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Gilbert Melendez busted by USADA after UFC release, still hit with 2 year suspension

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The former Striekeforce champion and UFC title contender was released by the UFC on October 12th of 2019, only it appears nobody told USADA until after he failed a drug test.

UFC 215: Stephens v Melendez Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

At this point, it’s just salt in the wound for Gilbert Melendez’s UFC career. The former Strikeforce champion came to the Octagon with high expectations, that he would be a major player among the promotion’s lightweight elite.

And while he battled for the lightweight title twice, losing controversially to Benson Henderson in his debut – and not at all controversially to Anthony Pettis a little more than a year later – the rest of his time with the UFC was marred by a 2015 failed drug test and injury troubles. He was officially released from his UFC contract in late 2019, having won just one bout over six years and seven fights.

Exactly when he was released, however, has become a point of controversy. It’s the centerpoint of an announcement from USADA, that Melendez has failed a second drug test, and been handed a 2-year suspension by the organization. According to arbitration documents released by the agency, the date of that test was October 16th—a full four days after the UFC had apparently cut Melendez from the organization.

Following notification of his failed drug test, Melendez field a “Request for Arbitration,” arguing that USADA no longer had jurisdiction over him at the time of the test. Unfortunately for him, while the UFC may have made the internal decision to release Melendez on October 12th, it seems that they failed to notify either the fighter or drug testers.

In fact, the arbitration documents show that the UFC did not notify Melendez’s manager for approximately two weeks after the decision. Melendez himself stated he didn’t know his contract had been terminated until he received an email from the UFC on November 6th. USADA claimed that they were not told to remove Melendez from their database until December 5th—more than a month after the UFC terminated his contract. As such, the UFC’s drug testing partner argued that...

“USADA asserts it had jurisdiction to collect Mr. Melendez’ urine sample on October 16, 2019 because Mr. Melendez’s contract as a fighter with the UFC was in effect, he was a member of the UFC RTP [registered testing pool] on this date, and neither he nor USADA was notified that the UFC terminated his contract before his sample was collected.”

At the time of Melendez’s removal from the USADA testing pool in December, the agency notified him that even if an athlete “ceases to be under contract with the UFC, or is removed from the UFC RTP while the results management process for a possible Anti-doping Policy Violation (“ADPV”) is ongoing, USADA retains jurisdiction to complete the results management process.”

Eventually, despite Melendez’s release from the promotion on October 12th, because of the UFC’s delays in notification, and USADA’s position as an independent administrator, the arbitrator of his suspension ruled that...

“Therefore, because USADA independently administers the UFC ADP, which includes “exclusive results management authority for any [ADPV],” the Arbitrator concludes that USADA is not obligated to accept, is not bound by, and is not estopped from challenging the statement in Mr. Campbell’s Declaration that the effective date of the termination of Mr. Melendez’ contract with the UFC is October 12, 2019.”

Essentially, until Melendez and USADA both were notified that he had been released, it appears that the drug testing agency was legally within their rights to consider him as being under contract—no matter the decisions the UFC had made previously about his future with the promotion.

Melendez tested positive for a substance known as GHRP-6, a growth hormone-releasing peptide, which USADA notes is “prohibited at all times under the UFC Anti-Doping Policy and UFC Prohibited List.” At no point during arbitration did Melendez appear to contest the presence of the substance in his collected samples, “nor identify a source of the prohibited peptide.” He has been suspended for two years, stretching back to November 1st, 2019 when USADA notified him of the drug test failure, and will be eligible to return to competition on November 1st of 2021.