LAS VEGAS — The Ultimate Fighting Championship announced on Wednesday plans for sweeping changes to its overall drug-testing program that could change the face of mixed martial arts as we know it, including punishments that could potentially be far more severe than what currently exists.
UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, president Dana White and counsel Lawrence Epstein took the stage in a ballroom at the Red Rock Casino Resort to announce the changes, which were spurred on by a recent spate of high-profile test failures, including Anderson Silva, Nick Diaz and Hector Lombard.
Fertitta opened the news conference by detailing the UFC's history with regulation and drug testing, noting that it has always embraced more government regulation and not skirted the issue. White then went into specifics about recent test failures, including Jon Jones' failed out-of-competition test for cocaine metabolites and Silva's multiple test failures for performance-enhancing drugs and benzodiazepines.
After laying out recent history, Fertitta then began discussing the UFC's vision for the future of drug testing. That vision arose when examining the statistics for out-of-competition tests. In 2013 and 2014, out of 19 fighters tested on an out-of-competition basis, five failed.
"That is an alarming statistic," Fertitta said. And because of that statistic, Fertitta continued, the UFC would be running toward eliminating PEDs from the sport just as it ran toward regulation over a decade ago.
He noted that the UFC will advocate for all athletic commissions to conduct enhanced out-of-competition testing for all main-event fighters, including both championship and non-title fights. The UFC will pay for all costs accrued for these additional testing procedures, which would include blood testing and carbon isotope ratio testing on samples showing abnormal levels of testosterone.
In addition, Fertitta said, the UFC will begin testing every fighter on its roster randomly and out of competition. And the punishments for offenders will be far harsher than those currently in place. Fertitta said they have come to realize that the current punishments handed out by athletic commissions are not enough of a deterrent to drug abuse, so he is supporting even lengthier punishments for first-time offenders.
Fertitta said that he would even support a four-year banishment for first-time offenders in accordance with current World Anti-Doping Agency code. The current WADA code changed from a two-year ban for first-time offenders to four years on Jan. 1, 2015.
Fertitta was aware that his promotion is likely to undergo growing pains as it attempts to transition from the current drug-infused culture of mixed martial arts into a cleaner, more respectable sport.
"Honestly, it's going to get worse before it gets better," he said. But Fertitta also noted that cleaning up the sport is something that must be done, and done quickly. "There have to be harsher penalties to rid this sport of PED usage.
"If you are using PED's, you will be caught."
The UFC's drug-testing program will be handled by a third party.
"We will partner with an international, leading anti-doping agency," Fertitta said. "That agency will handle all of the testing. They won't even tell us who they're testing or why. They will handle it."
Fertitta and Epstein declined to announce who their agency partner will be. Leading candidates would include USADA and the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association. The promotion is still in discussions with various agencies about assuming those duties.
There are many unknowns surrounding the new policies. We don't know what they will ultimately look like when they go into effect. We don't even know if they will go into effect. The UFC may take one look at a landscape filled with even more failed tests than it currently faces and decide it isn't worth the hassle.
But if the policies announced Wednesday are enacted as planned, this is a momentous day for the sport of mixed martial arts. And if the UFC is serious about suspending first-time offenders for two years or more, it will almost instantly clean up the world's largest fight promotion. And that is a good thing.
The UFC's new drug-testing policy is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2015.
Jeremy Botter covers mixed martial arts for Bleacher Report