To make a long story short, no, King Mo and KJ Noons were not cheating by inhaling compressed oxygen at Strikeforce “Houston.” Texas gave them authorization, but that doesn’t mean every state would have.
According to the Texas Department of Licensing & Regulation’s Public Information Officer, Susan Stanford, both King Mo and KJ Noons were given approval by the ringside physician to use the portable oxygen cans prior to the start of their bouts.
And while many have suggested Lawal and Noons could have gained an unfair advantage with the breathing aid, Stanford said oxygen is not prohibited by the commission (Combative Sports Program statutes do not specifically address the use of oxygen; Stanford said banned substances include Monsel’s solution, silver nitrate, ammonium capsules and smelling salts).
“It’s my understanding that the physician did consult with the ringside physician, and it was approved by the physician,” Stanford said. “It was within (the rules).”
MMA Fighting’s Mike Chiappetta spoke to the ringside physician in charge at Strikeforce “Houston,” Dr. Jorge Rivera. He seemed surprised there were even questions about it.
“Is there controversy about this?” Guerrero asked when reached by phone Monday morning. “The fighters didn’t use anything against the rules. When it’s something that’s not overtly prohibited or limited, it’s usually left up to the doctors at ringside, and we make the call on the spot. I think that’s what happened here.”
Guerrero noted that Texas closely oversees what corners can provide fighters between rounds, and that canned oxygen would not be allowed between rounds. But since the fighters took the canned oxygen prior to their respective fights, they did nothing wrong. [Ed. note: This screenshot from the BE comments shows Ryan Parsons handing King Mo the canister in between rounds. The cameras didn’t catch him using it however.]
Furthermore, many doctors and studies have questioned the effectiveness of canned oxygen, which purports to boost energy by taking oxygen directly through the lungs and into the bloodstream.
“Oxygen to me is not an enhancing chemical or a super chemical,” Guerrero said. “I think you have more problems with adrenaline that you would with 02. This is not a top priority for me to limit or decrease usage. It’s just unimportant.”
Interestingly, the NJACB, one of the most respected commissions in the country, had a different take on the canisters. According to NJ’s Nick Lembo and Dr. Sherry Wulkan, portable oxygen cans are not allowed in New Jersey because they can’t determine if the canisters contained secondary ingredients such as banned substances.
“We wouldn’t have a problem with the oxygen per se but the canister could contain most any type of vaporized substance in addition to oxygen that could include banned substances and it would be impossible to ascertain such at that point in time,” said Nick Lembo, the legal counsel for the New Jersey state athletic control board.
For Lembo and New Jersey’s chief MMA ringside Dr. Sherry Wulkan, the concern is the integrity of the container holding the oxygen. The canister could contain secondary ingredients that would cause an athlete to fail a post-fight drug test. (Such a concern did not apply in Texas, which routinely does not conduct drug tests — another issue entirely.)
The NSAC’s Keith Kizer seems to agree with Texas however. The canisters are allowed in Nevada if they are approved by the ringside physician, implying they are able to determine the contents of the cans.
“If a contestant would like to use canned oxygen for a bout, he would need to clear the product with one of the commission’s ringside physicians to make sure the product does not contain any prohibited substances or would otherwise adversely affect the bout,” said Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada state athletic commission.
To recap, in Texas and Nevada, a fighter can use the oxygen cans prior to their bouts if they clear it with ringside physician, but not in New Jersey since they can’t verify the contents of the cans. This of course leads to another question. How are Nevada and Texas able to determine the contents when New Jersey can’t?
In semi-related news, the TDLR’s Susan Stanford said no action will be taken against the referees in the Noons-Gurgel and Lashley-Griggs fights. Their position on Noons’ questionably late strike at the end of the first is that the strike was already in motion when the bell rang. She didn’t comment on the illegal knee. In the Lashley fight, Stanford says referee Jon Schorle stood them because of a lull in the action, not to check the cut.
“The referee felt there was a lull in action, and he had gotten them to their feet when he saw the cut,” Stanford said. “[The referee] had the doctor look at it, and then started the action again on their feet.”
The Combative Sports Program’s statutes state that a referee is allowed to restart fighters on their feet after a lull in action.
In other words, Texas has no problem with referees standing fighters up due to a break in action even if they’re in the most dominant positions you can obtain in mixed martial arts.
Update: King Mo has given MiddleEasy a statement on the O2.
“It was just oxygen in a can, it was nothing big at all. It’s not what they have in the doctor’s office. It’s a way to focus your breathing. That’s all it is. It’s not like it’s going to give me a boost of energy. It’s just another way to control your breathing so you can stay calm and in control. You take a deep breath while it blows in your mouth. It just helped me control my heart rate. That’s it. It’s the same thing as your coach saying ‘deep breath in, deep breath out’. You’re just spraying oxygen in your mouth and you’re breathing the air. You’re already sucking air in anyway.”
“If it was such a big deal, the commission would say something.”
“It wasn’t a huge difference, it just made me feel comfortable during training so I used it. It’s a good product.”
The commission doctors seem to agree with Mo, the oxygen doesn’t provide any performance-enhancing benefits and therefore isn’t a big deal.
By the way, King Mo will be out for the next 9 months due to a knee injury suffered during the Feijao fight. He’ll undergo surgery next week to repair the ACL and PCL in his left knee.