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The UFC and PEDs: Where Do We Go From Here?


(Photo via Getty.)

By Chris Huntemann, Columnist

Usually when I ask that question, it’s in the wake of a pay-per-view and I’m wondering aloud at what’s next for the fighters who competed on it. This time around, I’m talking about something that affects ALL mixed martial artists in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The UFC announced last week that it will implement far stricter, far more comprehensive drug testing in the wake of fighters like Anderson Silva and Hector Lombard failing tests for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), while Jon Jones and Nick Diaz failed tests for cocaine and marijuana, respectively.

Increased drug testing and harsher penalties can only help the UFC, and mixed martial arts in general. But what brought on this increase in failed tests? PEDs have been a part of sports long before MMA fighters started taking them, and they have been a problem in MMA prior to the last month-and-a-half.

But more fighters seem to be getting caught. As in most sports, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to perform in MMA and in the UFC. If you don’t perform, you basically don’t get paid. The increased demand for UFC programming by virtue of its deal with FOX could also be a factor. They went from being on Spike TV – where they only broadcast “The Ultimate Fighter” once a year and two or three live fight cards annually – to having three or more fight cards a month and airing “The Ultimate Fighter” twice a year on the FOX channels.

The increase in programming means a need of more bodies to fill that programming. It also means that more fighters are training for more fights, which can lead to more injuries. PEDs, in addition to giving you a competitive advantage over your opponent, allow you to recover from injuries more quickly. With the need for more fighters to fill more fight cards, I think it’s possible the apparent increase in failed drug tests can at least be partly attributed to that.

The UFC’s increased drug-testing measures take effect July 1. What can we expect once it does? Here are some of the guidelines the UFC presented.

Even UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta admitted during this week’s press conference that things “would get worse before they better” with the new testing. Plus, it remains to be seen how much of this will actually stick once July 1 rolls around. UFC previously considered expanding its drug-testing efforts before but pulled back, citing cost and a previously botched attempt at doing so.

However, with the rash of high-profile stars like Silva, Jones and Diaz failing tests, cost can’t be considered a hindrance and the UFC must be vigilant. Browsing my Twitter feed following the press conference, it was eerily quiet. Almost no fighters weighed in initially. It is likely that was just a byproduct of the press conference taking place on a Wednesday afternoon, when most people are working or presumably have other things to do besides post on Twitter. But it was still pretty telling. It seems like this has grabbed fighters’ attention, as it should.

What do I think will happen? There will be an increase in failed test once the new measures take effect July 1, I’m fairly confident. But given that the UFC is supporting harsh penalties for those who do fail – including a ban of up to four years – I expect the dirty fighters to eventually cycle themselves out and the ones who compete clean (which is most of them, presumably) to take a more prominent role.

Increased drug testing is long overdue in the UFC. The sport of mixed martial arts itself is still in its infancy, especially compared to other sports like football, basketball and baseball. But just like baseball is still recovering from its own crisis with PEDs, these recent failed drug tests have shaken the foundation of the UFC and have harkened back to the days when it was referred to as “human cockfighting.”

UFC adopted the slogan “The Time Is Now” for 2015, and I couldn’t agree more. The time is now for them to take the lead in cleaning up the sport of mixed martial arts.

Chris Huntemann writes about mixed martial arts in the state of Maryland. He also shares his thoughts on the UFC, Bellator, and World Series of Fighting. Check out his blog, or follow him on Twitter: @mmamaryland.

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