6th July 2021

Cosmetic products cause UFC fighter to test positive

Rob Font has been cleared of violating the Ultimate Fighting Championships’ (UFC) Anti-Doping Policy, after an investigation found that a 22 May positive test was caused by cosmetic products such as shampoo and body lotion. As a result, it is understood that the UFC and the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) are working with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to amend a Technical Letter (PDF below) issued in January. This falsely advises that the only way that an athlete would be able to report a positive test for 4-Chlorophenoxyacetic acid (4-CPA), a metabolite of prohibited substance meclofenoxate, is through contaminated food which would result in a concentration in urine that would never exceed 2.5 ng/mL.

The Technical Letter therefore advises that Laboratories should report any concentrations of 4-CPA in urine that exceed 1,000ng/mL as an adverse analytical finding (AAF – or ‘positive test’). The logic is that any detection of 4-CPA at above that level had to be due to use of meclofenoxate, as even workers who used herbicides that contain 4-CPA on food only reported a concentration in urine of between 15ng/mL and 800ng/mL.

Font’s sample contained a concentration of 1,900ng/mL of 4-CPA, but no trace of its stimulant parent, meclofenoxate. ‘We quickly learned that chlorphenesin (which is allowed at all times) is used as a synthetic preservative in cosmetic products, such as hair products, skin lotions and sunscreen’, read a statement from Font’s agent, Tyson Chartier (below). ‘We also learned that it metabolises into 4-CPA. We were told that UFC/USADA checked all of the other samples from fighters who participated on the 22 May card, and ALL of them had some traces of 4-CPA in their urine.’

It is understood from the above statement that another athlete ‘from the Olympic world’ has also reported an AAF for 4-CPA based on WADA’s erroneous January Technical Letter. The statement also outlines that Font was able to provide the UFC and USASA with a 35 page document detailing all the products he used in the lead up to the fight, including photos and receipts. This included hair and body products that contained chlorphenesin.

‘About a week later, the UFC informed us that USADA had conducted a single use administration study of the effects on urine excretion of 4-CPA after the one time use of sunscreen containing chlorphenesin’, continues the statement. ‘The team applied sunscreen containing chlorphenesin just one time on a study subject, their urine provided after the use had elevated 4-CPA levels up to 1,400ng/mL’.

The UFC is not a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Code, but its Policy is modelled on the Code and is administered by USADA. This allows it a certain amount of flexibility to help athletes who argue that they didn’t intentionally take a prohibited substance to discover the source of an AAF.

The Code requires signatories to ‘vigorously pursue’ all potential anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs). Such a requirement doesn’t feature in the UFC’s Anti-Doping Policy. Anti-Doping Organisations (ADOs) often point to this Code requirement when asked why they pursued an amateur athlete who cannot afford to prove that their supplements were contaminated, for example.

USADA assisted Jimmy Wallhead in discovering the source of his AAF…

Jimmy Wallhead, a UK-based UFC fighter, received a reduced nine month sanction after the UFC and USADA helped him prove that contaminated supplements were the cause of an ostarine AAF. Sonny Webster, a weightlifter who falls under the jurisdiction of UK Anti-Doping (UKAD), spent his life savings attempting to prove that supplements were the cause of his ostarine AAF. He didn’t receive any help from UKAD, and received a four year ban1.

“This is a true ‘false positive’ case”, Jeff Novitzky, Senior Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance for the UFC, told MMA Fighting. “And the blame lays squarely on the shoulders of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Their scientists put forth guidelines to their accredited laboratories that were flat-out wrong. We know definitively that the use of an allowed substance, chlorphenesin, commonly found in cosmetics, can result in 4-CPA levels well in excess of 1,000 ng/ml.

“I’m very happy that USADA was able to resolve Rob’s case quickly, but I’m very disappointed that WADA has let down clean athletes with a lack of care in instituting flawed scientific guidelines, that as of today, still have not been rescinded. WADA needs to act immediately.”

‘Some advice for fighters and teams who have never been through this process’, concludes Chartier’s statement. ‘Do yourselves a favour and keep food logs, supplement logs, and food receipts. Never use the full bottle of supplements or hygiene products, keep a small amount on hand until you get your next test back and it says you are clear. Take photos of labels and ingredients just in case. Had we not done all this stuff I don’t think we would have been able to clear Rob’s name.’

1. To read about both these cases, click here.

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