‘USADA can find any athlete guilty, what are your resources to defend yourself?’ – UFC’s Frank Mir
Two-time UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir talks exclusively to RT Sport about his disillusionment with the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), being ostracized by the UFC, and what must be done to morally and financially safeguard fighters.
Mir has enjoyed one of the most successful careers in mixed martial arts, and one which saw him become a two-time heavyweight UFC champion – the pinnacle of MMA. But he fears that could now be under threat after being handed a two-year ban for testing positive for a trace metabolite of a banned steroid.
RT: Frank, tell us a little bit about your current situation regarding USADA and the two-year ban currently imposed on you.
Frank Mir: What happened was, after my last fight at the end of March with Mark Hunt [at UFC Fight Night 85 in Australia - ed.], a test that I had taken at fight night came back that it had these trace metabolites of this steroid. At first obviously I was in shock about the situation when they came and notified me - and then it becomes a scramble to look for answers. So, a few days later after they already came and notified me, they actually came into my house, sat me down and were talking to me. At first I thought from the point of view of trying to help me locate where this could have happened, how I’ve been exposed to it. At the time they told me I had taken a random drug test February 5, they showed up at my house February 4 maybe and they took blood and urine and then they told me that test came back clean. So you have to figure out what happened between this period of time. So I went to my cabinet and I showed them the supplements that I had been taking since then. I’m like, these are the only things that I really have, then there was a couple things I take at the gym where they make protein shakes and stuff we can go down there and get that stuff - who knows? I was just trying to think of every way to cooperate and help them to help me because I thought we were all on the same side.
The first time that kind of rang an alarm in my mind they sat there and told me that the test that they have detects this metabolite. If you take [a steroid] and they drug test you close to the time you take the drug, it will show up as that steroid in your system. That wasn’t the case with me. They were like, obviously it was exposed to you long enough back that it broke down just to this metabolite that can last several months. They didn’t really have an answer because I asked ‘how long can it last’ and I’ve done research since then and found out that there’s been a lot of discrepancy in how long that metabolite could stay in your body. But since they told me I was clean in February I didn’t think that I had to worry about anything prior because I’m like alright I have a starting time frame to work with. But when they told me that I had these low-level metabolites, I was like wait a minute you guys just tested me. That was the first question out of my mouth. Wasn’t it like just two months before? Then they corrected me that it was about six weeks before. I go - ok so how could I have ingested this drug and had it secreted down to such low levels that it just came out to these trace metabolites and they didn’t have an answer for me.
Basically that day, the best scenario that they were trying to put on the table - and that’s when I realised ‘oh, you guys don’t think I’m innocent, you think I’m guilty...you don’t think this is an accident, you think I did this on purpose’ - was that I came and got randomly drug tested in February and then decided to run up to my bedroom in my room and grab some drugs unbeknownst to anybody else in my family and start taking them, had a moral coming to my senses and decided to stop taking the drug, but still went and took a drug test afterwards knowing that I would fail it. That makes no sense. I told them is that what you’re thinking. Or I thought I could take a drug one time for one or two days, six weeks before a competition and it wouldn’t do anything for me like I wouldn’t have benefitted at all from it - and even if I did benefit from it - why did I care to benefit from it? I told them, at the time Mark Hunt and I were fighting, I think I was ranked tenth in the world and he was ranked ninth, title implications were not on the table. I let them know - I’m sure they weren’t aware: I get paid the same whether I win or lose, so I had no financial incentive and that was kind of my stalemate with them so at that point you have to come out of pocket for legal fees, I had to retain an attorney and then I had to send my products anything I became exposed to to a lab and you have to pay for that as the fighter. So I went though and tested and it took several months to come back finally and nothing is in them. Then they notified me more recently that ‘oh by the way that test in February - we didn’t necessarily test for it’ - which I thought was weird because the terminology they used in my kitchen was ‘the test came back negative’. But know you’re telling me you never used this test on that supplement anyway, that sample, you sent it to a different lab. I hear what you’re saying that that lab didn’t have it but that would have been some pretty vital information to have given me when you’re in my kitchen in April telling me what happened. Then I wouldn’t have just focussed so hard on just one period of my life and now I’m a year removed from even being notified of the test and I have to go back and try and open that door and now it could even be before February, well, it is before February so now I’m looking back at the months before that trying to figure out which supplements I’ve taken because at that point USADA was only a part of our organisation in July. So when I saw their thing about all the supplements you can’t take, at that point in my life I decided I’ll simplify it I’ll take a vitamin I’ll take some fish oil. For the most part there were just too many things in my cabinet over the years that people have sent me for free. My face is on television, as an athlete companies will send you things all the time and you know you assume that it’s ok but I’ve seen in many cases like Yoel Romero and Tim Means when they have taken supplements that someone else tainted because they want the supplements to perform very well and really because of the way the FDA is in the US there’s no repercussions to them to my knowledge it seems like that’s why they keep doing it because it seems to be just ‘close down shop, reopen another supplement company and just change the name and do it all over again’ - rinse and repeat, right? So now I’ve opened up even farther back, but at this point I’m a year from the last time I fought. Financially I’m not in a situation to keep fighting with an attorney - attorneys don’t work for free - and on top of that the money it costs to do the drug testing on the supplements. I would love to be able to do it and hopefully maybe someone will let me give them an IOU when I fight again but the labs don’t seem to want to work that way. They want to get paid up front so that’s left me in the situation I am at now which is extremely frustrating.
