Nebraska toughens anti-doping rules for MMA and boxing bouts

Dakota Cochrane (right) practices his boxing skills. (Photo: Bill Kelly, NET News)
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July 28, 2016 - 6:45am

Mixed Martial Arts and boxing have rigorous new anti-drug regulations for professional and amateur competitors in Nebraska.


FIGHT NIGHT

Highlights of an 2010 MMA competition in Lincoln.

Among other changes, random drug testing is now allowed before any bout and in cases where an official believes there is “reasonable cause” to justify tests for banned substances. The state’s athletic commissioner has the power to order tests for all the competitors in any championship contest held in the state.

The new rules produced by the Nebraska Athletic Commission are designed to ferret out users of performance-enhancing drugs. The commission put them into place without fanfare just as controversy erupted over the issue in advance of the Olympics. The problem has also rocked the biggest promoters of professional mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts this year.

(Download a copy of the Nebraska Athletic Commission regulations here)

The commission’s acting director, Aaron Hendry, initiated a complete rewrite of the rules to protect the integrity of the “combat sports” competitions in Nebraska.

“MMA is huge,” Hendry said. “It’s the most popular combat sport, not only in Nebraska but across the country.” It’s also big business. The largest promoter of events, the UFC, was recently sold for $4 billion dollars.

Heading off the use of performance enhancing drugs is also a safety issue for the fighters.

“It definitely makes the athletes safer,” according to Brian Dunn, the deputy athletic commissioner. “If one competitor is taking performance-enhancing drugs and the other isn’t, it is definitely a safety issue for the competitor who isn’t.”

Rather than putting a fixed list of substances into the state regulations, the new rules rely on a constantly updated register of banned drugs issued by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). It’s the same list guiding Olympic athletes and many professional sports leagues.

In Nebraska, “the most common stuff is what is most easily obtainable” for abuse according to Dunn.

“You’re talking about your testosterone, your anabolic steroids. That gives a strength advantage. The anabolic steroids can make guys faster, last longer,” Dunn said.

The rules also increase the severity of the penalties for both amateurs and professionals.

“For a first offense you can be suspended up to a year,” Hendry said. For a second offense, an MMA competitor could be banned from the ring for up to three years.

“A third offense can be up to a lifetime ban,” he added.

Welterweight MMA fighter Dakota Cochrane trains.

Coaches at Premier Combat Sports in Omaha critique practice for local fighters. (Photos by Bill Kelly, NET News)

The commission can also take away any money a fighter earns in bouts tainted by drug use. A third offense could cost a competitor up to 100 percent of the purse won.

“That could be a very substantial amount,” Hendry said, “so that’s why we think it provides a true disincentive” for competitors to use any of the banned substances.

No one showed up to testify at the July public hearing to give those affected an opportunity to object or suggest changes in the new rules. Many involved in the sport think the tougher standards are overdue both locally and nationally.

Dakota Cochrane, an Omaha-based welterweight, is a seven-year veteran of bouts in regional and national competitions.

“My last fight in Omaha I got drug tested, which I am all for,” Cochrane said. “I love that they are starting to test the smaller promotions and not just the UFC.”

“I think that will really balance the sport overall,” he added.

Cochrane says he’s faced off with bulked-up opponents showing signs of illegal drug use.

“After the fight you notice things (indicating) that guy must have been on something,” Dunn said. “I just want it to be equal all the way around so I love the drug testing.”

His trainer, Ryan Jensen, agrees. He says “to make the sport grow as a professional sport and make us be legitimate” a serious anti-doping policy is necessary.

Jensen believes the tougher rules is good news for fans of the sport since it may make the state more attractive to promoters of national level championship bouts.

“For Nebraska to bring in those big shows, they have to abide by…rules and regulations” used by the major sports organizations.

There are other changes in the state’s combat sports rules designed to protect the safety of athletes.

The regulations now require “diagnostic blood tests showing negative test results for the hepatitis B virus, the hepatitis C virus, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), an annual physical examination, and an eye examination.”

Brian Dunn and Aaron Hendry of the Nebraska Athletic Commission.

No one opposed to the new anti-doping rules appeared at the Nebraska Athletic Commissions's public hearing. (Photos by Bill Kelly, NET News)

That’s a positive step according to Cochrane.

“I think that’s extremely important,” he said. “If they wanted to test for that every fight, I think that would be good.”

Deputy Commissioner Dunn believes “most competitors don’t think about the dangers of the sport, be it blood-borne illness” and other risks in the ring.

“We look out for them in that respect.”

For mixed martial arts, there are still rules regulating how fighters can hit, slam, and do damage to their opponent. It remains a brutal sport.

Jensen reminds the fighters he coaches that “there is no kicking in the head on the ground. The eye gouging, the hitting in the nuts (remain illegal). There’s no spiking on the back.

“Just the basic rules for safety of combat sports,” Jensen says smiling, adding there is plenty of contact to assure it’s still a fight.

Jensen points out regulating the chaos of MMA brought on big changes in what often wild-eyed audiences see in the hexagon-shaped cage.

“Back in the day it was called cockfighting. Human cockfighting!” he says shaking his head. “So things have changed.”

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