LAS VEGAS — The Ultimate Fighting Championship announced the details of its new "Athlete Marketing and Development Program" during a special media-only press conference on Wednesday at the Red Rock Casino & Resort. Bleacher Report was in attendance.
The press conference was attended by UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, President Dana White, Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Epstein and Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance Jeff Novitzky, who was hired from the Food and Drug Administration in April. Novitzky is most famously known for spearheading the investigation into the BALCO steroid ring that involved former baseball slugger Barry Bonds.
The program includes a comprehensive drug-testing policy that will incorporate random, year-round unannounced testing of all 600-plus fighters on the UFC's roster. A minimum of 2,750 tests will take place across the UFC roster each year, which averages out to about five random tests per fighter, per year.
It will be independently managed by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, a nonprofit and non-government program headed up by CEO Travis Tygart. USADA controls the drug-testing programs for the United States Olympic team.
The new program will adhere to the code published by the World Anti-Doping Agency. It will use blood and urine collection practices, and fighters will be given no notice before a test takes place. Tygart also said that USADA will use carbon isotope ratio testing (CIR) as well as testing for EPO.
“Our goal is to have the best anti-doping program in all of professional sport,” Novitzky said.
The UFC will have no say in administrating the new program. It will be handled entirely by USADA, including testing schedules, failure notifications and punishments. USADA will notify the UFC of test results and punishments.
Penalties for test failures are less harsh than the new rules voted in by the Nevada Athletic Commission, but they are stiff. First-time offenders for performance-enhancing drugs will be suspended for two years. A second failure would mean a four-year suspension, and a third suspension would be eight years.
Penalties for marijuana usage are also less severe than those announced by the NAC. It will only be tested for in competition, which the new rules define as the six hours immediately before and after a fight takes place. Offenders will be suspended for one year for the first offense, two years for the second offense and four years for the third.
Fighters will be required to update USADA of their whereabouts at all times. There is a three-strike policy under WADA code that will be used, where if a fighter is not where he says he is, and he misses a drug test, it counts as a strike. After three strikes in 12 months, it will be treated the same as a failure.
Epstein told Bleacher Report that the UFC has no legal concerns regarding subjecting independent contractors to year-round drug testing. "It's part of what comes with being a UFC fighter," Epstein said.
After the press conference, Tygart told Bleacher Report that records of all tests will be maintained on the USADA website. Visitors to the site will be able to search a fighter's name and see when and where all of the tests have taken place. Personal addresses will not be revealed, but the general locations of the test will be published.
The promotion also announced new measures to curtail the number of training injuries that historically occur in mixed martial arts. To that end, it has partnered with outside firms Fusionetics (a company that specializes in injury prevention) and EXOS (specializes in new and more effective training techniques).
Fertitta also revealed plans that will eventually help fighters be placed into jobs outside the promotion after their careers end.
This story is developing. Stay tuned for updates.