Can the UFC Survive Random Drug Testing?

In the prime of his fighting career, Georges St-Pierre—the former welterweight king and pound-for-pound great—walked away from MMA just eight months ago, citing personal issues. 

Months after his departure, the MMA community gained greater insight on what St-Pierre’s concerns were partially hinged upon: the use of performance-enhancing drugs in MMA and the UFC

As the months went by, it became readily apparent that those sentiments were not unique to St-Pierre. Several other fighters, such as Brian Stann—who claimed that PEDs were a big reason he retired from the sport as well—believe athletic commissions were not doing enough to combat banned substances in MMA, telling Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour back in April (via MMAMania.com): 

I’m 33 years old, and I have seen, in my own training, and in talking and knowing guys in the inner circle, I’ve known what guys are not on, and when they cycle on it. You can feel the difference in the gym and what big a difference it makes, and I do think there are a number of guys who are using just because the testing currently our athletic commissions is inadequate.

Dana White and the UFC have always been quick to claim sufficient and successful drug testing, often stating that the promotion completes its own testing separate of any athletic commission. White first told ESPN’s Michelle Beadle on Sportsnation in April: 

PEDs have been cleaned up in the UFC. What people don’t realize is that the rule used to be that when commissions would test athletes, they’d do the main event and they’d have a couple of random tests. We’ve been testing everyone on the cards. Everyone’s being tested. It’s been a long time since anybody has tested positive for PEDs in the UFC.

St-Pierre didn't agree. He first told Helwani on The MMA Hour in March about how he indirectly disagreed with White’s sentiments (via MMAFighting.com): 

The system is not in place. There are no guidelines. The way they test now, it’s not good. It’s not good the way they test. If you get caught on steroids right now, it’s because you’re very disorganized. It’s so easy to beat the test. It’s ridiculous. It’s not a real test. 

Do you think PED-use is an issue in the UFC?

It’s only taken Chael Sonnen, Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort, Alistair Overeem and Antonio Silva, among others, to prove St-Pierre’s sentiments true—random drug testing is the way to go. 

But for all the good random drug testing can provide MMA, it could do a lot of harm too.

Take Major League Baseball and the “steroids era,” for example. People weren’t as concerned about clean play as much as they were about seeing home run records be broken. They didn’t care that pitchers looked like they belonged on the cover of FITNESS Magazine as long as they were throwing heat and making dudes whiff. 

Eventually the dirty stuff hit the fan and a bright light was cast upon the shadows that aided cheaters—baseball was officially impure. Much to the credit of the sport’s already established position in the United States, baseball managed to survive. 

The UFC is big, but not MLB-big.

Currently the smelly, pimple-faced, rapidly growing teenager that it is, the UFC might not survive having some of its main attractions fall victim to random drug testing. 

MMA is still currently illegal in the state of New York. An ongoing, debilitating battle with PED users is not a card the UFC can afford to hold in its hands as it tries to convince the Yankee-faithful of its credibility as a sport in the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

That’s not to say that the sport shouldn’t implement random drug testing more often, though—it’s evidently successful in cleaning the sport and creating a more even playing field. But for a promotion that claims it cannot pay its lower-tier fighters more than $8,000 just to show up, there might not be enough money around to keep this party going once all the cool guys and girls have to go home.

Kristian Ibarra is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He also serves as the sports editor at San Diego State University's student-run newspaper, The Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter at @Kristian_Ibarra for all things MMA. 

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