The Failed Arguments Against Better Drug Testing in the UFC

The Ultimate Fighting Championship will conduct a news conference next Wednesday, to address that controversy that just won’t go away.

No one seems to know what’s next. Even UFC commentator Joe Rogan found himself at a loss of words regarding what he called “the steroid epidemic” in a recent podcast.

But, it’s looking bad right now.

It’s also sad to see the issue taking center stage, as Mauro Ranallo said in a recent interview — where the veteran announcer called on MMA promotions to “stop the bulls–t!” and clean the sport up from Performance Enhancing Drugs.

Sad, but that’s how it has to be. It seems we’re just going through a painful transition right now.

(It’s not the first transition, of course. This sport of Mixed Martial Arts wasn’t considered much of a sport at all not that long ago — outlawed in most states and seemingly on the brink of extinction. Now, it’s everywhere short of New York, and that seems on the way to changing.)

Even just last year, UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta had boasted that the issue of PED’s in MMA was becoming less of a problem. Their President of Regulatory Affairs, Marc Ratner, announced a full out-of-competition testing program back in August.

“Unannounced blood and urine (testing) is going to happen, hopefully in the next three or four months,” Ratner told ESPN. When you’re talking about 500 fighters, there are a lot of logistics. Having fighters in foreign countries makes it tougher, but we’re coming up with a plan and (agencies) are making proposals to us in the next two weeks.”

It sounded great; the UFC should reasonably be expected to make the best effort to enforce the rules about PED’s, as is the case in every other regulation in place to protect its athletes. As I put it here at MMA Nuts, the sun had seemingly come out.

The Volunteer Anti-Doping Association echoed my sentiment:

But, the sun set on that idea — and the whole program was scratched.

Hopefully, this conference announces a similar program — perhaps one with the assistance of an outside body like VADA.

Some will disagree. Fans are frustrated at the loss of high-profile cancelled bouts, and some are lashing out, trying to end the more effective “out-of-competition” testing measures that are catching athletes at a high rate.

Their arguments are tired.

  1. “You’ll never catch the cheats and clean up the sport.” This is nonsense, of course. We’re catching cheats at a higher rate than ever with mandatory out-of-competition testing among the top UFC bouts. Those tests are being failed by almost 30% of the fighters taking them. Sure, it’s nowhere near perfect — many mistakes have been made. But neither is any other part of officiating or promoting. It can, and will, improve.
  2. “Steroids will be legal soon anyway.” This has been argued for years by apologists — and it’s never felt further from the truth. Barely a year ago we were in the “TRT era” of athletes claiming hypogonadism to obtain synthetic testosterone. The practice was seen by some as a the wave of the future — something usually illegal but (seemingly) made legitimate by medical supervision. Of course, it really wasn’t legitimate, and it wasn’t the wave of the future. TRT has been rightfully banned.

When an athlete agrees to fight in MMA — which is not a right, but rather a privilege that one must prove by an athletic commission — s/he agrees to contracted rules. It’s up to the promotion to enforce the rules.

The UFC has improved its policies, but recent events show they have a ways to go.

“The fight (between Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz) should be cancelled because it’s cheating, it’s a biological weapon that you have,” longtime UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “I’m bringing a knife into the fight, they should not let me fight because I’m carrying a weapon… a performance-enhancing drug is the same thing, it’s a biological weapon. It’s an advantage that you have over your opponent that you should not be able to compete with, you put the health of the competitor in jeopardy.”

“We’re not playing golf, we’re not racing, we’re fighting. Every time we fight we put our lives, our well-being in jeopardy.”

Do those who pronounce drug testing too expensive consider what could happen if a clean athlete is seriously injured, or even dies, in a bout against a fighter who is on PED’s?

Because as bad as this is, it could get a lot worse. Hopefully, this Wednesday begins a new and better era.