In the wake of some high-profile UFC drug-test failures for performance enhancers like HGH and EPO this year — as well as a resurgence in positive tests for old-school steroids — the UFC has announced plans to implement random, out-of-competition drug testing for all of its fighters. ESPN.com’s Brett Okamoto broke the news last night.
Until now, UFC brass has claimed that the expense of such a program would be prohibitive, and the promotion has left much of the drug-testing responsibility in the hands of local athletic commissions, only supporting random testing on an occasional basis. But with the PED epidemic growing worse in MMA, the sport’s leading promotion will be making the financial investment necessary to combat the problem, and UFC officials hope to have the new drug-screening system in place by the end of the year. From the ESPN report:
According to UFC vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner, the promotion is in discussion with “four to five” independent drug-testing agencies and is hopeful to officially partner with one by the end of 2014.
The end goal is unannounced, year-round blood and urine tests on the UFC’s stable of approximately 500 athletes using an independent sample collector.
“We are meeting with different companies right now and we’re going to have out-of-competition testing,” Ratner told ESPN.com. “We’re not sure when it’s going to start, but we’re working on it right now.
“Unannounced blood and urine is going to happen, hopefully in the next three or four months. When you’re talking about 500 fighters, there are a lot of logistics. Having fighters in foreign countries makes it tougher, but we’re coming up with a plan and (agencies) are making proposals to us in the next two weeks”…
The UFC has worked with several commissions this year to implement an “enhanced program,” which blood-tests athletes during the weeks before a fight, as opposed to traditional fight night urine tests. The cost of one of those programs can be in excess of $40,000. The majority of state athletic commissions simply can’t afford those costs…
Partnering with an independent party, such as the United States Anti-Doping Agency or the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, for example, could help lower costs for the UFC. Ratner declined to provide specifics of the proposed program, citing ongoing internal discussions.
“The UFC will be randomly testing a percentage of fighters,” Ratner said. “When we decide on this regiment, it’s going to be a big cost but it’s well worth it when we do these out-of-competition tests.”
The reason an enhanced program is necessary is that certain banned substances are only detectable in blood and only for a short amount of time. Random blood testing is far more effective than the urine tests athletes expect to take the night of a fight…
The UFC has expressed its commitment in lowering PED use by funding the enhanced programs in Nevada, Maryland and British Columbia. Additionally, Ratner says all incoming athletes are tested before signing a contract with the UFC. Last weekend in Macau, China, the UFC implemented blood testing for the first time at a self-regulated event. Still, the need for comprehensive, year-round random blood tests is undeniable in MMA.
Inside the UFC specifically, that need has drawn plenty of attention in 2014.
UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones requested random blood tests ahead of a title defense against Glover Teixeira in Baltimore. Former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre has stated he will not compete in the UFC again unless he and his opponent are tested by a “credible, independent anti-doping organization.”
Starting with Nevada’s banning of TRT exceptions back in February, 2014 has been an incredibly productive year for anti-PED measures in MMA. Random, enhanced testing for all UFC fighters will mark another significant step toward cleaning up the sport. Of course, to really give the new policy some teeth, cheaters will have to be caught early enough to actually prevent them from competing; punishing them after the fact doesn’t do much to fix the problem of juiced-up fighters in the Octagon.
Nevertheless, it’s good to see the UFC put some effort into fighting the sport’s drug problem. Thumbs up, guys.