RT: Georges St. Pierre has set up the MMA Athletes Association, for some kind of fighter representation, some kind of safeguarding against this happening to other people.
FM: Well it makes if you're a football player or a soccer player or a hockey player and this happens, you have a union representative and they have lawyers and attorneys and people on staff to provide you with the resources to come to a conclusion. Right now, the UFC, they want us to all wear uniforms they want us to look like pro sports like basketball and football - but then don't have a union. Well, you can't have your cake and eat it too. If you want us to be on that level and bring in a third party testing facility like USADA. If something happens, Yoel [Romero] had to spend his own money; Tim Means has to spend his own money. We don't reimburse these guys for it, right. Well at least it's time served, we realize you didn't do this knowingly, but it was still in your system so. Frustration is probably the best word to describe this.
I got a call from a professional baseball player Chris Colabello. Same situation: it was in his system. His case sounds just as silly too because he reported to camp, he has a time frame where he has to report to camp, five days early knowing that he was going to be drug tested when he showed up. He showed up, walked through the door, took the drug test and they tell him he has these trace metabolites. And it’s happened several times in baseball, again the same things happen which is another thing that keeps raising these alarms is that all of us keep having these trace metabolites. All these different guys that never knew each other before, you drug test us - that would be like a cop pulling everyone over for DUI’s and everybody has the same alcohol level. I think if that happened five or six times someone would draw onto a question like ‘hey is the machine working right’? Because that just seems like a very odd set of coincidences that everybody happens to be at the same level. They’re all at different bars, they don’t know each other. Yes, they’ve been drinking but how is it all at the same level? He has a lot more resources than I do with the union. He first told me about the guy that invented the guy that invented the test - Grigory Rodchenkov [USADA used a testing method invented by former Moscow laboratory chief Grigory Rodchenkov, who is currently under investigation in Russia for manipulating doping tests - ed.] I started looking him up and I find out that he’s not really that great of a human being, he was himself a drug dealer, he did some very unscrupulous things, and then turned coat and tried to burn everybody else with him to save his own ass - I think he put his sister in jail for about a year and a half - and then runs to the US. How credible is this guy to begin with if he’s saving himself because he himself is dirty and they found out? It just makes everything go back to my original - it’s frustrating.
RT: USADA has a statute of limitation to test any sample over 10-year period. You had hormone replacement therapy from 2012 until its banning in 2014. How worrying is it for you that you could essentially be found guilty of having taken something when it was legal, that’s not legal now?
FM: Yeah and I haven’t gotten a straight answer on that. I don't know because at the time the Nevada Athletic Commission had given me a TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) and California had given me a TUE for the TRT (Testosterone Replacement Therapy) for the therapeutic use of testosterone treatment. But I’ve never had a TUE from USADA. Then they kind of make up the rules, it seems like, on their own. [UFC fighter Cris] Cyborg had an issue with being tested for something that she took from her doctor and they were able to retroactively give her a TUE. I thought that was interesting. It’s like, wait a minute isn't that breaking the rules? The rules you guys set for everybody to play with. Poor [UFC fighter Lyoto] Machida, he took a supplement over the counter, admitted to it like, ‘I messed up I didn't know that was on the list and he got an 18 month ban. So I'm like where is that even at all. Not to bash on Cyborg at all. She made a simple mistake and that seems like the right thing to do but then in the same situation with Machida taking a supplement, oh I made a mistake, notifying them right off the bat, because (it's such news were all news) within months of the testing procedures. Wouldn't he just get the same thing? Like, all right you made a mistake I'm glad you told us once again and then they do things like Lesnar gets to come back and fight only had to jump in the testing pool for less than I think 30 days but it wasn't’ the four months period they gave him originally. They gave him an exemption which proved to be bad for Mark Hunt - he had to fight a guy that was on stuff. It goes back to before. People talk about having a union. It makes sense. The fighters, individually, how do we stand up to anybody? If you’re fighting for the UFC and they call you up and say hey we have an amendment to the contract we want you to sign this because we're going to use your image for x, y or z. If you say no, they're going to fire you, they’ll release you. I’ve seen it happen. When the AKA (American Kickboxing Association) refused to sign the paperwork with the video games, they were going to get fired and released, and so they came back and they really quickly changed their tone. It seems like it would be advantageous to have somebody to stand as a group because as a group you’re not easily able to pick people off. You can't individually go and say ‘alright we’re going to do this this and this’. As an individual, what kind of power do you have? As a group you have much.
