Is the UFC doing Enough to Combat Doping?


From baseball to football to cycling, performance enhancement has long gone hand-in-hand with professional sports. Any athlete is always looking for ways to improve; it’s just a matter of how they go about it that makes the difference.

And as long as there are professional sports, drug testing to try and expose athletes that try to gain an unfair advantage through chemistry will be a hot-button issue.

Mixed martial arts, despite its relative newness, is no different. As much as Barry Bonds or Lance Armstrong is scrutinized, so are Alistair Overeem and Brock Lesnar.

UFC president Dana White, however, says that mixed martial arts, and the UFC in particular, is at the forefront of trying to make sure its athletes are clean.

“We do more, and the athletic commission does more, than any other sport on this planet,” said the UFC’s head honcho on Tuesday.

The testing, however, for mixed martial artists varies depending upon what jurisdiction they are fighting in. In the United States, each state that the UFC goes to has a regulatory body that oversees testing, and if that state or other areas in the world do not require drug testing, UFC vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner oversees testing.

Fighters are typically required to test, at least at random, around the time they compete, and are often subject to testing, as in Nevada, at other random times, even out of competition.

Case in point, the six fighters at the UFC 146 press conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday – Junior dos Santos, Alistair Overeem, Cain Velasquez, Frank Mir, Roy Nelson, and Antonio Silva – were all tested without notice.

The tests are typically conducted via a urine sample collected in the presence of a commission of diagnostics lab official.

“Every guy gets tested on The Ultimate Fighter. These guys living in the house right now, first off, all of them tested negative for any performance enhancing drug or any other drug and full background checks,” said White, who also noted that TUF competitors also go through a full medical check that often times has turned up medical issues that a fighter didn’t know he had.

“That and now we don’t sign guys to contracts without drug testing them first.”

These are important steps towards cleaning up a sport, like any professional sport, that is always going to have certain athletes trying to get the upper hand, and not always by legal means.

With experts from the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency constantly working to improve anti-doping standards across the globe, most professional sports are taking notice and moving more and more towards both agencies’ recommendation that the only way to catch cheaters is to institute no-notice, anytime testing.

The testing of the UFC 146 contestants following Tuesday’s press conference was one example of how Nevada is trying to step up its testing of combat sports athletes.

The National Football League bolstered its drug testing policy as part of its latest contract with the NFL Players Association, including random and game-day testing, as well as required and random testing for Human Growth Hormone.

Professional cycling, once lauded as one of the dirtiest of sports, has undergone rigorous changes that include quarterly blood tests, as well as random test, from cyclists that are entered into a profile, known as a biological passport, that follows a cyclist throughout his career. Any anomalies over time in a cyclist’s passport can lead to increased testing or sanctions.

Although they aren’t tested daily, cyclists are required to provide their daily whereabouts to make them easily locatable in case they are selected for testing. Some of the blood samples from their testing are also frozen to preserve them for “back testing” as future drug tests are developed.

But just how far can drug testing reasonably be spearheaded by an organization?

In the mythical world of no limits, athletes would be available any time, anywhere, for any test deemed necessary. But in the real world there are factors that influence just how far an organization can or will go to detect cheaters.

Athletic commissions are government agencies that are funded by tax dollars, obviously with a limited source of funding. Commissions can only do as much as their budgets allow.

The UFC, much like the NFL or NBA or any other sports organization, feels the heat to continually improve what they do to combat doping as well. But again, money and logistics play a significant role in just how far the promotion can or is willing to go in its efforts.

“We have 375 guys under contract. We’re doing a zillion fights a year. We’re traveling all over the world. Do you really think that we can track down and just chase these guys around everywhere they live all over the world and just randomly test these guys all the time?” White commented, visibly exacerbated by questions about whether or not the UFC was doing enough to combat doping.

“It’s unrealistic for me to chase these guys all over the world. We do more than any other sports organization on the planet. There’d be no football, baseball, or anything else if they got tested the way we do.”

Follow @KenPishna on Twitter or e-mail Ken Pishna.
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