than a week after announcing that it was standing by the suspension of Le despite mounting evidence suggesting incompetence on the UFC's part, the UFC announced it would give Le a chance to appeal. Once it began to appear that Le would likely win his appeal, the UFC rescinded the suspension.

“Following the announcement of Le’s suspension, UFC officials have been provided with medical advice regarding the elevated total hGH present in Le’s system. In accordance with such medical advice, UFC has determined that Le’s elevated total hGH by itself does not prove that he took performance­enhancing drugs before the August 23rd bout. As a result, UFC has informed Le that his suspension is rescinded,” the statement continued.

Translation: Someone evidently explained to the UFC that the proper doping tests in a WADA­ accredited lab hadn't been conducted and that someone misinterpreted the Hong Kong lab results.

Why didn't the UFC use a WADA lab? There may be two possible reasons. In order for an entity to be able to order tests to be conducted by a WADA lab, they must have a qualified scientific director and a comprehensive list of WADA ­approved policies and procedures in place. The policies and procedures refers to protocol such as results management, appeals, etc. The scientific director is the person with the needed expertise to interpret the lab results. It is unclear if the UFC employs a person with those qualifications. UFC spokesman Dave Sholler has ceased responding to emails about this case despite confirming he has received them. Gary Ibarra, Le's manager, told me that he still does not know if the Hong Kong lab or someone at the UFC determined Le's HGH levels were too high. Without a scientific director or policies and procedures, the UFC was unlikely able to procure the WADA­ approved Beijing lab.

The UFC statement continued, “Le had requested an appeal of his suspension, and was entitled to arbitrate the drug test results and suspension. However, based on the lack of conclusive laboratory results, UFC officials deemed it appropriate to immediately rescind the suspension without the need for further proceedings.”

Might the lack of “conclusive laboratory results” be the fault of the UFC not doing valid tests in an accredited lab?

As for the Quest Diagnostics comprehensive anabolic steroid panel? Le came up negative for everything.

The rescission statement boasted, “The UFC organization has always been a leader when it comes to testing for performance ­enhancing drugs in combat sports.”

That claim seems to ring hollow and be more self­serving in light of the UFC rescinding Cung Le's suspension.

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