LAS VEGAS – Dana White said Thursday that if he were to implement year-round, random drug testing of his approximately 475 contracted fighters, more than 80 percent of them might wind up being suspended.
The drug he's concerned about, though, is not what you might think.
The outspoken UFC president reiterated his long-held position that drug testing by state athletic commissions is sufficient to police the sport. When pressed if he's considering a random, year-round drug screening process to try to eradicate performance-enhancing drugs from the UFC, White said he is not certain. He said it is something he's never considered previously.
Then, he conceded he's worried about a slew of positive tests if he did adopt such a regimen.
"Forget about PEDs," White said. "If we get into this system that we're talking about where we would randomly test these guys, do you know how many guys would probably test positive for marijuana? It would be probably off the charts.
"If you randomly test them and then [the results] came out, you'd get the exact same suspension [for using marijuana] as you do for using PEDs."
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UFC matches are regulated in the U.S. by the state athletic commissions where the events are held. In Canada, they're regulated by the provincial governments. In parts of the world where there are no commissions, the UFC appoints Marc Ratner, its vice president of regulatory affairs, to regulate the shows and test the fighters.
Generally, fighters in the main event and in all championship fights are tested for performance-enhancing drugs and so-called drugs of abuse such as cocaine and marijuana.
Keith Kizer, the executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, has been testing larger numbers of fighters after events in recent months. That has led to five drug-related offenses in boxing and mixed martial arts in November and December, he said.
Kizer has increasingly drug tested all of the fighters on a given card. Kizer will oversee UFC 155 on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden and will choose which fighters are screened in addition to heavyweight title combatants Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez.
There is no formal prescribed penalty for fighters who fail their tests, though Nevada has been suspending fighters for six months on a first offense for marijuana usage and nine months for steroid use.
The length of the penalty for using marijuana disturbs White.
"I do not think the penalty should be the same for taking marijuana as it is for [using] performance-enhancing drugs," he said.
He's right on that point, though the the World Anti-Doping Agency's 2012 prohibited list covers that issue well. Marijuana usage is prohibited by WADA in-competition. It is not considered a violation for athletes following the WADA code if they test positive when they are not competing.
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However, there are a range of performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids that are prohibited at all times and will result in a penalty no matter when the violation occurs.
So, in UFC terms, if either dos Santos or Velasquez tested positive for marijuana prior to or immediately following Saturday's fight, they would be in violation of the WADA code and would face a six-month suspension. But if the UFC were testing them randomly and found in a test next month that one of them tested positive for marijuana, it would not be a violation.
That should allay White's very real concern about lengthy marijuana penalties while making the sport safer for clean athletes. Those who choose to artificially enhance themselves with steroids and other substances make themselves far more lethal than they otherwise would have been and need to be caught before a tragedy occurs.
White isn't yet willing to embrace year-round testing because of many concerns that he has, even though he concedes an enhanced fighter is no good for business.
"I don't even smoke marijuana, but it's [expletive] illegal and you shouldn't do it," White said. "OK? But the guys are going to get busted [for testing positive for marijuana] and they're going to get the same suspension they would for a PED. When you take a performance-enhancing drug and you go in and you face another fighter, you can hurt him. You know what I mean?
"But [giving fighters similar suspensions for using both PEDs and marijuana] is just crazy. It's so easy to sit there and say, 'Here's what you should do. Here's how you fix it,' but there are so many flaws in the system, it's just not that easy. It's not just, 'Hey, let's sign up this company [to do testing].' There's a whole [expletive] of things that would come about."
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He said the goal of such expensive, year-round testing would be to eradicate PEDs, but said it would serve a vastly different purpose.
"Everybody thinks that if you did this random testing you'd catch so many guys on PEDs," White said. "No. You'd catch more of the guys on marijuana. That's where you'd really bust a lot of guys. ... We have 475 guys under contract and probably 400 of them would be out with marijuana."
That would be true were those 400 fighters to be caught with marijuana in their system as they are training for a match. But again, it wouldn't apply if the UFC hired a company that religiously followed the WADA code and randomly tested its athletes. An out-of-competition positive test for marijuana would be meaningless.
There are no easy answers and, as White said, there have been performance enhancers around as long as athletes have been competing for money.
But in a sport where there is a very real threat of serious injury, hard choices need to be made.
And the UFC, which has been a leader on so many fronts in regard to fighter rights issues, could do the right thing once again and champion year-round random testing for all of its fighters. Doing so would be a big step to slow usage of PEDs in mixed martial arts.
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