Is Drug Testing in MMA the Gold Standard Among Pro Sports?


Alistair Overeem. Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal. Cris “Cyborg” Santos.

Those are just a few of the names that have been in the headlines of MMA lately and it had nothing to do with winning fights. All three fighters tested positive for a banned substance or elevated levels of testosterone, and it once again raises the question if enough is being done to curb performance enhancing drug use in mixed martial arts.

The UFC recently instituted a new drug policy that screens all incoming fighters who intend to sign a contract with the promotion, and they must test clean before the contract can be tendered. In addition, all competitors on The Ultimate Fighter  must also be tested prior to their admission onto the reality show.

Outside of those screening requirements, the UFC does no other testing on their own, except when the promotion operates an event in a location where the local sanctioning body does not provide for drug testing or in global locals where there is no sanctioning body.  In areas where there is a sanctioning body, the athletic commissions in each area are responsible for drug testing the athletes as they see fit. Commissions like Nevada have instituted out-of-competition drug screenings to help curb performance enhancing drug use.

It was a surprise out-of-competition test that found UFC heavyweight competitor Alistair Overeem to show a 14 to 1 ratio in regards to his testosterone-to-epitoestosterone levels, more than double the allowable limit.

UFC president Dana White believes that the promotion is doing everything they can to stop drug use among their athletes.

“First of all, all the guys that come into the UFC now, we changed the policy, you sign a deal with us, you get tested. You go into The Ultimate Fighter, you get tested. We test, we don’t even have to (expletive) test. That’s not what we do; that’s what the athletic commission does. We test. Now the athletic commission is doing random tests before, leading up to the fight, after the fight, they’re being tested like crazy. The (expletive) testing in this sport is insane,” said White on Saturday after an event in Sweden.

White believes that the testing processes done by all of the different athletic commissions, as well as their own testing prior to signing athletes, makes the UFC the best in the business when it comes to finding out who is using performance enhancing drugs.

He also believes there is a matter of personal responsibility that lies with fighters. If they are going to risk doing something like steroids or other drugs, getting busted means stiff penalties, harsh suspensions, and likely a career altering situation.

“It is literally the gold standard in all of sports. So now for people to say well the UFC should start randomly (testing), do you have any (expletive) idea how much (expletive) I do in a week? And how many guys we’re trying to keep (expletive) reign of, and this and that?” White questioned.

“You’re grown men. You’re (expletive) adults, you’re professional athletes, how many (expletive) times do you have to be told not to do this? To the point where you just blow your entire (expletive) career? It gets to the point where people start saying this is starting to affect the credibility. It does not affect the credibility of the UFC. We are 100-percent more on top of drug testing than any other (expletive) sport on Earth other than the Olympics.”

Let’s take a look at the drug testing policies of other sports to see how the UFC and MMA stack up:

• The NFL drug testing policy most recently passed as part of the collective bargaining agreement allows players to be tested as often as league officials deem necessary both for steroids and HGH testing (human growth hormone). In addition, the league is allowed to test players up to six times in the offseason.

• The NBA allows for random drug testing, but no more than two times per off-season, and that is only for performance enhancing drugs, not drugs of abuse like marijuana. During the season, players can be tested at random, but never at the arena on the night of a game. It’s stated that “a majority of players would be tested no more than four times throughout an entire year.”

• Major League Baseball’s drug testing policy states all players will be tested at least one time per season, and the commissioner’s office has the right to test at random in the off-season with no limits in regards to how often or when the tests will take place.
Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista revealed recently that over the past three offseasons he’s been tested approximately 16 times by Major League Baseball officials. Again, the office of the commissioner has the right to test as often or as little as they want, with no limits during the offseason.

• In professional cycling (governed by the UCI), athletes are required to submit to testing at any race, before or after the event, and even in their hotel rooms in between stages of multi-day races. They are also required to submit their daily whereabouts to a central website to be more easily located in case they are chosen for random testing, without notice. A cyclist’s test results are logged in what is termed a biological passport, much like an individual’s personal medical records, and even if the cyclist has not tested positive, any abnormalities in the tests over time that could indicate the likelihood of performance enhancing substances can be reason for further action against that cyclist.

Olympic athletes are definitely held to the highest standards when it comes to drug testing. For instance, Olympic Gold Medalist LeShawn Merrit tested positive for a banned substance and received a 21-month suspension from the Olympic committee.

Merritt admitted that the substance that he tested positive for was a result of a male enhancement drug he had been taking. A normal ban for an athlete who tests positive by the Olympic committee is a minimum of two years, but due to Merritt being forthcoming about the drugs he was taking, the committee opted to knock off three months from his sentence.

Now, does this mean that the UFC or MMA as a whole has better or worse drug testing than any other major sport? It just depends on how you look at it.

Out of competition testing for approximately 375 fighters at least twice a year would run around $1 to $1.5 million per year, according to physician Margaret Goodman in a recent report by MMAWeekly.com content partner Yahoo! Sports.

Is that number too much or too little for the extended testing of athletes in MMA? There’s no perfect answer, but it appears for now the status quo for drug testing in mixed martial arts is exactly that – the status quo.

Follow @DamonMartin on Twitter or e-mail Damon Martin.
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