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UFC news: USADA clears Rob Font after investigation into cosmetics

May 25, 2023

UFC bantamweight contender Rob Font has been cleared by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency after an adverse drug testing result was caused by a prohibited substance.

The test, which was positive for 4-chloropenoxyacetic acid (4-CPA), stemmed from an in-competition urine sample collected May 22, the night Font (19-4 MMA, 9-3 UFC) defeated former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt by unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night 188.

According to Font's manager and head coach, Tyson Chartier, the positive test caught them off guard and sent the team into a frenzy. Having documented every product Font ate or used, Chartier said, the team compiled data and submitted a 35-page document to USADA that listed everything out.

Previously-prohibited, 4-CPA is a metabolite of meclofenoxate, a USADA-prohibited stimulant. As a result of a study in January 2021, the World Anti-Doping Agency recently determined a threshold of 1,000 ng/ml 4-CPA. The thought was that 4-CPA could be found only in the system as a result of meclofenoxate.

Upon further investigation and study of similar positive tests among athletes in recent months, USADA identified chlorphenesin, a non-prohibited cosmetic preservative that is commonly found in shampoos and lotions, was used in many of the cases.

Further studies between USADA and four WADA-accredited laboratories determined chlorphenesin can also metabolize into 4-CPA. In other words, 4-CPA can stem from substances other than the prohibited meclofenoxate.

It was the determination of USADA, and the contention of Font's team, that cosmetic products used during fight week were to blame for the positive test. When the team of scientists applied sunscreen to themselves, urine samples contained a 4-CPA level of 1,400 ng/ml after just one use.

As a result of the findings and meclofenoxate not being present in any tests, USADA cleared Font of any wrongdoing since the positive test stemmed from an allowed substance.

"Based on the foregoing (evidence), USADA is satisfied that product(s) you were using (prior to your sample collection) which contained chlorphenesin as an ingredient was the cause of your positive test," USADA wrote in a letter to Font. "Therefore, because USADA has concluded that your positive test was caused by a non-prohibited substance, the matter will be closed out as no violation."

While Font is off the hook with USADA, the Nevada Athletic Commission has yet to lift its temporary suspension on Font. The commission awaits approval from Sports Medicine Research and Technology Laboratory (SMRTL), the lab it uses for its drug tests.

Although the potential for Font to be removed from Tuesday's monthly NAC meeting was there, Chartier elected to be transparent with the public about what happened in an effort to convey no wrongdoing. Chartier added he hopes the case can serve as an example so rules can be changed across anti-doping efforts universally.

"We now just need to be patient and let the Nevada State Athletic Commission do their due diligence moving forward," Chartier said in a Friday statement. "NSAC has all of the above facts in this case, but has not yet closed it out. As with any athlete in an open case, Rob will serve a temporary suspension until the case is closed. As we have all along in this process, we will cooperate in every way, shape and form with them. Our expectation is that once the testing methodology is put forth and implemented by SMRTL, Rob will be cleared by NSAC and his suspension will be lifted."

In a statement given to MMA Junkie on Friday, UFC senior vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky criticized WADA for the "flat out wrong" study it used to create the threshold.

"This is a true ‘false positive’ case," Novitzky said. "And the blame lays squarely on the shoulders of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Their scientists put forth guidelines to their accredited laboratories that were flat out wrong. We know definitively that the use of an allowed substance, chlorphenesin, commonly found in cosmetics, can result in 4-CPA levels well in excess of 1,000 ng/ml. I’m very happy that USADA was able to resolve Rob's case quickly, but I’m very disappointed that WADA has let down clean athletes with a lack of care in instituting flawed scientific guidelines, that as of today, still have not been rescinded. WADA needs to act immediately."

A full copy of Chartier's statement, as well as USADA's clearance letter, can be read here.

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