Is Drug Testing in MMA the Gold Standard Among Pro Sports?

April 17, 2012
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Alistair Overeem. Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal. Cris “Cyborg” Santos.

Those are just a few of the names that have been in the headlines of MMA lately and it had nothing to do with winning fights. All three fighters tested positive for a banned substance or elevated levels of testosterone, and it once again raises the question if enough is being done to curb performance enhancing drug use in mixed martial arts.

The UFC recently instituted a new drug policy that screens all incoming fighters who intend to sign a contract with the promotion, and they must test clean before the contract can be tendered. In addition, all competitors on The Ultimate Fighter  must also be tested prior to their admission onto the reality show.

Outside of those screening requirements, the UFC does no other testing on their own, except when the promotion operates an event in a location where the local sanctioning body does not provide for drug testing or in global locals where there is no sanctioning body.  In areas where there is a sanctioning body, the athletic commissions in each area are responsible for drug testing the athletes as they see fit. Commissions like Nevada have instituted out-of-competition drug screenings to help curb performance enhancing drug use.

It was a surprise out-of-competition test that found UFC heavyweight competitor Alistair Overeem to show a 14 to 1 ratio in regards to his testosterone-to-epitoestosterone levels, more than double the allowable limit.

UFC president Dana White believes that the promotion is doing everything they can to stop drug use among their athletes.

“First of all, all the guys that come into the UFC now, we changed the policy, you sign a deal with us, you get tested. You go into The Ultimate Fighter, you get tested. We test, we don’t even have to (expletive) test. That’s not what we do; that’s what the athletic commission does. We test. Now the athletic commission is doing random tests before, leading up to the fight, after the fight, they’re being tested like crazy. The (expletive) testing in this sport is insane,” said White on Saturday after an event in Sweden.

White believes that the testing processes done by all of the different athletic commissions, as well as their own testing prior to signing athletes, makes the UFC the best in the business when it comes to finding out who is using performance enhancing drugs.

He also believes there is a matter of personal responsibility that lies with fighters. If they are going to risk doing something like steroids or other drugs, getting busted means stiff penalties, harsh suspensions, and likely a career altering situation.

“It is literally the gold standard in all of sports. So now for people to say well the UFC should start randomly (testing), do you have any (expletive) idea how much (expletive) I do in a week? And how many guys we’re trying to keep (expletive) reign of, and this and that?” White questioned.

“You’re grown men. You’re (expletive) adults, you’re professional athletes, how many (expletive) times do you have to be told not to do this? To the point where you just blow your entire (expletive) career? It gets to the point where people start saying this is starting to affect the credibility. It does not affect the credibility of the UFC. We are 100-percent more on top of drug testing than any other (expletive) sport on Earth other than the Olympics.”

Let’s take a look at the drug testing policies of other sports to see how the UFC and MMA stack up:

• The NFL drug testing policy most recently passed as part of the collective bargaining agreement allows players to be tested as often as league officials deem necessary both for steroids and HGH testing (human growth hormone). In addition, the league is allowed to test players up to six times in the offseason.

• The NBA allows for random drug testing, but no more than two times per off-season, and that is only for performance enhancing drugs, not drugs of abuse like marijuana. During the season, players can be tested at random, but never at the arena on the night of a game. It’s stated that “a majority of players would be tested no more than four times throughout an entire year.”

• Major League Baseball’s drug testing policy states all players will be tested at least one time per season, and the commissioner’s office has the right to test at random in the off-season with no limits in regards to how often or when the tests will take place.
Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista revealed recently that over the past three offseasons he’s been tested approximately 16 times by Major League Baseball officials. Again, the office of the commissioner has the right to test as often or as little as they want, with no limits during the offseason.

• In professional cycling (governed by the UCI), athletes are required to submit to testing at any race, before or after the event, and even in their hotel rooms in between stages of multi-day races. They are also required to submit their daily whereabouts to a central website to be more easily located in case they are chosen for random testing, without notice. A cyclist’s test results are logged in what is termed a biological passport, much like an individual’s personal medical records, and even if the cyclist has not tested positive, any abnormalities in the tests over time that could indicate the likelihood of performance enhancing substances can be reason for further action against that cyclist.

Olympic athletes are definitely held to the highest standards when it comes to drug testing. For instance, Olympic Gold Medalist LeShawn Merrit tested positive for a banned substance and received a 21-month suspension from the Olympic committee.

Merritt admitted that the substance that he tested positive for was a result of a male enhancement drug he had been taking. A normal ban for an athlete who tests positive by the Olympic committee is a minimum of two years, but due to Merritt being forthcoming about the drugs he was taking, the committee opted to knock off three months from his sentence.

