Jessica Penne Accepts 20-Month Sanction from USADA

Jessica Penne UFC
Jessica Penne Credit: Michal Biel/

Weeks ago, Jessica Penne railed against a potentially career-ending suspension imposed by USADA. On Friday, a press release announced that the UFC strawweight had accepted a 20-month sanction, following her second positive drug test under the UFC’s Anti-Doping Policy.

It’s about as good an outcome as Penne could have hoped for. Initially, Penne (12-5), a former strawweight title challenger, was looking at a four-year ban. At 37 years old, that would have been a death sentence for her career.

Penne tested positive for stanozolol metabolites in an out-of-competition drug test administered on April 8, 2019. The substance, an anabolic steroid, is banned at all times under the UFC’s Anti-Doping Policy. Penne would later have her supplements independently tested, isolating a potential culprit. However, in an Instagram post, Penne revealed to fans that USADA (the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which oversees the UFC’s drug testing program) ignored those findings.

Instead, the agency pressured Penne to hand over information on other fighters who might potentially be doping.

The incident was Penne’s second under USADA. The first led to an 18-month ban.

What’s interesting in this case is that had Penne not gone public, she may have faced a longer ban. In Friday’s press release, USADA notes that they “determined that a reduction to the otherwise applicable period of ineligibility was appropriate in this case due to the totality of circumstances, including the complexity of issues, as well as Penne’s participation in discussions with USADA following her initial public comments in January.”

Additionally, “USADA did not pursue an enhanced sanction for a second violation because USADA determined that Penne was not intending to cheat when she committed her first violation, as her use of the prohibited anabolic agent dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in a dietary supplement was based upon the recommendation of her physician related to a medical issue.”

USADA’s press release does indicate that “the initial results from the third-party lab [employed by Penne] did not adequately establish a source of the positive test due to the lab’s testing protocol.” In other words, their protocols and procedures were not up to USADA standards — although it does not necessarily eliminate the possibility of a contaminated supplement.

In any case, Penne’s 20-month suspension will be back-dated to April 2019. That means she still has over a year on the sidelines left to serve — but that’s still a better outcome for the fighter than four years.