The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Wednesday unveiled its new Athlete Marketing and Development program.
While much of the focus of the program centers on the promotion’s new anti-doping procedures, which includes year-round drug testing, the UFC also incorporated training and rehabilitation elements, and post-fighting career assistance.
“Earlier this year, we vowed to take a leadership position on key areas impacting our sport, fighter health and fighter safety,” UFC Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Lorenzo Fertitta said. “After months of hard work, and the addition of Jeff Novitzky, we have taken the opportunity to not only launch an elite anti-doping policy, but to invest, develop and deploy a year-round Athlete Marketing and Development program focused on the preparation, performance and education of our athletes.”
A former U.S. federal investigator, Novitzky is the new UFC Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance in charge of the program. He is perhaps best known for his role in the cases involving Barry Bonds and Major League Baseball, the BALCO scandal, and disgraced multiple-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
The UFC has engaged the United States Anti-Doping Agency to administer the anti-doping policy, leaving Novitzky to focus primarily on athlete health and safety.
Although the UFC is footing the bill for the program, USADA will act independently of the UFC to implement what it calls, “the first all-encompassing, independently administered, anti-doping policy for a professional sports organization.”
The anti-doping policy goes into effect for all UFC contracted athletes on July 1. It requires all athletes to provide there whereabouts to USADA and be available for testing “any place, any time with no notice,” according to Novitzky.
There is a minimum of 2,750 tests to be conducted per year, which averages out to each athlete being tested more than five times annually. That’s not to say that each athlete will be tested the same number of times per year. Numerous factors come into play to determine how frequently an athlete is tested.
All testing will be conducted following World Anti-Doping Agency standards, which USADA normally adheres to, which requires all testing to be done at a WADA approved laboratory.
With the year-round “any time, any place” testing, over time, USADA will develop a biological profile of the tested athletes, similar to what is currently in use in professional cycling and has been widely credited for making huge strides towards cleaning up that sport. The biological passport can detect variances outside of an athlete’s normal levels, which could indicate prohibited methods or performance-enhancing drug use.
Under terms of the policy, which has not yet been made publicly available, Novitzky stated that a first infraction for performance-enhancing substances (which are prohibited at all times) such as anabolic agents (steroids), human growth hormone, masking agents, prohibited methods, and the like would be punishable with a suspension of two years, which could be extended to four years depending upon aggravating factors. A second offense would double the penalty of the first offense, and a third infraction would double the penalty of the second infraction.
Aggravating factors could include prior offenses, multiple substances, conspiracy, etc.
Substances of abuse, such as stimulants (cocaine), cannabinoids (marijuana), narcotics, etc., face a one-year suspension for a first infraction, which could be extended an additional two years depending upon aggravating factors. Much like the penalties for prohibited-at-all-times substances, substance of abuse penalties double with each successive infraction.
Substances of abuse are only tested for while an athlete is “in-competition.” The UFC’s anti-doping policy defines in-competition as the period of time six hours prior to a fight’s weigh-in up to six hours after the fight.
In addition to suspension, any anti-doping infraction during or leading up to a bout will result in a disqualification, forfeiture of any title or ranking, and the loss of any purse or other compensation.
Any financial penalties, such as a fine or loss of purse, will be applied to the cost of the anti-doping program and/or anti-doping research.
All testing and penalties will be administered by USADA. There will be an arbitration process for athletes to contest findings, which is also independent of the UFC.
The policy comes with a promise of full transparency from USADA CEO Travis Tygart. The policy has not yet been made public, but UFC and USADA will release the finalized policy to the athletes, the media and the public by mid-June.
In addition to the anti-doping policy, the Athlete Marketing and Development Program includes the services of two companies, Fusionetics and EXOS, to help UFC athletes and their teams develop better training practices.
Fusionetics that was designed and is utilized in the world of professional sports to help athletes improve their performance, speed up their recovery time, and avoid future injury.
There is some crossover between Fusionetics and EXOS, whose expertise is in helping athletes maximize their training, nutrition and physical therapy to maximize performance and minimize injury risk.
Athletes also have a limited window of opportunity to make a living as a competitive fighter. As such, Fertitta added that the UFC is exploring options with other companies that can help place athletes once their fighting careers are over.