The validity of Muhammed Lawal's mixed martial arts monarchy was tested this week.
On Tuesday, the 31-year-old former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion learned a urinalysis administered by Nevada State Athletic Commission returned positive for the anabolic steroid Drostanolone (marketed as Masteron).
The following day, Lawal underwent surgery to insert a new anterior cruciate ligament into his left knee -- a surgery he said he paid for out of pocket because he didn't qualify under Zuffa's insurance policies. (According to Mike Kogan, Lawal's manager, policy restrictions mandate the same injury can't be covered twice within 18 months).
An All-American wrestler at Oklahoma State in 2003 before committing himself to an unsuccessful Olympic team run, Lawal, who's never run afoul of drug-testing authorities before, is aiming to clear his name.
Through Kogan, Lawal supplied a list of supplements to ESPN.com, which he claimed were the only ones used in the run-up to his second round win against Lorenz Larkin in Las Vegas on Jan. 7.
After digesting the news and engaging the Nevada Attorney General about the positive test, Lawal, who entered MMA in 2008, joined Kogan in speaking to ESPN.com.
Josh Gross: Just to start off the top, you’re saying you didn’t take any anabolic steroid -- is that right?
Muhammed Lawal: Yeah, I didn’t take any anabolic steroids, man. That’s not my way of doing things. My track record shows. I came from college to the Olympic and world competition. I was drug tested then and up until now, you know what I’m saying. This is the first time anything like this has happened in my life. I’m shocked just like everybody around me is.
Gross: So, you’ve never taken anything is what you’re saying. In your entire sporting career, you’ve never taken anything that would have put up a result like this?
Lawal: Never, never. I don’t need to. I’m all about competition, game planning and training hard. I’ve gotten to where I’ve gotten to through hard work, smart training and coaching. No type of performance enhancements.
Gross: What was your reaction when you learned that Nevada said you tested positive for Drostanolone? How did you respond to them and what were the steps you took?
Lawal: I heard from the media. They said, “Mo, you tested positive for Drostanolone.” I was bombarded with phone calls. I was just shocked. I didn’t take anything that I think are made of steroids. I’m not a steroid user. I don’t need it. I’m all about training hard and game planning. It took me by surprise and I still am shocked.
Gross: Have you spoken with the commission? Do you plan to appeal?
Lawal: We haven’t spoken with the commission, but [we have spoken] with the Attorney General. I don’t really know what the plans are right now. I think we have to end up meeting with them and go from there. An appeal? I’m not sure yet.
Mike Kogan (Lawal’s manager): I could probably give you a better understanding of what’s going on. I talked to the Attorney General’s office and yesterday (Thursday) we submitted a list of all the supplements and medications that he’s taken prior to this fight. ... The Attorney General’s office is now going through each one of those supplements and medications, as well as I believe they’re going to have some doctor review it also. And then they’ve asked us to do the same thing and go through it. Unfortunately, Mo is not Floyd Mayweather -- he does not make $25 million a fight so I can’t go hire a chemical lab to sort through every one of these things and try to chemically break them down. So we just have got to do the best research we can through Google, and try to see if we can find somebody who knows about this stuff who can shed a little bit more light to it. And they’re going to do the same thing. Once we’re able to discover something or hopefully find something or figure out something that might have caused either a chemical reaction that would have shown up as this Drostanolone or whatever, then from there we’ll present our response to the commission. I wouldn’t use the word “appeal.” I think a lot of people misunderstand the word “appeal.” An appeal would be a questioning of the finding of the commission, or the finding of the test, and challenge either its results or chain of custody or whatever else people question. In our case it’s premature to say that because we don’t know what those supplements show. We don’t know where it came from. So I can’t say we’re going to file an appeal or not file an appeal because we don’t know where it came from. Depending on what our findings show based on the list we have, we’ll then proceed. If we don’t find anything in our supplements or anything that can even remotely approach it, then we may request Sample B to be tested and hope that there was some kind of error with Sample A. We still have the right to do that. We’re taking more of a systematic approach than just yelling from the top of the rooftops that we didn’t do it. Bottom line: he didn’t knowingly take anything, he didn’t put anything in his system that would enhance his performance in any way. As a matter of fact, this particular drug is not even a performance enhancer, it’s mainly used for weight cutting. That’s what baffles us even more, because Mo doesn’t have a problem cutting weight. Never did. He walks around in camp at 212 pounds, 208 after training. He’s 205 right now with a bum knee. So as of right now we’re basically just researching the supplements, the medications the doctor prescribed and the Attorney General’s office is doing exactly the same thing. We’ll circle back with them and go from there.
