The UFC on Wednesday unveiled a new approach to the performance-enhancing-drug problem plaguing MMA, with a comprehensive new testing initiative as well as plans for mush harsher penalties for the fighters who test positive in the program.
UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta along with UFC president Dana White and chief legal counsel Lawrence Epstein met with the media to explain the company’s stance after several high-profile fighters — including former middleweight champion Anderson Silva and top welterweight contender Hector Lombard — tested positive for PEDs before and after recent fights inside the Octagon.
The first part of the new initiative involves a full slate of testing for all the athletes on every card in the UFC, whether it’s the first fight of the night or the main event.
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"The UFC will immediately advocate to all commissions to test every fighter in-competition from every card," Fertitta said. "We want 100 percent of the fighters tested the night they compete in competition, and if there’s additional cost associated with that that’s outside of any state or federation’s budget, we will pay for any additional cost required."
The UFC will invest "several millions of dollars" to fund the commissions if they require additional funds to make sure the tests are conducted. Based on 41 events per year, Fertitta said they expect somewhere around 984 tests to be conducted annually.
In addition to the drug-testing protocols in place for competitors on fight night, the UFC will also look to address additional testing for main-event fighters and championship fighters on every card starting July 1. The enhanced testing includes random, out-of-competition testing for PEDs with both urine and blood samples being taken.
For instance, Silva was tested a total of three times for his last fight at UFC 183 against Nick Diaz before he returned two different positive results for PEDs.
"The UFC in conjunction with local athletic commissions will subject all main events and championship-bout fighters to enhanced, out-of-competition PED testing effective July 1, 2015," Fertitta said.
The UFC is in negotiation with several third-party agencies who handle independent drug testing, but as of now no announcement could be made as to a final decision on the company that will be in charge of this new program.
The new testing protocols will subject about 96 fighters on the roster to enhanced testing per year.
Finally, the UFC announced that it will also conduct random, out-of-competition tests for all the fighters on the roster, regardless of whether those athletes have scheduled fights.
"If you are using performance-enhancing drugs, you’re going to get caught," White said.
The other major program point that Fertitta added is the UFC’s stance on harsher penalties for those athletes who do test positive for PEDs.
Currently, there are no set standards for suspensions when a fighter tests positive for PEDs. Penalties are decided by each individual athlete commission or governing body.
The UFC hopes to employ a much harsher set of standards, and it expects the commissions and different organizations around the world that govern MMA to help with this plan to increase suspensions for first-time offenders.
"We are advocating for longer suspensions and harsher penalties issued by state athletic commissions, international federations or whatever body is handing down penalties. Currently I believe that the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) standard on a first-time offender for PED usage is a two-year ban. We certainly advocate for that," Fertitta said.
"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."
The new stance on PED use is now standard operating policy for the UFC and all of its athletes. Epstein added that the promotion is also seeking to amend contract language that could allow the company to issue stiffer penalties as well when the UFC acts as a governing body for an event in a country like the United Kingdom, which has no actual athletic commission to oversee a card.
"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," Fertitta said.
The new drug-testing protocols will go into effect as of July 1, although standard testing as well as enhanced testing by commissions is still being encouraged from now until the new program begins.