36-year-old UFC strawwweight Jessica Penne released a lengthy statement on social media claiming she has been forced into retirement from MMA due to the actions of the United States Anti-Doping Agency. She claims that she will be suspended for four years due to a failed test, which has effectively ended her career.
Addressing the statement to her fans and anyone that has ever supported her, Penne said, “I am heart broken and defeated. USADA has effectively bullied and forced me into retiring from MMA.”
Penne is considered as one of the pioneers of women’s MMA. Her debut took place in 2006 and she also competed in Bellator’s first ever female fight against Tammie Schneider. After competing for over a decade Penne was first suspended for an anti-doping violation following an out-of-competition test in relation to a sample taken on March 20th, 2017.
“I was advised by my doctor to start an over the counter medication that would balance out my extremely deficient hormone levels,” explained Penne.
According to the description within this statement, she could have been eligible for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE).
USADA define TUEs on their website as follows:
In some situations, an athlete may have an illness or condition that requires the use of medication listed on the UFC Prohibited List. USADA can grant a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) in these situations in compliance with the UFC TUE Policy. The TUE application process is thorough and designed to balance the need to provide athletes access to critical medication while protecting the rights of clean athletes to complete on a level playing field.
The USADA-UFC anti doping partnership began in 2015. There were several well-documented issues that marked the commencement of what was expected to be another step in legitimizing the sport of MMA. Fighters often claimed to be unclear on processes and what was on the list of banned substances, Penne among them.
“My naivety thought that having a doctors note/recommendation for a simple “over the counter product” would be safe to take...turns out it wasn’t and I was banned from fighting for 18 months.”
According to USADA rules, Penne was not able to apply for a retroactive TUE.
Following carbon-isotope ratio mass spectrometry analysis on her sample, the presence of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) — a synthetic anabolic agent — was detected. Despite being compliant with USADA investigations and them even accepting her reasoning, she was still handed the 18 months.
For Penne, this began an uncomfortable period in her life when she had to resort to various means to survive. “I drove for Lyft, taught privates and anything I could to get by,” she explained in her statement.
Her bad luck would continue.
After serving her sentence she was booked to fight on February 2019 against Jodie Esquibel. However this bout would be scrapped following an unfortunate sprained ankle on the morning of the event. Penne was re-scheduled to face Esquibel in April, but the fight would again fall through. This time it was because Penne would once more test positive for a banned substance.
Penne stated that it was “an extremely low level of stanozolol...(picogram levels).”
USADA’s description of stanozolol can be found below:
Stanozolol is a synthetic steroid that is derived from testosterone and has anabolic and androgenic properties.
However, Penne was adamant that this had to be a mistake.
“I spent thousands of dollars I didn’t have testing medications and supplements (most of which were 3rd party certified that the UFC PI gave me). The lab I tested my supplements at (Korvalabs in California) actually found the banned substance that USADA was trying to pin on me.”
According to Penne, independent evidence of a tainted substance was not enough for USADA.
“Their [USADA] test results negate my results and they were handing me my second violation, which comes with a 4 year suspension.”
A four-year suspension would mean Penne will be 40 years old when she is eligble to return, effectively ending her professional MMA career.
“I have been advised by Jeff [Novitzky] and Donna that I have one last shot to try and get back and that is to hire a lawyer and fight USADA head on in court but that could cost upwards of 30-40k. My manager has advised me that he is going to start a gofundme account to see if we can raise the money needed to fight but I am not holding my hopes high.”
USADA isn’t exactly agreeing with everything Penne has to say about things though. Since Penne talked about it publicly, they can too, and they recently released their own statement contesting Penne’s claims:
“Given Jessica Penne’s public statement, we can confirm her positive test for stanozolol. However, there are many factual inaccuracies and unfounded allegations in her statement, including that she has been forced out of UFC. In fact, she has exercised her right to contest her case before an independent arbitrator, per a request USADA received after she released her public statement. Under the UFC Anti-Doping Policy, all athletes have the right to present the facts and circumstances during a full evidentiary hearing. We look forward to the opportunity to present the facts and evidence through this process.”
We still don’t know enough about the case so far, but hopefully both parties can reach an amicable compromise.