LAS VEGAS – After boasting for years that his fighters were “tested by the government,” even as hundreds were caught illegally using performance enhancing drugs, UFC president Dana White finally took a major step forward.
As of July 1, the UFC will have the best anti-doping policy in sports, in the words of the chief executive officer of the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
“I’d say that given the independence, the transparency and the enforcement policies, it’s the top in all of professional sports,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said Wednesday at a news conference at the Red Rock Resort to announce a series of new policies aimed at stamping out drugs and improving athlete safety and performance.
Foremost among the announcements was the news that the UFC not only hired USADA at a cost of several million dollars per year, but turned the program entirely over to the agency.
USADA will now have the authority to randomly test any fighter at any time for any reason. UFC fighters are not unionized and there is no collective bargaining agreement, but chief operating officer Lawrence Epstein said there are no legal impediments to implementing the deal, which begins July 1.
He said all UFC contracts include provisions that permit the testing.
The UFC will have no advance knowledge of who is being tested, nor will it have a say in when or what methodologies are used. The UFC-USADA contract calls for 2,750 tests in a calendar year, which equates to roughly 5 ½ tests per fighter per year.
USADA will use its best judgment on whom to test and when.
“The UFC has literally removed themselves from the material operation of the policy,” Tygart said. “Questions about who is tested, when they’re tested, what they’re tested for, it’s a year-round testing program [with] blood, urine, athlete biological passport, with CIR analysis, EPO analysis, human growth hormone analysis. They’re all with us as an independent anti-doping organization.”
In addition to hiring USADA, the UFC announced that it had partnered with two other firms, EXOS and Fusionetics, that will both educate its athletes on how to train and cut weight properly as well as on how to prevent injuries and recover from them.
On the new campus the UFC is building in Las Vegas, a section will be devoted to these areas where fighters can come and train and learn from the experts.
The program will be overseen by newly hired vice president Jeff Novitzky.
“This is a great day for everyone who fights in the UFC,” lightweight contender Michael Chiesa said of the stringent drug-testing plans.
Penalties for failing a test are severe. The first offense will be a two-year suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, with the possibility of four years for aggravating circumstances. The penalties double with a second offense and double again on a third offense.
If a state or country’s regulatory body issues a punishment that is stiffer than the UFC punishment, the lengthier suspension will be recognized.
In the case of so-called street drugs such as marijuana and cocaine, they remain banned in-competition but not out of competition. For this policy, in-competition is defined as the window from six hours before the weigh-in until six hours after the event.
Penalties for usage of those drugs in competition are one year for the first offense, with the possibility of two years for aggravating circumstances. They double for the second offense and double again for the third.
Thus, a fighter who has previously been caught using an anabolic steroid would trigger the aggravating circumstances clause and would receive a four-year suspension for his next offense, with theoretical possible suspensions doubling for a second and/or third offense.
White said that although he knows that losing fighters to positive drug tests could severely hurt a card and thus the bottom line, it’s a risk he’s willing to take.
“If you take a really good fighter, a guy who is super talented at a young age, and you start them on performance enhancing drugs, it destroys them,” White said. “It destroys you physically, mentally, emotionally. Every way a really good athlete can be destroyed, that’s what performance enhancing drugs do to you and that’s what we’re trying to prevent.”
Fighters will have the right to an independent arbitration panel if they wish to contest a decision, including the results of a test or the methods used to collect it.
Tygart said the best collectors in the world will be used to take the samples from the athletes and then the best labs will be utilized to analyze the specimens.
Once the policy kicks in, athletes will have to inform USADA of their location at all times, as in the Olympics. If athletes aren’t where they say they’ll be and miss a test when USADA shows, it’s a strike. Three such missed tests will be considered a test failure.
Edwin Moses, the 1976 and 1984 Olympic hero who is now the chairman of the board of directors of USADA, said it will be important to educate the athletes and their teams, including their doctors, about the policies. He said no one is trying to force them from the sport, but said they’re attempting to maintain clean and fair play.
The UFC attempted to do that Monday and Tuesday with 50 of its younger fighters, who attended a summit at the Red Rock Resort.
Chiesa said that while he may lose money under the UFC’s new sponsorship agreement with Reebok that goes into effect in July, overall, he’s going to come out ahead because of things such as the training center the UFC is building in Las Vegas.
“If a guy wants to chase every last sponsorship dollar that’s available, then go sign with Bellator and see how that works out for you,” Chiesa said. “I guarantee you they’ll be back the first chance they can. This is all a part of the growth of the business, making us in line with the NFL, the NBA and baseball. For sure, the glass is way more than half full from my standpoint. For sure.”
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