Over the past seven days, I have gone in hard on the UFC and its drug testing issues. I've said I believe they have a problem with performance enhancing drugs. I expressed my disappointment in their decision to cancel a planned comprehensive testing program that would randomly test every fighter on the UFC roster.
And I spoke of my belief that, if things did not change, it could lead the UFC and mixed martial arts in the wrong direction.
Today, we got our first glimpse that change might be on the horizon and that the UFC understands that changes must be made.
During Wednesday's broadcast of UFC Tonight, the hosts—Karyn Bryant, Daniel Cormier, Michael Bisping and guest Demetrious Johnson—discussed the issues surrounding PEDs in the UFC. The program noted that 13 UFC fighters have failed drug tests in the last 12 months. It was a moment of brutal honesty from a UFC-controlled show that could have easily avoided the subject altogether.
But the big news, announced by Bryant during the broadcast, is that UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta and president Dana White will hold a special press conference on February 18 to address the drug issues in the UFC. According to Bryant, they'll also discuss their plans for combating the problem.
The news conference will come one day after the Nevada Athletic Commission, which announced (h/t MMA Junkie) its agenda Wednesday, meets to discuss the recent drug failures of Anderson Silva, Hector Lombard and Nick Diaz.
This is good news. My hope is that White and Fertitta will announce they are bringing back the canceled drug testing program. Today, I'll give you a few things that I'd like to see in an out-of-competition testing program.
I'm not telling you this will clean up mixed martial arts or make it a 100 percent clean sport, because that is not the case. In any athletic competition where money is on the line, cheaters will try to cheat. That's a fact of life.
But I do believe these steps will help lead to a drastic overhaul of the PED culture in mixed martial arts.
1. RANDOM YEAR-ROUND TESTING OF EVERY FIGHTER ON THE ROSTER
A comprehensive policy that tests fighters on a truly random basis will go a long way toward curbing the usage of performance enhancing drugs.
If every fighter on the UFC roster understands that a tester can show up at any time, day or night, they'll be a lot less likely to use PEDs. And the testing must be truly random; fighters cannot know when they might be tested. And I would test each fighter three times per year.
This would also drastically diminish the usage of recreational drugs by UFC athletes.
2. HARSH PENALTIES FOR OFFENDERS
Random testing is a great start, but it is nearly useless if fighters are not terrified of the punishment they'll face if they are caught using. Stiff penalties for those who fail drug tests—even if it is their first offense—is nearly as important as random testing.
For the first offense, I would like to see fighters suspended for a year. This is very near to the current standard, though, some fighters receive lesser terms. I would like to see a one-year suspension become the standard punishment.
For the second offense, a two-year suspension is in order. If I knew that testing positive would cause me to lose my ability to make money in my chosen profession, I would think long and hard about injecting anything into my body.
For the rare third offense, I would recommend a lifetime ban. This may sound harsh, but any fighter who has failed three drug tests simply does not deserve to compete in mixed martial arts.
3. PARTNER WITH OUTSIDE PROGRAM
The UFC does not have the infrastructure to deal with a comprehensive drug testing program that would test 500-plus fighters three times a year. And more importantly, drug testing must be handled by an outside party in order to be viewed as legitimate. Onlookers will view any UFC-run program with skepticism.
That's why the promotion should testing according to the World Anti-Doping Agency's specifications or another organization such as the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency. VADA is capable of handling the volume required, and it's an outside agency. With VADA in control of the program, we can be sure that the UFC is not exerting influence on the results.
4. ACCOUNTABILITY WITHOUT A UFC FILTER
And that leads me into my final point: The UFC cannot have any control on the results of the testing. The results must be sent directly to the media and other interested parties; they cannot be filtered through the UFC. The promotion simply cannot have the option of keeping results secret until it sees fit to release them.
My suggestions are simple, but I do believe they would be effective. Obviously, any program instituted by the UFC will be far more complex and in-depth than the items I've listed here. And we aren't even certain that Fertitta and White will use the February 18 press conference to announce a drug testing program.
But it does appear, at least on the surface, that the UFC realizes it has a problem and that it is going to take the steps needed to fix it. Which means February 18 is a very important date in the history of the UFC, and the results of that day could be far more important to the long-term health of the sport than any fight card the UFC has ever promoted.