On April 22, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced a formal sanction of UFC heavyweight Walt Harris (12-7, 1 NC) for a failed drug test stemming from an in-competition sample at UFC 232. Harris tested positive for LGD-4033, a selective androgen receptor modulator (SARM), that commonly goes by the name of Ligandrol.
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Walt Harris, 35, was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing by USADA. He spoke to The Body Lock about what happened and his plan for future legal action.
“Basically, what happened was, I passed every test for USADA. I think I was tested three times during fight camp, and I passed all my tests no problem,” Harris told The Body Lock. “But, apparently, when I took the test for [the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association,] VADA, something showed up in my “B” sample.”
Harris was preparing to face former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski at UFC 232, which hastily took place in Los Angeles, California, following a USADA/Nevada State Athletic Commission snafu involving UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
As such, the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) was involved in the pre-fight processes, one of which involved VADA testing.
Walt Harris, who had never tested positive for a banned substance before, was shocked to find an adverse finding in one of his samples.
“I had to go back through and try to figure out what I did different from the time USADA left to VADA, and what it was was I started taking a new supplement; a new testosterone booster. I was under the guise that it was, you know, a natural supplement and, you know, nothing was in it. I did my research on it,” said Harris.
“Nothing on the label was bad, or whatever, and so I took it, and they said it came back with something called SARMs – I had never heard of [SARMs] before – was in it. Anyway, I turned all the evidence into VADA and USADA because they had to do follow-up research on it to make sure what I was saying was true.”
Harris spoke highly of the review process, commending the UFC Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance, Jeff Novitzky, and others for their help and trust throughout the process.
“I did my due diligence to make sure I followed all the protocol they needed me to follow. I turned in every bit of evidence; receipts, like, whatever they needed, I’d get it. I made sure that I wanted to have my name cleared, and I wanted the people in charge to understand that I did nothing wrong.”
Several months later, USADA had reached that conclusion. However, Walt Harris still received a four-month suspension, retroactive to his December 29 testing failure date.
“They all agreed that I didn’t [do anything wrong], but they had to give me some type of punishment because I did ingest it. I knowingly took a supplement, but I didn’t know that it was, you know, proper, or whatever. With that said, I did all that. They felt like that was enough; I served my sentence, and I got to fight Saturday night.”
Though Harris has nothing but good things to say about the UFC and USADA throughout the process, he does harbor some frustration against the supplement company that caused him to unknowingly ingest a banned substance.
“My thing is now taking legal action because the company sold a product that they knew was not good, you know? They had to know. It’s not fair to fighters that we go through all this stuff to try to get ready for fights – to have to make sure we’re doing the right things and putting the right things in our body – and then you fool us with the label, you know what I mean?
Like, it’s not right. So, I’m taking legal action to have my name cleared. I don’t care about winning a bunch of money or anything like that, I just want my name cleared and I want this company to stand up and say, ‘Hey, we made a mistake. We apologize;” whatever, and have my name cleared ’cause I’ve always prided myself on being a clean fighter. I’ve never failed a test for USADA or anybody, in my whole career,” said Harris.
Even though Harris says this isn’t about the money, he did lose a significant amount of it dealing with the fallout of this failed drug test.
“Oh, it’s cost me thousands, bro. I had to pay thousands in fines to California; I had to pay thousands in fines to VADA. I had to pay for VADA to come; to be in the VADA testing pool. Like, I’ve had to spend so much money just to get myself in a position to where I can earn my living, you know what I mean?”
“I feel like it’s not fair that this company doesn’t have some kind of repercussions upon them. Like I said, it’s not about the money. I feel like I would do whatever it takes to make sure they understand that I did nothing wrong. I’m gonna do my due diligence to make sure this company has to answer to somebody, for sure.”
With all that’s happened since December: failing a drug test, paying thousands of dollars in fines, trying to clear his name, being unable to fight, and more, Walt Harris says it’s his legacy he wants to be protected.
“I don’t want this as a stain on my career; I don’t want anybody to look at it and go, ‘Oh, he’s cheating.’ That’s not who I am.”
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.