There are still a lot of moving parts to put in place, but the Ultimate Fighting Championship on Wednesday announced its new approach to drug testing, which it believes will help reduce the number of UFC athletes using performance-enhancing drugs.
Citing an “alarming rate” of 26.3 percent for UFC fighters testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs in verified out-of-competition drug tests, UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta unveiled the general plans for the UFC to increase its support of the drug testing process.
“Something needs to be done to increase the amount of out-of-competition testing,” said Fertitta, before laying out the UFC’s plan to help increase testing and to push for more severe penalties for fighters that are caught.
“The UFC will immediately advocate to all commissions to test every fighter in competition from every card. We want 100-percent of the fighters tested the night that they compete in competition. And if there is any cost associated with that that’s outside of any state or federation’s budget, we will pay for any additional cost required,” said Fertitta.
That would be slightly less than 1,000 tests annually based on UFC plans for 41 events per calendar year with 12 bouts on each card. The number would obviously adjust up or down depending on how many events are held and the number of fights on each card.
“In addition to that, the UFC in conjunction with local athletic commissions will subject all main event and championship bout fighters to enhanced out-of-competition PED testing effective July 1, 2015,” he continued.
“Given that, we assume there will be approximately 96 marquee fighters tested on an annual basis, once again, given the assumption of 41 fight cards. We also assume that of the 13 premier events or pay-per-view events, eight of those will have double championship bouts. That’s how we get to that number.”
While that may sound tough on the surface, it has long been known from the patter of drug abuse in other sports, that when an athlete is aware when they will be subject to testing, he or she can often find a way to skirt around getting caught.
Just ask disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, who suffered an extremely public fall from grace recently after years of dodging tests and authorities.
What the UFC hopes will add some heft to its push to reduce performance-enhancing drug use is random out-of-competition testing and making a strong push for much stiffer penalties than are currently in place.
“All UFC fighters will be subject to (random PED testing) effective July 1, 2015. That means approximately 585 of the fighters on the roster, which fluctuates on a week-to-week basis. They will be subject to testing by an independent third party, using (World Anti-Doping Agency) testing standards,” according to Fertitta.
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That means whether a fighter has a bout scheduled or not, no matter the circumstance, he or she is subject to having a tester come knocking on the door to collect a sample.
What Fertitta believes will be the final piece to the puzzle, however, is increased penalties.
Currently, a first-time PEDs offender, depending upon the regulations in whatever jurisdiction an event is being held, faces anywhere from a six to twelve month penalty, which is usually coupled with a fine and the requirement to provide a clean test result upon re-applying for a license to fight.
Under the WADA code, as of Jan. 1, 2015, the penalty for an intentional first-time doper increased from the past standard of a two-year ban to four years. An athlete guilty of inadvertent doping gets a two-year ban, which can be reduced if they have “substantial proof that they were not at fault or intending to cheat.”
Fertitta said on Wednesday that the UFC stands in support of the WADA code, and believes a two- or four-year ban would go a long way towards deterring fighters from taking the risk of doping.
“Maybe most importantly, in ridding our sport of PED usage, we are advocating for longer suspensions and harsher penalties issued by state athletic commissions, international federations, whatever body is handing down penalties,” said Fertitta.
“Currently, I believe that the WADA standard on a first-time offender for PED use is a two-year ban. We certainly advocate for that. We understand that WADA is either contemplating or will institute a first-time offender a four-year ban. We will absolutely support that as well.
“There has to be harsher penalties to rid the sport of PED usage.”
Fertitta and UFC General Counsel Lawrence Epstein explained that the fight promotion would not be entering into the business of drug testing. They intend to spend millions of dollars to help support the various governing bodies in their testing efforts, and will be contracting a third party organization to handle the UFC’s random drug testing program.
They are still in negotiations with various parties, but Fertitta stated that it would be a leading global organization that already handles this type of testing that the promotion eventually uses.
“We have been and are currently engaged in talks with numerous reputable global drug testing organizations to create this random drug testing protocol. We’re confident we can have it in place by July 1, 2015.”
Even though July 1 is the UFC’s target date, globally, it faces an uphill battle, especially when it comes to increasing penalties.
Implementing the drug testing plans is largely a matter of organization and money, putting the pieces in place, but increasing penalties requires the UFC to work with any number of global entities not only to get support for the move, but also to possibly have to change statutes and regulations.
The UFC has been down this road before, however, in trying to get the sport legalized and sanctioned across the globe. Fertitta says he is willing to put forth the same effort, despite numerous hurdles, to try and clean up the PEDs epidemic the UFC and other promoters are currently facing.
“This should definitely be a callout to all the athletes that are on our roster that you will be tested in-competition, you will be tested out-of-competition, and if you are using performance-enhancing drugs, you will be caught and there will be significant penalties that will go along with that.”