LAS VEGAS — The Nevada State Athletic Commission on Wednesday handed down a largely light punishment to retired UFC star Chael Sonnen.
Sonnen was suspended for two years with no fine. He is required to pay the costs of his drug testing program and for the costs (hotel, flight) of bringing in the NSAC laboratory expert. Sonnen also must work with the commission on educating other fighters under its jurisdiction.
The commission meeting, which Bleacher Report attended in person, took place at the Grant Sawyer government building. Sonnen arrived early, clad in a dark gray suit and green shirt with no tie. He was accompanied by his lawyer, Jeff Meyer, who also serves as Sonnen's manager. Sonnen was the final item on the commission's agenda, which also included a license application for top UFC middleweight contender Vitor Belfort.
Belfort's license was approved on a conditional basis, provided he accepts random drug testing and does not fight before December. Belfort must also fight in Nevada. He is scheduled to face Chris Weidman for the UFC Middleweight Championship on December 6 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Sonnen failed random drug tests on two separate occasions for human growth hormone, EPO, anastrozole and clomiphene. He retired from mixed martial arts shortly after the first failed results came back. After the second batch of failures, Sonnen was fired from his position with Fox Sports and removed from the UFC roster. His initial hearing in June was delayed until Wednesday's punishment hearing.
Sonnen's hearing opened up with the middleweight admitting, for the record, to guilt on all complaints from the commission. Sonnen's team also introduced prescriptions from his doctor for all drugs he failed for, as well as termination letters from both Fox Sports 1 and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
"All five drugs used by Mr. Sonnen are prohibited at all times, both in and out of competition. The fact that he did not enter in the Octagon and fight is no credit to him. It shows that Nevada's drug testing program is effective," Nevada Deputy Attorney General Christopher Eccles said. "Today is the day for him to take responsibility for his cheating and not to hide behind a bunch of excuses and misinformation. Today is the day for the commission to send a strong message. I think a great penalty is warranted here for the sake of the sport."
"I am guilty. I am ashamed," Sonnen said. "I don't have any attempt to put up a defense."
"Mr. Sonnen is not challenging any of the accusations in the first amended complaint," Meyer said. "He has come here today to accept responsibility."
Commissioner Pat Lundvall questioned Sonnen on why he was prescribed five different drugs, all considered performance-enhancing by nature, from three separate doctors. Lundvall wanted to know if Sonnen was obtaining the drugs in a legitimate manner, or if he was "shopping" for PEDs by visiting many different doctors.
"You are a very intelligent fighter. You are a very intelligent person," Lundvall said. "I am struggling to figure out if there was a legitimate reason to go to these doctors, or if you were shopping for drugs."
"No. I have never, ever shopped for drugs," Sonnen said. He then reiterated that he was guilty and said he hoped that his conversation with Lundvall and other commissioners would not veer from the notion that he was accepting full responsibility.
Meyer told the commission the prescriptions were submitted officially not to prove any sort of innocence, but simply to show that the drugs were obtained in a legitimate manner and not illegally.
Commissioner Anthony Marnell told Sonnen he appreciated him coming before the panel on Wednesday.
"You got a lot of guts being here today, and I appreciate it. I think down the road in life, you'll be happy you were here today. I know today is painful, but someday you'll be glad you were here."
Chairman Francisco Aguilar asked Sonnen if there was any way for the commission to improve its drug testing program, and Commissioner Lundvall asked Sonnen if he would be willing to help them educate others. Sonnen said he would.
Chris Eccles, the NSAC deputy attorney general, closed the evidential portion of the hearing by noting that it was unbelievable that Sonnen had no idea that the substances he was taking were on the prohibited substances list, because he was physically injecting himself with five different drugs. Eccles also recommended that the brazenness of Sonnen's cheating was deserving of a far stiffer penalty than the normal punishment; he recommended a two-year suspension.
Lundvall agreed with the two-year suspension, but Commissioner Marnell said he wanted a lifetime ban. "I don't want to say 'see you later,'" Marnell said. "I want to say 'don't come back.'" But Marnell, the newest member of the commission, noted he was probably alone in that line of thinking and would go along with his fellow commissioners' decision on punishment.
After the judgment was handed down, Sonnen accepted the punishment and thanked the commissioners.