RT: Relating to other fighters’ and other athletes’ cases, how do you think your own case has been handled?
FM: I don’t really have too much knowledge on how the others have been handled. I wish I had a better idea of ‘when’, what area I could have really focussed on the supplements, especially when I had the financial resources after a fight to try to test things. They closed the door on me testing anything before February by telling me it was not an issue and then coming back and telling me it was an issue - that’s frustrating. But I feel like their thought process is ‘you’re cheating’. It’s like, no, you’re own website shows that there’s so many things out there that cause problems with testing that anyone can just walk into a local supplement store and purchase. So I think that there’s a lot of learning still from us on our part and trying to figure things out and I think that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of forgiveness. It seems like USADA has gone, people felt that maybe we were too lax in the past and no it seems like we are way over board to the other side of it to where guys, I think, and this is very much a US mentality, that I would rather let nine criminals free, but not take the chance of incriminating one innocent man. With USADA and their whole metabolites and trace metabolites could be coming from supplements we’re busting people that aren’t taking drugs. Chad Mendes took skin cream that had something in it that it shouldn’t have had. He wasn’t aware that it was going to cause a problem. He got a two-year ban. There’s guys that are obviously drug abusers and I have no problem with them going after those guys. But I don’t think there’s as many as you need to sustain their business model. I think financially they need to find a few innocents in there.
RT: Outside of fighting, we’ve talked about baseball, where doping is a serious issue. What do you think about other cases and other excuses such as contaminated meat?
FM: I even said that for a little bit. In fact even my wife teases me about the whole ‘kangaroo meat’. I’m like, well, I was told I didn’t have anything in my system prior to February. I was racking my brain trying to figure out what something new that I became exposed to. So I was like, well I’ve been in Australia, I was eating there and one of the guys there he mentioned to me on the phone that it’s kind of a dirty secret but we drug up some of the animals here because it produces more meat at a faster pace, it’s cheaper and the farmers can make more money in the long run. I thought, oh, that can get into your urine and I was told absolutely it happens with clenbuterol. Same thing, there was a drug that they would give the cattle to make sure that they juiced them up grew a lot of mass as fast as possible. They sell them and then when you ingest these, we’ve seen it in other pro sports where that became a problem. I’m like alright could this be my case. If they’d have told me that to begin with I would never have jumped to that conclusion. I never ate a kangaroo before February, so that’s no it, but it stuck in my mind pretty quickly before that. And so again it was just one of those things where if you travel a lot internationally like I do it’s scary about what you’re eating could be responsible for. I think a trace metabolite doesn’t mean you’re taking drugs. You might have been exposed to something but I think if you test somebody and you find the levels you have in your body didn’t come from meat, it came from you taking the drug. You would think that their science would be a little bit more accurate like that.
RT: Your original test on February 5 said you were clean. Then there was a further test on March 20. Do you think, given USADA’s ten-year statute of limitation, there is some room for manipulation on their part?
FM: Well I think USADA is definitely not going to be in the business of ever being wrong. Without a third party on their part to check and balance - even the police force have an internal investigation. The police have police who watch them. Who watches USADA? I understand they are, financially, they are paid by the UFC. If they make mistakes are they really going to go to their employer, the person who is purchasing their services and say ‘hey we screwed up on this one, prepare for the media backlash’. It’s probably not going to look very good by the time it comes to renew their contract.
RT: How clear have USADA been on what could have caused it, when it could have been caused?
FM: Oh they haven’t helped me out at all with that. That’s all been research on my part with the attorney that I have cross-referencing a lot with Chris Colabello. Because he can afford a little bit more than I can as far as having doctors testing and going to difference facilities.
RT: How much has it cost you?
FM: Right now, not including attorney fees, $30,000 about for testing. The attorney I think is about $18,000. That’s why I keep beating that drum. I’m sitting there and now I understand because when it first happened I had just fought, I had the resources to fight but I made quite a considerable amount more than other fighters. I can't imagine somebody who is fighting who makes 12 and 12, they pay their taxes, they pay their trainers, and they lose half their money right off the bat. I’m now told they gotta come out of pocket retaining an attorney and test - it’s impossible. There’s really financially no way to prove your innocence. You just can't. I mean, and I’m just finding that to be my problem now, going back past February I’m not in a position financially to keep the fight going.