Gross: Mo, Mike sent out a list of supplements that he said you took during camp and you take during regular training. Can you walk me through those supplements, and help me understand what they do for you? It’s a pretty long list. I’ll read it off:
Bete Alanine by Pro Performance?
Lawal: Bete Alanine is supposed to be a supplement that helps delay fatigue. That’s what I heard it does. It’s for cardio.
Gross: Collagenic Intensive by Metagenics?
Lawal: That’s for your cartilage. It’s supposed to help for your cartilage.
Gross: EC Matrixx by Metagenics?
Lawal: Same thing. Metagenics puts out cartilage supplements.
Gross: Glutamine by Bodytech?
Lawal: Glutamine is another recovery agent. You mix it with your protein powder or amino drink.
Gross: Omega Factors by Nature's Purest?
Lawal: Omega is kind of like a natural anti-inflammatory. It helps with your heart.
Gross: Endurox R(4) by Pacific Health Laboratories?
Lawal: That thing saves me, man. It keeps me from cramping up. It’s a carb drink.
Gross: Elite Recoup Amino by Dymatize?
Lawal: That’s amino acids. I mix it with my Endurox. It gives me extra amino acids.
Gross: Iron by Nature Made? That seems self-explanatory.
Lawal: Yeah, it’s Iron.
Gross: SuperVitamin B Complex with Vitamin C by Nature Made?
Lawal: It helps with the Iron absorption.
Gross: OK, and there were two that were “take only as needed.” Mass Lean Gainer by Rock Solid?
Lawal: Yeah man, I usually take that when I’m lifting. It just depends. When I’m doing rehab stuff I like to take a pill or two. One pill in the morning and one pill after I lift. That’s supposed to help you work out longer and tighten up the muscles.
Gross: And AminoCell-AKG by Nuetraceuticals?
Lawal: That’s amino acid pills. Sometimes when I travel I don’t want to travel with all the powder. If I carry the powder there’s been a few times when it comes undone in the bag, so I just carry the pill form of amino acids.
Gross: Are these the only supplements you took leading up to the Larkin fight?
Lawal: Yeah, those were the only supplements I took leading up to the Larkin fight.
Gross: So there was nothing you added during the camp for the Larkin fight that was different than previous fights? No change? Nothing that is a possible reason for the positive steroid test?
Lawal: No, there’s nothing I needed to add. That’s my whole routine right there.
Gross: What about the shot the doctor gave you, the anti-inflammatory shot for your knee. What was that?
Kogan: That’s Dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory steroid.
Gross: So that’s different. That’s not something you take that’s normally part of your camp?
Lawal: No, that was just a thing when I came back from Brazil and Austin, my leg was swollen. I was training and my leg was swollen. I was trying to do rehab on it, lifting and leg curl extensions. My leg was still swollen and I went to the doctor. He drained my knee. He said the leg wouldn’t be better unless I got the swelling and the fluid out of the knee. So we went to him to drain it.
Gross: How many times did that happen leading up to the fight, and how far out from the fight did that take place?
Lawal: That was three weeks before the fight. Honestly, three weeks before the fight and every week leading up to the fight I was getting my knee drained.
Gross: Were you also taking Dexamethasone every week before the fight, or just the once?
Lawal: I’m going to be real with you. I turned my head when he put the needle in, so I’d lean back and close my eyes and try to focus on something else
Kogan: I spoke to the doctor, Josh, and the anti-inflammatory was only administered the first time when the most swelling was there. He pulled out almost a glass full of liquid from his knee. That’s the only time that he shot the anti-inflammatory in. From there on, including that day and every week thereafter, every time he would drain him he was injecting Orthovisc, which is the rooster cartilage lubricant. Once the anti-inflammatory took effect and then because of the constant lubricant being put in through the Orthovisc, the knee wasn’t really getting that swollen anymore. That was the only time they put that particular anti-inflammatory steroid in, just once.
Gross: Mo, you had surgery on the knee Wednesday. How are you and how was the surgery?
Lawal: I’m good. I feel good. No problem really.
Gross: What’s your recovery period and how soon would you be able to fight if you were not potentially suspended?
Lawal: What it comes down to more than anything with microfractures is how they heal. I was thinking, the last few times I came back within four to five months. So I’m thinking maybe the same. The microfractures [issue] is mostly cartilage growth. That’s the big thing there. I was hoping around four months, or sooner.
Gross: And you also had an ACL inserted into your knee, was this a major operation?
Lawal: Every time you have a knee operation I think it’s major. But one thing the doctor stressed to me is that the ACL is an issue, but it’s not that bad compared to the microfracture. Most of the thing he said as [about] cartilage. Microfracture is when they stimulate cartilage growth to the knee, I guess. He said one thing I don’t want to do is mess that up.
