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USADA policy likely bans IVs for rehydrating, UFC fighters not happy

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Fighters are getting their first taste of the new UFC reality under USADA drug testing jurisdiction as reps visited the ATT gym and clued fighters in to a new regulation, no IV rehydration.

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Fans may not realize it, but one of the more common, unseen, practices in MMA is IV re-hydration. We already know that MMA weight cutting is pretty extreme, but one of the ways that fighters are able to cut such ridiculous amounts of weight the day before the bout and bounce back more or less fully refreshed is through IV use in the re-hydrating process.

All the way down to the regional levels of MMA use of an intravenous saline solution to bounce back from weight cutting is a pretty standard method for most fighters. It's a tried and true method of recovering from extreme dehydration, you know the kind you go through when you're dropping 10 lbs in 24 hours.

    Travis Tygart on The MMA Hour

For a more complete description of the new rules in effect, USADA CEO Travis Tygart was on the MMA Hour where he didn't exactly give the same definitive answer that's being delivered to fighters now, but he gave a very thorough outline of the reason behind the policy:

"What's important to remember is the WADA list is the list of prohibited substances. So, those are what most people consider the drugs, the performance enhancing drugs, but it's also the prohibited substance and methods. And there are certain methods, like an IV infusion that you just mentioned, or gene doping or autologous or homologous blood transfusion, where you take someone else's blood in advance of a bout and it gives you oxygen carrying capacity and recovery capacity and all sorts of benefits. It would be, by the way, game changing benefits.

So, the IVs are allowed under certain circumstances under the WADA prohibited list. You know, if you're in the hospital, clinic, having surgery. If you need it outside of those, you have to apply for a TUE. It's not, as you just indicated, not prohibited in most, or any that we're aware of, licensing commissions. So, there's going to be some education, obviously, around that. The purpose for it was to ensure... And you may... I don't know how closely you've followed our investigation into cycling, but you saw it used a lot in cycling. Because, putting a bag of saline over 50 ml, for example is the rule, would potentially mask or alter the blood testing that was done. And there were examples in there where athletes would put a bag of saline in their arm when they saw the blood collectors coming to collect their blood. And they just delayed reporting for 15 min. So, that was really the purpose behind the rule.

So, there's going to be some education around that and ensuring that, where athletes do need it, if it's in an area that's not allowed, so it's not in one of those other settings, that they go through the TUE process. And those are going to be, as always, we've had dozens of those applied for over the years since it became on the list, prohibited in certain circumstances. But certainly education around the drug list and the prohibited methods list, like the IVs, is going to be a key part of rolling this program out and ensuring that the athletes are fully aware of what the rules are and how to comply with those rules, so that there's no unintentional type violations. Because that's not why we're here. We're here to stop those who are intentionally cheating with dangerous and performance enhancing drugs that rob their competitors of their rights under the rules."

Long story short, unless there's a medical emergency a fighter can't use an IV over 50 ml (about the size of a liquor sample bottle) without a TUE, something that more rigorous athletic commissions only tend to give out to people with medical necessities. While that probably won't stop everyone from using the method, the fact that it's use could come down to multi-year suspensions, just like for other infractions of the new UFC drug testing policy, means that the punishment for ignoring these new regulations and getting caught is very very harsh.

The big question now is, how heavily will this effect most fighters safety when cutting weight, and will fighters start moving up in weight because they can't functionally re-hydrate for the cuts they're putting themselves through? The UFC may have just taken steps that will lead to a massive restructuring of their weight classes.