The UFC has taken a big step in addressing the recent string of high-profile failed drug tests from fighters that happened in the last year.
At a June 3 press conference, they announced a partnership with the USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency). The agency will act as an independent administrator and conduct out-of-competition drug testing on the promotion’s contracted fighters. The UFC has no input on the program.
In February, the UFC announced that it would enact the World Anti-Doping Agency’s standards in hopes of curtailing drug use in the sport, as well as creating an even playing field. Substances the WADA prohibits include anabolic agents, peptide hormones, diuretics and other masking agents, stimulants, cannabinoids and glucocorticosteroids. The USADA follows these standards.
Under the new program, fighters will be tested five times during the year and will be required to notify USADA of their whereabouts. In-competition testing will be done six hours before and after a fight. These new testing procedures begin July 1 and all fighters are subject to the same testing.
The UFC is doing something that fans, critics and other competitors have asked for in the last several years. Although failed drug tests were something that happened a few times in a year, there have been main event talents, including former middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who have been popped for drugs after a bout. Some fighters take drugs because of medical reasons while others do it to gain a competitive edge.
Prior to their partnership with the USADA, the UFC would leave it up to state athletic commissions to administer drug tests — usually after fights — to test for positive enhancing drugs and other banned substances. Some fighters have paid for independent drug tests before a fight.
Athletic commissions also handled most of the punishments, dealing out 1-2 year suspensions and fines. Some competitors were able to negotiate with commissions and have their suspensions reduced — or wiped away.
The issue with having commissions handle drug tests is they only conducted them on the day of the fight. Some fighters were able to cycle drugs in and out of their system without being caught. All athletic commissions will be educated on the USADA’s policies and standards.
Under the new rules a fighter who is caught using steroids — or other PEDs — will receive a 2-4 year suspension, depending on the circumstance. The penalty will double for the second offense, and again for the third. Competitors who test positive for marijuana, which will only be tested before or after a fight, will receive a 1-2 year suspension depending on the circumstance. Similar to the consequences with PEDs, the penalty for marijuana usage will be doubled for the second offense and again for the third.
Although the UFC has no input and is paying millions of dollars, it seems to be on board with the new program and genuinely interested in keeping their fighters clean. But this new program isn’t without risks. It will be interesting to see what happens when a champion or a main event caliber-star fails a drug test.
If a lower-ranked fighter is scheduled for an upcoming bout, but then gets suspended after failing a drug test, they can be replaced without causing a major shift in the card. If a champion or a No. 1 contender fails a drug test —and they have a big fight coming up — the promoter has to fill that main event spot and possibly rearrange the whole fight card.
Fans are also excited about this new policy, but what happens when their favorite fighter gets busted for drugs? Will they advocate for them to have a strict punishment or pray that the USADA goes lenient on them?
The UFC’s partnership with the USADA will not eliminate drug problems from mixed martial arts. Many promoters do not have the resources to hire an outside agency and task it with monitoring their fighters. Even if they had the money, they might not want to risk losing big-name talent who may be taking drugs.
Still, the UFC is once again the trendsetter in MMA and hopefully this does lead to better things for the sport.