Gross: You’re addressing your situation in the media. What do you hope to accomplish by addressing publicly like this? Also, steroid use is an issue in mixed martial arts. Are you concerned about being labeled a steroid user, perhaps a cheater, and what effect that may have on your career?
Lawal: That’s always the issue. I don’t want to be labeled as that, but you have people that don’t like me that will say that regardless. In the public eye, you’re always guilty before innocent. All I got to do is worry about the people that have been there for me since day one, my family and my friends. I want to prove my innocence to those people first and foremost. I’ve been a clean athlete. I’m still a clean athlete. I don’t know what happened here but we’ll get to the bottom of this. I’m kind of in disbelief. I’m having a hard time eating and sleeping because of all of this. I’m just hoping the sooner we can get the ball moving, we can get my name cleared.
Gross: If you don’t have the answer to this, maybe Mike can answer. What steps, in addition to speaking to the Attorney General and giving them the list of supplements, are you planning to do in the immediate time period, and what’s the game plan?
Kogan: I’ll backtrack for a second and offer some elaboration on your last question, if you don’t mind and then I’ll give you the timetable. When the news first came out on Tuesday, obviously the first day was not the day for us to talk. I asked Mo to stay away from media and stay away from Twitter. Mainly because we spent half the day Googling to figure out what it is. The day after he had surgery and [Thursday] was really the first day we sat down, made the list up, and decided we need to send this list to the commission and also to select reporters. It’s time for us to talk to the media. The most important thing is this: there is a large group of fans that, ultimately, they hear the words “anabolic steroids” and they make up their minds -- it doesn’t matter what you say or what you do. You’re never going to change their minds. We also have a very large contingency of supporters and we feel like it’s important for them to hear from Mo directly that he’s not hiding [he’s not coming up with random excuses or some UFO stories. He’s ready to face it, ready to deal with it, ready to investigate it and try to do our best to explain it. So that’s basically all we’re trying to accomplish -- to say his side of the story.
We’re not going to address every single media outlet and let people just drive traffic to their Website. We’ve selected a handful of people that we feel have been around this sport for a long time, have a legitimate journalistic interest in anything that deals with MMA and are not just some fly-by-night spontaneous people who just want to get people to their Websites. So without doing any investigating ourselves, as soon as that list was complete and sent to the commission, you, Greg Savage [of Sherdog.com], and MMAJunkie.com got the same list. Our intention is we’re not hiding anything. We’re actually out in the open with whatever we find and whatever our process is, and allowing select media and the Attorney General’s office to follow us along in this process. Everything that we’re doing is going live. We find something, you get it and the same thing with the Attorney General’s office. The only delay was I wanted to talk to the Attorney General’s office because this is an offense that needs to be dealt with the Attorney General’s office, and that’s really the primary concern of ours. I don’t want to fight this thing in the media and create a big thing in the media without first taking the steps that are necessary in the process -- that we’re going to deal with the Attorney General’s office. I spoke to them and I said, “Listen, we’re going to release this list to select media and we want to be able to have them do their own investigating, is that going to be a problem?” They didn’t have a problem with it, so we said OK, that’s the step we’re going to take. We’re talking because we don’t have anything to hide, and we want to be sure as we find something and take the next step, then you guys are right there with it and are able to do your own assessments and conclude your own judgments.
As far as the process moving forward, there is an administrative hearing the commission has Feb. 1, and the Attorney General has informed us that they will inform the commission at that time to issue a temporary suspension pending further investigation. From last Tuesday when we were served with the papers, we have 20 days to file a response, whether that be an appeal or just an answer to their complaint. And then sometime in March, when the commission gets together for their scheduled hearing, we’ll be able to go up there and present our case. That’s the timetable we’re following. My goal between now and for the next 14 or 15 days is to narrow down what these supplements do from a chemical standpoint, not just their general conceptual use but how they break down, and see if there’s anything in there that might have caused it. And if it has to, we’ll file an answer to the commission with that. And if it doesn’t, we’ll also file an answer. Bottom line is if we don’t know, we don’t know. There’s nothing wrong with filing an answer saying, “I don’t know. Here’s what I took and nothing causes it. This is all we did.” Then face the commission and deal with it then. If we don’t find anything in these supplements that may raise a red flag, we will ask for the B Sample to be tested. We felt at this point it was premature because we don’t know what’s showing up. What’s the point of testing the B Sample if I don’t know what could have caused this? If I’m 100 percent positive that nothing he took could have caused this, then we’ll ask for a B Sample to be tested and hope that it was some kind of mistake.