Oh, Florida. Is there any state more consistently baffling?
American Top Team star and reigning Titan FC champion Juan “Leadfeather” Puerta was barred from entering the ring for his belt defense match against Gustavo Balart on March 15, pulled off the card minutes before his entrance by the Florida State Boxing Commission. The reason? CBD gummies–advertised and used by fighters across the world for managing inflammation and anxiety–that may have been tainted with THC, according to MMA Fighting.
Puerta, who last fought in December 2018 and won his title by d’arce choke, was shocked to learn he had tested positive for THC at the Ft. Lauderale, Florida, Titan Fight Night 54 as it streamed live on Fight Pass. Puerta states he was given a urine test 60 minutes before his matchup by the FSBC, and those results apparently came back fast. Titan FC honcho Lex McMahon told MMA Fighting the commission canceled Puerta’s championship match in the fourth round of the co-main event which preceded it.
Titan FC was forced to announce live that the match attendees and streaming viewers paid to see would not be happening…and was visibly unhappy with having to do so:
The cancellation is a move which disturbed Titan FC, Puerta, and most athletes in general. THC, while still an illegal substance in some states, is not a performance enhancing substance. (For many people it’s exactly the opposite.) Neither is its sibling, the non-psychoactive compound CBD or cannabidiol, which was the medicinal substance Puerta believed he was taking when he popped a few CBD gummies earlier in the week to deal with pre-fight anxiety and inflammation.
“It’s not like I’m taking performance-enhancing drugs,” Puerta told MMA Fighting. “Some people just have a lot of anxiety. I have a lot of anxiety before my fights. Bottom line, you’re getting locked in a cage with somebody who is trying to kill you or rip your head off. I just wanted to relax Monday and Tuesday while I’m cutting weight after I just finished a grueling, seven-week camp.”
Puerta isn’t the only athlete who reaches for CBD medicinally. Gordon Ryan, Frank Mir, Joe Rogan, Chris Camozzi, Gina Mazany, Randy Nantz, and numerous NFL and NBA names have touted the hemp-derived medicinal. Nate Diaz famously showed up to as 2016 press event with Conor McGregor vaping CBD oil on camera and touting its medical benefits for reporters.
Despite growing tolerance for cannabinoids in sports and the medical world at large, CBD and THC both remain on the FSBC’s list of “zero tolerance” substances. This is in part due to the US Anti-Doping Agency’s contentious stance on marijuana. The World Anti-Doping Agency, however, has acknowledged that athletes can benefit from the use of cannabinoids during training and non-competition periods, and has set the in-competition urinary threshold for Carboxy-THC at 150 ng/ml. to allow for athletes to discontinue use prior to competition without being penalized.
Puerta was not tested for urinary threshold levels at all. He was instead given a rudimentary “positive” or not positive” test which did not indicate how much THC may have been in his system at the time of the fight.
While experts and athletes alike agree that cannabinoids are nothing like banned stimulants or steroids, concern has remained that their pain and inflammation reducing effects may put fighters at risk by allowing them to take more damage in the cage than they normally would.
“I’d say the overwhelming majority of our fighters use [cannabinoids],” Jeff Novitzky, UFC VP, told CTV News back in October 2018. “[Fighters] express to me that they get great benefits from it.” Novitzky went on to mention recent search which suggests high-dose CBD can help with traumatic brain injury and the phenomenon of “punch drunkness” fighters develop when used within a specific therapeutic window after injury.
There is no debate over the fight world’s current stance on THC in drug tests. It’s not allowed. But the whole Titan incident does bring into question how the FSBC handled Puerta’s positive drug test, especially in light of fighters like UFC star Jon Jones being allowed to compete despite multiple drug tests which remain positive for actual performance enhancing substances.
“It’s an unfortunate thing,” Titan’s McMahon said. “At the end of the day, the fans lost what was going to be an amazing fight. Gustavo Balart had an opportunity to become a champion. Puerta had the opportunity to defend his belt. Everybody loses. Nobody wins with this thing. At the end of the day, it’s pot. It’s not a performance-enhancing drug. Commissions across the country have been dealing with this issue. Some of the more aggressive commissions have [increased] their tolerances.
For Florida to take the position they did is very frustrating for me. I work with them, obviously, day in and day out. I think that they generally do a great job. I appreciate them. But I think they got this one wrong. I think it has a profound affect on a lot of different people. It’s truly unfortunate.”
Puerta’s payment for the fight was withheld as a result of the FSBC ruling. Balart was still paid.
Puerta is distressed about the test, lamenting that he trusted the CBD gummis were safe so close to the fight.
“I messed it up for a lot of people. I messed it up for myself, I messed it up for Lex and Titan FC. I messed it up for everyone. UFC Fight Pass, UFC. I don’t know where my career will go after this. I want to apologize to Titan, UFC and UFC Fight Pass and everyone else who came out to watch. I feel like I was the top flyweight prospect heading into this fight. You kind of just make some bad choices and it goes downhill.”