Now, does this mean that the UFC or MMA as a whole has better or worse drug testing than any other major sport? It just depends on how you look at it.

Out of competition testing for approximately 375 fighters at least twice a year would run around $1 to $1.5 million per year, according to physician Margaret Goodman in a recent report by content partner Yahoo! Sports.

Is that number too much or too little for the extended testing of athletes in MMA? There’s no perfect answer, but it appears for now the status quo for drug testing in mixed martial arts is exactly that – the status quo.

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  • Iamrozylo

    I understand testing every athlete all the time would be very trying and very costly but the solution could be more simple. Leave testing for all fighters exactly the way it is, except for title contenders. Two months prior to a title fight both fighters should be tested every week. Since all fighters are gunning for that title, it should help curve there decision to take PEDs. Those who took PEDs and then had to fight without all of a sudden, would surely have serious trouble.

    Just look at what happened to all the PED heads when they came from the unregulated Pride organization.

    • bajafox

      Why would they need to change it? This article is suggesting that MMA drug testing could be the “gold standard” which probably means it doesn’t have too much room for improvement.

      • Triggerman99

        The article asked the question, it didn’t make the statement.
        I think there’s room for improvement, but the fact that fighters are in fact being caught does prove that the current system is pretty good. I think it will prove to more and more effective as time goes on and more and more fighters are getting busted. The fear of getting caught will eventually overcome the desire to gain that advantage.

  • phrankthetank

    Test positive once – 1 year
    Test positive twice – lifetime ban
    Problem solved
    The reason I suggest a second chance is because I do believe that sometimes fighters do take performance enhances by accident, whether it be in a supplement or given to them under false pretense by a trusted trainer.

  • Lesnardo

    NFL = million dollar guaranteed. Fighters most likely use that money to start a business

    NBA = million dollar guaranteed. Fighters most likely use that money to start a business

    NLB = million dollar guaranteed. Fighters most likely use that money to start a business

    UFC = exploits the crap out of fighters. After they are done with the UFC and minor league MMA organizations, MMA fighters are more likely to be found dead in the back seat of a trailer trash friend’s car than any other athlete.

    • macgrubber


  • TKD

    You get caught using PED’s and you lose your ENTIRE purse, and a lifetime ban on that sport. That is how you solve this problem! Enough coddling these grown men by saying they may have tested positive from supplements. They are more than aware of what goen in their bodies.

    Nobody is serious about cleaning up drugs in sports. There is way too much money to be lost by cleaning it up. If it weren’t for the steroid era in baseball, there would be no more baseball. Get serious!

    • TKD

      Oops, I meant goes, not goen.

  • ajmadic

    Let everyone take roids and call it a day. More exciting for the fans, imo.

  • Bob

    The UFC has enough money- they should instatute a testing regiment where every fighter under contract gets bi-monthly tests and if a fighter gets caught with PEDs and wants to remain in the UFC they should then have to get bi-weekly tests and should have to pay for the additional testing out of their own pocket. I mean if they are truely interested in a PEDs free UFC this would be a small cost for them as there is only 375 or so fighters under contract.

    We see so many fighters that are on the Ultimate Fighter reality show that are just average- but after the show they ‘improve’ greatly. Just makes me wonder how. When they are on the Ultimate fighter they are sequestored in the house and have no access to PEDs.

  • This is a slippery slope, because PED’s are not all, all evil. There is valid therapy done under the care of doctors, that is necessary to keep guys fighting. If a fighter has blood work done, and his levels are low; then it is perfectly valid to get therapy. A fighter finding himself in this condition is more likely than one may think; because over training is common. And low test becomes common in over training.

    The slope starts getting slippery because if the fighter reduces training to get out of the over trained state, he lessens his chances of winning. So therapy becomes viable. There is nothing wrong with it; it does not give the fighter an advantage other than the guy being able to train at his normal levels.

    Now, with that said, guys like Overeem abused the hell out of the system. And guys like that should be dealt with, period.

    The biggest issue out of all of this is the immediately, irrational hysteria that results when someone utters the words testosterone, or steroids. Guys have to stop assuming that it means super human ability; it does not. When administered via medical professional guidance, it is perfectly acceptable.

  • ajmadic

    Roids are not evil if done right. The abusers give roids a bad rep.

    • Lesnardo


      Killing is not evil if done right (example, self-defense). The abusers give killing a bad rep.

  • Crooklyn From TapouT Radio

    That is a lot of steroid in that needle. Must also be all water…