The Rickety Old Shack

Josh Barnett Issued Public Reprimand In USADA Arbitration

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You would be forgiven if you'd thought Josh Barnett had been suspended by USADA over a year ago, and was just waiting out its duration before returning to MMA competition. That said, you would also be wrong. The UFC heavyweight has been very quiet, regarding a failed drug test administered by USADA in December of 2016.

Since that time, aside from a comment provided to MMA Junkie, in January, Barnett has pursued other projects and let the arbitration process unfold in private. The end result was a finding that Barnett was minimally responsible for the failed test, resulting from a tainted supplement, with the arbitrator stating that he had already been punished by the provisional suspension and would only be issued a public reprimand.

Barnett's position was unique, as every other fighter who failed anti-doping tests under the UFC / USADA regime has ended up either negotiating a settlement or receiving a full suspension under the program's guidelines. While of marginal benefit to Barnett — who lost 15 months of his career to the arbitation process — this finding may be important for other fighters who find themselves in a similar position. However, a few key points need to be highlighted, as they distinguish Barnett's case from others:

Right away, this is a clear contrast with the case of Jon Jones, who effectively did the exact opposite of what Josh Barnett did — even though both hinged their defence on a tainted supplement. So, before going any further, let's just banish any notion these findings will do anything to help Jon Jones — they won't, period. Future fighters, however, should learn from Barnett's diligence and act similarly. (Arbitrator Richard McLaren specifically described Barnett as "a very meticulous and careful person.")

Whether or not more fighters opt to shoulder the costs — both time and and money — of pursuing arbitration, Josh Barnett has at least laid down the blueprint for how to properly cover your bases. It's still an imperfect system, however, as professional fighting — especially at the very highest levels — is a career with a short window of opportunity. Losing a year, or more, even if it means walking away with no punishment, or a lesser penalty, is a calculation that yields different results depending on the fighter in question; not everyone can afford the expense of legal counsel and laboratory tests in addition to the time off.

Still, this is an interesting, important outcome for all UFC fighters under the supervision of USADA. Barnett was reprimanded for failing to initially disclose the problematic supplement on a doping control form, but that was the extent of his impropriety. I would argue USADA should at least consider issuing reprimands in future cases where a tainted supplement is proven to be the cause a test failure, and due diligence was observed. Josh Barnett obviously fought his suspension out of rational self-interest, but the result may benefit his peers greatly in the future.

—by Derek

Published: March 26th, 2018.