Josh Barnett “Not A Drug Cheat” Per Arbitrator, USADA Case Over

UFC heavyweight Josh Barnett
Josh Barnett Credit: Dave Mandel/

Former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett has a weight off his shoulders today, as an independent arbitrator has ruled he did not intentionally take a banned substance that led to a drug test failure under the UFC’s Anti-Doping Policy, run by USADA.

On Friday, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency along with the UFC released the results of Josh Barnett’s arbitration case. Barnett, a former UFC heavyweight champion with previous failures for performance enhancing drugs, was looking at a hefty fine or suspension. However, impressive due diligence and record keeping on the heavyweight’s part has turned him into one of the few fighters more or less exonerated after failing a test under the USADA regime.

Barnett’s violation of the UFC’s Anti-Doping Policy stems from an out-of-competition drug test administered in December 2016. The urine sample provided by Barnett would later test positive for Ostarine, a prohibited substance under the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) code which USADA employs. Ostarine has come up more than once in tainted supplement cases, and in the end, it was determined that a tainted supplement was indeed at fault here.

What’s unique about Barnett’s case, however, is the ultimate outcome: no fine, no suspension, and simply a public reprimand for accidentally ingesting a banned substance. Ostarine was never listed on any of the supplements Barnett was using at the time. However, due to a drug test failure under the CSAC in 2009, which Barnett believed to be a tainted supplement at the time, he had begun meticulously cataloging each and every supplement he used. He also kept samples of each for future testing. It was brilliant foresight in the end. “In my experience as an arbitrator of hundreds of doping cases,” said Richard H. McLaren, who heard the case between USADA and Barnett, “I have never heard testimony from an individual who has taken so much care to record his supplement regime in order to avoid the very problem he is now experiencing.”

Ultimately, McLaren determined that “on the evidence presented before me, the Applicant [Barnett] is not a drug cheat.” He also ruled that as Barnett’s 2009 failure under the CSAC was not up to modern standards (including the lack of a B sample), the 2016 incident was considered a first offense under USADA’s UFC Anti-Doping Policy. Though noting that Barnett’s conduct does warrant a reprimand (athletes under USADA are responsible for all substances that go into their body, whether taken intentionally or not), Barnett’s punishment ends there.

That means Barnett is free to return to active competition, if he chooses. It’s an interesting case, and whether other fighters begin going the extra mile as ‘The Warmaster’ did remains to be seen.

You can read the arbitrator’s decision in full here.