Middleweight contender Chael Sonnen tested positive for abnormally high levels of testosterone following an Aug. 7 UFC championship fight against titleholder Anderson Silva, the California State Athletic Commission informed SI.com on Monday.
Sonnen, 33, of West Linn, Ore., was apparently concerned enough about the possibility that he would render a positive test that he told CSAC executive director George Dodd he used an illegal substance leading up to the biggest fight of his life.
"He only indicated that he was taking it but he never indicated why," Dodd said of a conversation he and Sonnen shared during drug testing conducted by the state a day prior to the fight in Oakland.
Sonnen "just let me know he was taking [something] and that's when I called over an inspector to get it documented. But when you do take it you still have to show a medical reason."
According to Dodd, Sonnen wrote on a pre-fight drug screening form that he used "testosterone." Sonnen also indicated the manner in which he ingested the drug, though Dodd declined to answer whether that was in pill or injectable form.
Despite making the CSAC aware that he'd taken a banned substance, the commission could not prevent Sonnen from competing because of Rule 303 C in its regulations.
"A positive test which has been confirmed by a laboratory utilized by the commission ... shall be used as conclusive evidence of a violation of the subsection," Dodd said. "We have to have confirmation from a labratory before we can say 'yay' or 'nay.'
"Remember, we don't know what levels or anything else he was going to be tested for when the results came back. What happens if they were at normal levels? If his levels were normal, and you actually didn't have a reason why, then we actually stopped somebody from earning a living. Health and safety is our No. 1 priority but you have to weigh everything. And our rules do say you have to have confirmation from a laboratory.
"It was just a weird situation. But you follow what your rules and guidelines tell you to do, and that's what they told us to do."
As reported by Sherdog.com over the weekend, Sonnen was notified Friday of his positive test. The CSAC first received results on Sept. 2 and waited for confirmation of a second sample tested at the World Anti-Doping Agency affiliated UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory before informing Sonnen.
Per CSAC guidelines, Sonnen has 30 days to file an appeal with the state. On Tuesday, MMAFighting.com quoted Sonnen's manager Mike Roberts as saying the fighter would file a formal appeal with California. The next CSAC commission meeting is scheduled for Dec. 2 in Sacramento, Calif. If Sonnen does not file an appeal, he will be subject to an automatic one-year suspension and $2,500 fine.
Though Sonnen mentioned using testosterone, the veteran mixed martial artist failed to note it on a pre-fight questionnaire with commission doctors or provide documentation about the use of testosterone in a medical context, according to Dodd.
"Whenever you're taking an enhancing drug you have to let the commission know prior to even taking the test that you're taking, and what the medical reasons are why you're taking the drug," Dodd said. "That way we can verify with our commission doctors that the reason you're taking that is the reason you should be on that type of drug. You can't just come in and say, 'Hey, I'm taking this,' and think that's going to get you off."
The eight-year MMA veteran received an immense amount of press leading up to his fight against Silva because of his willingness to make outlandish comments, including several regarded as controversial. Speaking of American cyclist Lance Armstrong, Sonnen suggested Armstrong's bout against testicular cancer was a direct result of his cheating and using illegal drugs. Armstrong has fought off numerous allegations that he used banned performance-enhancing drugs, and has not yet yielded a positive test.
The fight between Silva and Sonnen (24-11-1) on Aug. 7 was one of the year's best. Sonnen dominated Silva, a pound-for-pound top-ranked fighter and MMA's No. 1 middleweight since 2006, over the course of four rounds. Sonnen appeared well on his way to taking the UFC title when Silva stunned the wrestler, who competed collegiately at the University of Oregon, with a triangle choke submission at 3:10 of Round 5. Because of Sonnen's ability to sell a fight that turned out to be extremely competitive, Silva-Sonnen captivated not only close watchers of mixed martial arts but casual viewers as well. UFC officials planned to capitalize off the middleweights' initial encounter by scheduling an immediate rematch for Feb. 6 in Las Vegas. That bout is now in jeopardy.
Sonnen has not responded to repeated requests for comment by SI.com. He is expected to make his first public statements Thursday on ESPN2's "MMA Live."