RT: What first went through your head when you realised you could be found guilty of something you don't even know you’ve done?
FM: It drives me insane. I really would like to know. If right now, given the opportunity, said ‘ok you’re going to stick with a two-year ban but we’re going to be able to figure out how it happened - you’ll know’. Or, ‘we can never tell you how it happened but we’ll say it was a mistake and clear you of your ban’. I would take the two year suspension. I would rather know. At this point I want to know which supplement I took it's just one of those things for me just as a human being I first for knowledge. Not knowing something is kind of like you know that drives me insane. It’s like an itch that you can't scratch.
RT: What kind of impact has this had on the relationship with your employer - the UFC?
FM: I don’t know we haven’t spoken. I’ve made a few phone calls. In fact I got inducted into the Nevada Hall of Fame. I thought it would be a good idea to have Dana White be the guy to introduce me. A couple weeks out I kept making phone calls and finally I called his cell phone, called the secretary. Then I got a call back from Reed Harris, one of the vice presidents there, to let me know that Dana’s going to be out of town. I’m like, he couldn't even have called me and told me himself? So now I got the first MMA fighter ever to be in the Nevada Hall of Fame with the likes of Mike Tyson and Andre Agassi and I had no [one to introduce me].
RT: This has obviously had huge implications on your personal life, what on the implications has it had on your relationships with say Dana White or some of the people that were in your circle?
FM: Well it wasn't beneficial to say the least but then the UFC got sold so a lot of my friends don’t even work here anymore. They were released, quite a few of them.
RT: So what are you doing now?
FM: Right now I’m just doing commentating. I work with ACB (Absolute Championship Berkut), I’ll actually be in Vienna on 13th May working with their show again and I enjoy that very much. I get to travel a lot. I get along very well with the Chechnya guys. Everywhere we go it seems I get to see a lot of our fans, a more international presence which actually has motivated me. The UFC is not going to allow me to fight. I can’t go another year without fighting so, I’m not suspended by an athletic commission, I’m suspended by the UFC and so I’m thinking at this point there’s nothing more I can do testing wise so I’m hoping to have a meeting with [the UFC] and I’m sure that maybe they just let me go. I’m of no use to them and I would really like to fight internationally more. I know UFC is trying to make a presence more internationally but since the selling of their company they’ve gone the opposite directions. They’re doing less shows and they’re pulling back from their international aspects so shows like ACB, Fight Nights Global and Rizin. It’s always been kind of on the bucket list for me to fight in Japan. I watched the old Prides and was always really inspired by them. The whole setup was interesting. Maybe that is where I’ll go.
RT: You’ve had a fantastic career; you are a two-time former heavyweight champion and have been inducted into the Nevada Hall of Fame, but you’re 37, there might only be a few fights left, what position does this leave you in?
FM: I can't wait until February 8 I think for when my suspension will be up. I have a wife I have kids, financially I just can’t not take the opportunity that I have in my life right now that I can fight, the things that it does for my family. Eventually I’m only going to be a commentator I’m only going to be able to coach. These things are great but they don’t make the money that I make when I fight - I have to do that now, and so me sitting back and not doing it is taking away from them so it might be one of those things where I have to fight internationally and maybe not come back to the US.
RT: Directly relating to your case, given USADA’s powers that they now have, do you think they could find an athlete guilty if they did enough digging?
FM: Oh yeah, now with what I’m learning about these metabolites and testing. Use Yoel [Romero] as an example. They found out it was in a supplement. But he spent money to do that. They can go back now on any guy that’s been taking supplements on the last ten years and take a sample of his urine from ten years ago, find it in there. Even in a court of law, you have to give someone the ability, a platform to be able to defend themselves, that’s why we have statute of limitations on most of our crimes, except for murder, because knowing that I can basically accuse you of doing something twenty years after the fact, or in this case ten years after the fact - what are your resources for defending yourself? What is your ability to go back and go ‘no, this is what happened this is what was going on’? You would pretty much be left without any resources to defend. It would be one hell of a nightmare to be try to figure out what supplements you were taking ten years ago. Hell, I have a hard time remembering what I ate for breakfast! That’s pretty crazy for me to be able to do that. It’s one of those things that I wonder whether they’re going to implement because I think that the public opinion of them would not be very high. Paying out the fact that how are these guys even supposed to figure out what’s going on.
RT requested comment from USADA on the matters discussed in this article on Tuesday, but has not yet received a reply.