MMA fighter Gilbert Melendez receives 2-year ban, disputes ruling

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has suspended veteran MMA fighter Gilbert Melendez for two years, despite Melendez no longer being under UFC contract. Melendez, meanwhile, is arguing that USADA had no right to test him in the first place.

USADA, the UFC's contracted anti-doping partner, announced Monday that it had won its arbitration case against Melendez. The arbitrator determined that Melendez should be suspended two years after he tested positive for GHRP-6, a banned growth-hormone-releasing peptide. The ban, which encompasses only the UFC, is retroactive to Nov. 1, 2019, the date of Melendez's initial provisional suspension.

The details of the case are unique. Melendez is no longer on the UFC roster -- and the former Strikeforce champion argued in arbitration that he was released by the UFC before the USADA administered this test. Melendez said the USADA no longer had jurisdiction over him, given he was no longer a UFC athlete.

Melendez currently works as an MMA analyst for ESPN.

In a letter backdated Oct. 12, 2019, UFC chief business officer Hunter Campbell informed Melendez that he was released from the UFC. The test was conducted Oct. 16, 2019. The UFC had decided to release Melendez in either late September or early October, but did not immediately inform Melendez nor the USADA. Melendez presented the letter to arbitrators as evidence and Campbell testified on Melendez's behalf, per the arbitration decision.

"I'm an inactive fighter," Melendez told ESPN. "I was released from the UFC before this test was taken. I believe [USADA] has no jurisdiction over me. ... I'm a private citizen and it's no one's business what I'm putting into my body at that point."

Melendez said he feels like he won the case, because the arbitrator ruled that the ban involved only the UFC and he was free to compete in other promotions, as well as corner teammates, if he so wished. Melendez said he's currently "retired and focused on recovering my body."

"In USADA's release, I believe they failed to recognize that all the arbitrator awarded them was that I can't fight in the UFC for two years -- which I wasn't going to do anyway, because I was released," Melendez said.

The USADA argued in arbitration that no one from the UFC or Melendez's team informed the agency prior to the test being administered that Melendez was no longer under UFC contract. Melendez was still in the drug-testing pool at the time his sample was collected, the USADA said, and if Melendez knew he was released he would not have made himself available for the test.

Melendez (22-8) is one of the most accomplished lightweight fighters ever in MMA. The California native was arguably the top fighter in Strikeforce history with the most wins (11), most title defenses (6) and most championship bouts (10). Melendez, 38, was brought over to the UFC when UFC parent company Zuffa bought Strikeforce in 2011. Melendez lost a close split decision against Benson Henderson for the lightweight title in his UFC debut. More recently, Melendez has lost five straight.

This is Melendez's second doping suspension. He was suspended one year by the UFC for testing positive for exogenous testosterone metabolites in 2015.