The Nevada State Athletic Commission listened intently Tuesday to more than two hours of testimony surrounding allegations of greasing misconduct during the UFC welterweight title bout between Georges St. Pierre and B.J. Penn. In the end, the NSAC came no closer to filing a formal disciplinary complaint against any licensees involved in the case.
Penn and his attorney, Raffi Nahabedian, both spoke before the commission. The five-member board reviewed the circumstances surrounding accusations that St. Pierre’s two cornermen, Phil Nurse and Greg Jackson, had improperly applied Vaseline to the fighter’s shoulders and back after the one-minute break between the first and second rounds of their Jan. 31 contest at UFC 94 in Las Vegas.
Cornermen are allowed to spread Vaseline on a fighter’s facial area surrounding the eyes under commission observation between rounds. St. Pierre, Jackson and Nurse have publicly denied the allegations, stating that the hand placement had been part of a breathing technique originated by holistic therapist Dr. Steven Friend. Friend has worked with former UFC champions Matt Hughes, Randy Couture and Sean Sherk as well.
Nurse and Jackson also addressed the commission per the regulatory body’s request. Marc Ratner, the UFC’s vice president of regulatory affairs, and Michael Mersch, the promotion’s counsel, were also in attendance but did not speak, along with St. Pierre’s manager, Shari Spencer. Penn’s mother, Lorraine Shin, also read a statement on her son’s behalf.
Commission members in attendance, as well as two members who attended the meeting via teleconference, simultaneously reviewed a videotape of the round one and two corner breaks, with Kizer narrating Nurse’s activity.
“I’m sorry that it’s come to all of this,” said Nurse, a 14-year veteran muay Thai trainer who has cornered four of St. Pierre’s fights. “I would never do anything to try and change a fight other than the fight to be straight how it’s supposed to be.”
When asked why he didn’t wipe his hands clean before touching St. Pierre’s body, Nurse said it didn’t cross his mind that he needed to as he was racing to relax and prepare the fighter for the next round.
Nurse said a last-minute decision made en-route to the cage led to his handling of the Vaseline duties, and if given the opportunity, he would prefer not to administer the breathing technique and the Vaseline application at the same time.
“In hindsight, I probably should have done the Vaseline if [Nurse] was going to do the energy technique,” said Jackson, St. Pierre’s central coach and cornerman. Jackson said he would not be taking Vaseline into the corner in future fights.
Both trainers said they would be comfortable with any decision made by the regulatory body to either not allow cornermen to handle the lubricant in favor of a promotion-hired cutman or designate one cornerman to handle the application without any additional duties.
Nahabedian, Penn’s attorney, questioned the commission’s review of the case, in particular with the video that had been provided by NSAC Executive Director Keith Kizer.
“You guys witnessed today what I consider to be prejudicial footage,” said Nahabedian. “It doesn’t show what happened during the second round after the representative of the commission said to Mr. Kizer, ‘I think I saw him putting grease on his body.’ If you watch the second round, you’ll notice the effect that that grease had on the body.”
Nahabedian produced his own videotape of the bout, which he said also included footage of the actual contest and the alleged Vaseline’s effect on Penn’s performance, as well as alternate angles and backstage footage supporting his client’s stance. The NSAC agreed to distribute and review Nahabedian’s tape at a later time.
In his oral presentation, Nahabedian also suggested numerous techniques in which a fighter could grease his body, including baby oil baths and the application of “a powder substance” that becomes greasy upon contact with sweat. Nahabedian suggested the commission might swab an athlete’s body before and after a bout to test it for foreign, and possibly non-approved substances, which might create an unfair advantage.
Nahabedian also mentioned alleged statements made by Matt Hughes and Jason “Mayhem” Miller, both past opponents of St. Pierre, attesting to the Canadian’s slippery skin. Nahabedian did not produce written affidavits but said Miller’s statement was included in the videotape.
Nahabedian and Penn both criticized St. Pierre for not attending Tuesday’s hearing. Later, St. Pierre’s attorney, Steve Pacitti, stated that the Canadian fighter had not been asked to attend.
The commission questioned why Penn hadn’t alerted the referee to St. Pierre’s slick body. Penn said he suffered a concussion during the bout and hadn’t remembered much past the second round. Penn told commissioners his mind had been focused on winning the bout.
Jason Parillo, Penn’s boxing coach, told the commission he had been approached by an individual some time before the bout regarding St. Pierre’s alleged use of a substance that created a slippery advantage. That individual was later identified as David Weintraub, a freelance videographer hired by the UFC over the last few years to capture backstage footage.
In an email sent to Sherdog.com on Thursday, Weintraub said he'd been present in Hilo, Hawaii with the Penn camp -- for work unrelated to the UFC -- as they'd discussed their concerns that St. Pierre used steroids.
"Later on I casually relayed this concern to other people, not connected with either camp, that certain discussions were taking place; that this was a larger concern not just related to the fight, but to the sport in general," wrote Weintraub. "One response I received was a text sent to me alluding that GSP was suspected of being a 'greaser' based on the comments of others. I showed this text to B.J. Penn. That was my involvement."
The commission did not respond to Nahabedian’s requests for the state agency to consider the Vaseline allegations under the same statutes that regulate illegal steroid and non-approved drug use, nor did any member suggest a form of disciplinary action be set in motion against the accused trio.
Penn said he’d wished the commission had “walked across the Octagon” and warned him and his corner of their findings, so he could have adjusted his strategy during the fight.
“I really think we could have made a correct judgment of how to move forward from there,” said Penn.
In closing, Penn turned to St. Pierre again and questioned his integrity.
“I don’t know how anyone would want to be the world champion with a belt around their waist that cheated to get there,” said Penn. “It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Greg Savage contributed reporting from Las Vegas.
Click here to see Penn react to Tuesday's hearing.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on March 20 at 3:46 a.m. EST to add Weintraub's comments.