Jessica Penne’s fighting days could be over and she’s placing much of the blame on the USADA.
On Friday, the veteran strawweight released a lengthy statement on Instagram detailing her battle with the UFC’s official drug testing partner and how sanctions have kept her out of the cage and are likely to continue to do so for the next several years.
Penne, 36, was flagged by the USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) in March 2017 after failing an out-of-competition drug test for the anabolic agent dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). She received an 18-month suspension for that infraction, avoiding a two-year penalty after explaining that she was using a substance approved by a physician that contained the steroid.
According to this update, Penne is now facing further sanctions for a more recent series of tests that could result in a four-year suspension due to this being her second USADA violation.
“I am heartbroken and defeated,” Penne wrote. “USADA has effectively bullied and forced me into retiring from MMA.”
Penne goes on to say that following her first violation, she continued to be tested and with no positive results being detected. She claims to have gone “broke” during her suspension and that she had to take odd jobs to make ends meet. A scheduled return for a Feb. 17, 2019, UFC on ESPN show was then spoiled when Penne injured her ankle on fight day.
Officials booked Penne for another fight in April, but she was again forced to withdraw, this time due to what Penne describes as “an extremely low level of stanozolol” being found in her system. The USADA no longer publicly announces fighters’ test failures until it has finished investigating a case.
Stanozolol is an anabolic steroid banned at all times for athletes in the UFC.
“My heart sank,” Penne wrote of the second positive test. “After everything I had gone through by complying and staying quiet just to get my shot back, this happened. I had been tested so many times and had even tested clean days before this actual test was given.
“I knew this had to be a mistake or some form of contamination. What we thought was going to be an easy determination of cause turned out to be an emotional roller coaster and ended in disaster.”
Penne, 36, estimates that she spent “thousands” to test her medications and supplements and that a lab in California actually found one of her supplements contained the banned substance in question. However, Penne says that after the USADA conducted their own testing using “new samples,” they determined that Penne was again in violation of the UFC anti-doping policy, which means she could potentially receive a four-year suspension.
“At my age there is no way I can come back in four years,” Penne wrote. “At this point I am lost and defeated.”
MMA Fighting reached out to the USADA and was told that the agency is currently working on the situation and expects to release its own statement soon.
On the promotional side, Penne said that UFC senior vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky and UFC vice president of athlete and performance Donna Marcolini have supported her from the beginning and that they have worked with her to try and prove her innocence.
MMA Fighting has also reached out to UFC officials for a statement.
Penne’s manager Brian Butler offered his own reaction on social media, which can be read below:
“It is disgraceful what is happening to Jessica Penne by USADA. We are all for a clean sport but the system has flaws obviously and they need to be addressed. We have had the support of the UFC team and they have been behind us nonstop to prove our case but it seems that common sense and human decency is not black and white.”
Until an official statement is released by the USADA, it is not known whether Penne will receive the maximum four-year suspension nor whether she will attempt to return to competition or perhaps fight overseas should that be the sanction that is handed down.
As it stands, Penne is maintaining her innocence and refusing to sign any documents that would indicate she is accepting a suspension.
“I have fought this with everything I have and Donna and Jeff have exhausted every resource they have to prove my innocence,” Penne wrote. “USADA is now acting like the ‘High Sparrows’ in Game of Thrones and operating in a capacity where they feel untouchable and know 90 percent of the athletes can’t afford to properly defend themselves.
“As a final insult to all of this, [the USADA has] requested that I sign a letter agreeing to their career-ending terms and sanctions against me. I am here today to tell you that my management team and I did NOT and will not ever sign this sanction they are imposing. I AM INNOCENT! I don’t know where I go from here.”
With additional reporting by Damon Martin