SACRAMENTO -- The California State Athletic Commission on Thursday halved the suspension of middleweight Chael Sonnen n stemming from a positive test for elevated levels of testosterone despite an admission from the fighter that he injected the steroid two days prior to challenging Anderson Silva for a UFC championship belt in August.
The question at issue for the commission centered not on Sonnen's use, but his failure to properly disclose a prescription for testosterone to combat hypogonadism, a condition in which the body cannot produce normal levels of the hormone.
After nearly two and a half hours of testimony and discussion between the regulatory body, Sonnen, his counsel Steven J. Thompson and Howard Jacobs, the state's assistant attorney general Alfredo Terrazas, and witnesses including two doctors and the commission's executive officer George Dodd, commissioners voted 3-1 to alter the suspension after an initial motion to maintain the original term was deadlocked at 2-2. A fine of $2,500, the maximum allowed by the state, was upheld.
Speaking for the first time since news broke that his pre-bout urinalysis turned up a T/E ratio of 16.9 -- well beyond the 4.0 threshold allowed under California standards -- Sonnen testified that he began taking the steroid in January 2008 after Mark Czarnecki, a doctor of osteopathic medicine licensed in Washington and Oregon, prescribed its use to combat low levels of testosterone. Sonnen said he takes self-administered intramuscular injections of testosterone twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays.
Though Sonnen informed CSAC executive officer George Dodd that he injected testosterone prior to the Aug. 7 bout, he failed to declare his use or the medical justification for injecting the illegal performance-enhancing drug to the state-licensed physician who examined him, Dr. Gary Furness.
Furness said Sonnen was given an opportunity to disclose his testosterone use and his long-term treatments for testosterone replacement therapy, but did not. Sonnen explained that because the discussion with the California physician occurred around other mixed martial artists scheduled to fight in Oakland, Calif., at UFC 117, he felt embarrassed to reveal his condition. Sonnen also claimed he was under no obligation to do so, since Dr. Jeff Davidson, an independent physician hired by the UFC who was present when Furness administered his pre-bout physical, acted as a conduit to the commission and allegedly passed along information about Sonnen's condition and treatment to the state in Oct. 2009, when Sonnen faced Yushin Okami in Los Angeles.
"At every jurisdiction -- California, England, Nevada -- he was there," Sonnen said of Davidson. "He filled out the appropriate paperwork, had a stethoscope, and handled the forms in question. It was my understanding that he was a doctor for every commission."
Dodd testified that his office failed to turn up any record of Sonnen, Davidson, Czarnecki, the UFC or another regulatory agency sharing information about the fighter's use of testosterone or his need for testosterone replacement therapy. In a declaration written by Davidson, who is not a California-licensed physician, Terrazas remarked that the doctor "so much as says he never communicated that information to the state athletic commission." Davidson was not called as a witness by the state or Sonnen's counsel.
Sonnen also claimed during testimony that Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer was aware of his hormone replacement therapy, and that he fought Bryan Baker in Nevada in March of 2008 after declaring his need for testosterone replacement therapy to the state. Sonnen, speaking under oath, said Kizer told him any mention of the therapy was unnecessary for future bouts. Kizer, however, denied to ESPN.com that Sonnen had been approved for a therapeutic use exemption in Nevada. He also said he never discussed the use of testosterone with Sonnen.
When Sonnen mentioned testosterone to an inspector administering a pre-fight drug-test urine collection prior to Silva bout -- a five-round war which Sonnen lost with less than two minutes remaining in the fight by triangle choke after dominating on the judges' card -- Dodd told the inspector to document what Sonnen said, at which point the fighter listed his use of "testosterone" on state medical forms.
Testimony on both sides was interrupted several times because of the commission's apparent lack of understanding when it came to its own appeal procedures. Despite appearing muddled, Dodd said the CSAC appeal process works because it takes place in the open.
After commissioner Eugene Hernandez departed the hearing to catch a flight during the middle of testimony, commissioners Steve Alexander, DeWayne Zinkin Sr. (whose son, DeWayne Zinkin Jr., is the head of Zinkin Entertainment & Sports Management, which represents many well known mixed martial artists), Dr. Van Lemons, and the dean of the group, John Frierson, deliberated on the appropriate course of action.
Lemons took Dodd and his staff to task for the way in which they handled the information Sonnen revealed prior to the fight. The commissioner, a neurosurgeon, declared the necessity of implementing a program that defines clear standards for fighters invoking a therapeutic use exemption -- which allows for otherwise illegal drugs to be approved so long as proper medical reasons can be shown -- or admitting to using banned substances prior to a bout. Currently the state has agreed to allow one licensed combatant to compete with such an exemption. Dodd declined to reveal the fighter's name.
Frierson proposed reducing the suspension from one year to six months. Asked after the meeting why he felt the reduction was appropriate, he could not articulate a reason.
Frierson, Zinkin Sr. and a reluctant Lemons voted for the reduced suspension. Alexander dissented.
Sonnen and his attorneys declined to comment on the commission's ruling or NSAC executive director Keith Kizer refuting Sonnen's claims about his use in Nevada.
Also on Thursday's agenda, heavyweight Josh Barnett's attempt to regain his license to fight in California after a positive test for anabolic steroids in July 2009 -- the third positive test of his career -- was continued to the next commission hearing on Feb. 4. Barnett, who recently signed a multi-fight deal with Strikeforce, articulated via Twitter that he felt ambushed by Terrazas and the commission. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said he did not have enough information to comment on the continuation.