Tuesday 24 April 2018

‘If fighters are using performance enhancing drugs, we'll catch them' - UFC reveals plans to clamp down on cheats

Anderson Silva failed a drugs test earlier this year
Anderson Silva failed a drugs test earlier this year
Fergus Ryan

Fergus Ryan

In our first weekly MMA column we discussed the recent spate of drug test failures. At their ad hoc press conference yesterday the UFC unveiled their plans about how they are going to tackle this issue.

The UFC took a major stride towards cleaning up the sport of MMA and its image yesterday by announcing plans to introduce some stringent testing procedures and penalties. The plan is demanding in design and what's even more impressive is the speed in which they’ve acted, unlike other sporting bodies.

If you couple this with the willingness to spend their own money on catching drugs cheats, it illustrates the determination to ensure the sport operates a zero-tolerance with drugs.

Read more: UFC must deal with drug problem in MMA

Speaking at the press conference UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta explained the new procedures.

“Current penalties are not enough to deter athletes not to use PEDs (performance enhancing drugs)," he said.

He didn’t want to sit idly by waiting for someone else to fix the problem, so he argued the UFC should act and lead the way. UFC president Dana White agreed with those sentiments.

“Fighters will look at the risk versus reward," he said. "If the risk for taking PEDs is $20,000 and a nine month suspension, they’ll take the risk. If the penalty is two or four years, that’s a career ending amount of time.”

If successful, the new measures should seriously deter the amount of fighters tempted to cheat with PED’s. Here’s a summary of what the UFC hope to achieve in the 12 months after their new testing regime begins on July 1.

  • UFC will advocate the Athletic Commissions to test all fighters competing at UFC events. At the moment not every fighter at events are tested. The UFC will bank roll any additional cost incurred by the commissions.
  • It's expected there will be approximately 41 events in the 12 months after July  1 meaning there’ll be approximately 1,000 ‘in competition’ tests carried out across their 585 fighters active during the period.
  • All 585 UFC fighters are eligible for random, "out of competition" tests whether they are preparing for a fight or not. The number of tests will be enhanced significantly from the current level.
  • The UFC in conjunction with the Athletic Commissions will subject all main event and title fighters to enhanced, out of competition testing. This equates to approximately 96 marquee fighters being subjected to random tests during the period.
  • They will be asking the Athletic Commissions to adopt harsher penalties in line with the WADA two year ban for first time PED offenders and life time bans for repeat offenders.

There are however obstacles to the UFC being able to implement all these new rules.

1. They are not dealing with one regulatory body. Each US State has its own Athletic Commission some of which are made up entirely of volunteers and have little or no budget. While the UFC has said they’ll address any extra cost they may have work hard to encourage under staffed commissions to adopt their new initiatives. The US Athletic Commissions are the only legal entities allowed sanction and regulate MMA events. So, they don’t have to take on this additional work if they don’t want to.

2. Fighters are independent contractors not UFC employees. The organisation doesn't have the same legal rights or control over their talent as the NBA or NFL. It would require a contractual change for UFC to punish drugs cheat independent of an Athletic Commission.

3. The 585 Fighters are spread across 46 countries, some with no regulatory bodies.

The UFC have generally succeeded in everything they have set out to do. Dana White reflected on their achievements down through the years, remembering how critics regularly told him "you can’t do it".

“It was impossible to get regulated, it was impossible to get back on TV, it was impossible to get back on PPV, impossible to get health insurance for fighter," he said.

"We’ve been doing the impossible since 2001. About eight to 12 months ago I told you we were going to start doing enhanced testing and we started catching guys. We only spent $500,000 now we’re going to spend millions, if you’re using PEDs,  you’re going to get caught.”

All fans of the sport will hope he’s right.

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