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Doping agency clears Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino for immediate return to UFC action

Cris "Cyborg" Justino weighs in for UFC 198 on May 13 in Curitiba, Brazil.
Cris “Cyborg” Justino weighs in for UFC 198 on May 13 in Curitiba, Brazil.
(Buda Mendes / Getty Images)

Dominant UFC women’s featherweight fighter Cris “Cyborg” Justino skirted a possibly lengthy suspension Friday when a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency committee announced it has granted her a retroactive exemption after she used a banned diuretic for medical reasons.

“I am extremely happy,” the Southland-trained Brazilian Justino said in a statement Friday after her application for the so-called therapeutic use exemption (TUE) was granted. “I look forward to returning to the octagon as soon as possible and proving that I am still the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.”

UFC President Dana White said the decision moves Justino (16-1) to the front of the line to meet Germaine De Randamie (7-3), who became the first UFC women’s featherweight champion Saturday night in New York by defeating Holly Holm by unanimous decision.

“It’s a great day,” White said. “The fight everyone wants to see now is Germaine and Cyborg, that’ll be a great thing.”

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Jeff Novitzky, the UFC’s vice president of athlete health and performance, said the episode underlined both the fairness of the due-process avenues available to UFC athletes and the importance for other UFC athletes to seek a TUE before taking a substance like Justino’s, which is on the banned list for its performance-enhancing effects.

Justino, who has claimed she’s suffered through weight-cutting trials in the past, told the USADA that the substance she took in this case was used to treat polycystic ovarian syndrome.

“[USADA] took an objective look at it and their conclusion was she checked all the boxes,” Novitzky said. “She had an objective, measurable medical condition and she had exhausted other medical treatments for that condition that were within the rules. This substance treats that condition and would not provide her a performance-enhancing effect by using it.”

Justino balked at fights offered against Holm and De Randamie late last year. Then, after submitting a sample that tested positive for the banned diuretic spironolactone on Dec. 5, she was replaced in the UFC 208 main event.

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On Dec. 14, the UFC announced the formation of the new women’s featherweight division with the De Randamie-Holm bout, and eight days later Justino’s positive test result was revealed.

But then last week, Novitzky revealed encouraging developments to Justino’s application for the TUE.

The World Anti-Doping Agency Code stipulates that if an athlete is using spironolactone for polycystic ovarian syndrome, as Justino contends she had done, a TUE will be granted if the athlete can prove irregular menstrual cycles, unwanted male-pattern hair growth and/or measurable ovarian cysts via ultrasound.

Justino was cleared after meeting at least two of those standards.

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In a statement Friday, a USADA official wrote, “In the case of Justino, the application for a TUE was granted because the athlete had an unequivocally diagnosed chronic medical condition for which the use of spironolactone is the appropriate standard of care.

“Further, it was determined that the athlete and her medical team pursued and exhausted all nonprohibited alternatives, and that the low dose of the medication is consistent with best medical practice to treat her condition and would return the athlete to a normal state of health without providing a performance-enhancing benefit.

“Because Justino’s TUE application was granted retroactively, her provisional suspension has been lifted with immediate effect and her positive test will not result in anti-doping policy violation.

“However, as a condition of the TUE approval, Justino will be required to continue to carefully document her medical care and must apply for a TUE renewal in advance of TUE expiry should she wish to maintain compliance with the UFC Anti-Doping Policy.”

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Novitzky said that missing a fight date and enduring the stress of her suspension was significant punishment for Justino for not informing the UFC and USADA of her diuretic use. Justino tested positive for a steroid earlier this decade and might’ve faced a multiyear suspension if dinged again.

“These last two months were some of the most stressful of her life, I know that for a fact,” Novitzky said. “It would’ve been a hell of a lot easier for her to apply for the TUE [in advance], so hopefully other UFC athletes look at this and learn from that one mistake she made to take care of things ahead of time instead of taking a risk.”

Justino attended De Randamie’s victory at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, saying afterward that she was optimistic about her chances in a title fight.

Some suggested that De Randamie, a kickboxer from the Netherlands, was trying to delay a date with Justino by announcing immediately after the fight that she had torn ligaments ion her hand that would require surgical repair.

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Results on examinations of De Randamie are expected at any time.

“Cyborg has been around for a long time and we’ve known what a nasty fighter she is,” White said. “[Until now,] I didn’t want to build the 145-pound division because I didn’t think it was deep enough. Now, it’s been a while and we are looking at, and signing, other 145-pounders.”

He stopped short of predicting Justino’s return would motivate Ronda Rousey to return for a fight that has been long discussed and debated.

“Ronda’s going to do what she’s going to do,” White said. “If Ronda’s going to continue to fight or retire, I don’t think Cyborg will have anything to do with that decision one way or another.”

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Still, White took joy in celebrating both the clearing of Justino and the return of another UFC pay-per-view headliner, former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, within a 24-hour period.

White also said that if De Randamie is sidelined for an extended period, Justino, 31, who hasn’t lost a fight since her 2005 mixed martial arts debut, will not fight in her former Invicta organization.

“She’s fighting in the UFC, period. End of story,” White said.


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