UFC/USADA: Cost Effective Control Just Isn’t Working

On July 1, 2015, the UFC and the United States Anti Doping Association (USADA) began a partnership aimed at eliminating the use of banned substances within the promotion. While a total wipeout of PEDs in the sport will never truly be possible, the goal of imposing tougher testing protocols and punishments was a welcome sight to most. But to far too many fans and media alike, catching the “big names” seems to be a coup somehow, when in reality they are just another number on a vile when it comes to drug testing.

Since the UFC/USADA testing regime began, a total of 1338 tests have been administered in the four quarters. 1096 of these tests have been out of competition, while the remaining 242 have been conducted in competition. 42 events have been held over this time frame, and to round each event to a total of 10 bouts, 20 competitors, this gives us a total of 840 tests that should have been taken if every fighter had been tested following an event. There is no set number for out of competition testing, but according to the USADA website, some fighters that have competed are not officially listed as even being tested. Now this is not to say some fighters have never been tested since July 1, 2015, as individual athletic commissions still conduct testing, but if the UFC brought in the USADA to “clean up the promotion”, why is everyone not tested?

This leads us to two of the most notable UFC athletes to fail an USADA administered drug test, Jon Jones and Brock Lesnar. According to the USADA site, Jones received 6 total tests and Lesnar received a total of 8 USADA tests. On the flip side, their projected UFC 200 opponents, Daniel Cormier and Mark Hunt, were both tested 7 and 8 times. The headliners of the event however, Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes, were tested 4 times each leading up to UFC 200. But what about the remaining 19 fighters on this card? According to the USADA website, the testing is as follows (for the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2016):

Anderson Silva: 3

Jose Aldo: 2 vs. Frankie Edgar: 2

Cain Velasquez: 2 vs. Travis Browne: 1

Julianna Pena: 2 vs. Cat Zingano: 2

Kelvin Gastelum: 2 vs. Johny Hendricks: 4

TJ Dillashaw: 2 vs. Raphael Assuncao: 3

Sage Northcutt: 1 vs. Enrique Marin: 1

Joe Lauzon: 2 vs. Diego Sanchez 1

Gegard Mousasi: 2 vs. Thiago Santos: 4

Jim Miller: 1 vs. Takanori Gomi: 1

While it is impossible to know the exact dates of many of these tests, to see fighters with a combined total of 1 in and out of competition tests, while others have as many as 8, should say something about the overall effect of the USADA testing. Some fighters, as per the USADA site, were not even tested in the 3rd quarter of 2016, aka following UFC 200. But back to the original points, those being Jones and Lesnar.

Jones was flagged for his violation on July 7th, stemming from a June 16th out of competition test, The time between the test itself and the reveal date was 22 days. Lesnar, flagged on July 15 for an out of competition sample taken June 28, was also flagged on fight night for a second violation. The time between Lesnar’s first failed sample was 18 days, but only 12 days out from UFC 200, held on July 9. His in competition test was revealed on July 19, 11 days out from the test date. As most know by now, Jones was removed from the event on July 7th, and Lesnar was allowed to compete on the card. Now these dates may seem minor, but for many reasons, they are important. Perhaps the biggest reason in Lesnar’s opponent, Mark Hunt.

If you follow the UFC at all, then surely you have read Hunt’s numerous comments on Lesnar’s failed test. And while some comments are utterly laughable, the issue with time in between the failed test and the reveal date is one that should be addressed. While the USADA is the official testing partner of the UFC, they handle many other athletes in many other sports. In 2016’s 2nd quarter alone, the USADA conducted a total of 4041 tests, 1521 in competition and 2520 out of competition. The UFC accounted for 525 of these tests, which leaves 3516 tests over 83 sports in a span of 3 months. A report which appeared today, which states that the USADA could have requested an expedited delivery of Lesnar’s test at a cost between $35 and $450 dollars, certainly doesn’t help stop the stigma that the UFC didn’t care if Lesnar failed, as long as he sold the PPV as expected. But one key thing is being ignored by far too many at the moment. UFC Vice President of health and performance Jeff Novitzky, spoke on the subject:

“It’s not as simple as it sounds. We’re having an event literally every week now — 24 to 26 fighters per each card. A lot of those fighters are being tested in the two to three weeks before a fight. You would have to expedite every one of those tests. If you want to expedite one or two tests, the costs with the laboratory are relatively minor. When you start talking about 100 or so a month or more, you could more than double the cost of this program.”

Some may read this statement and scoff, due to the fact that the UFC constantly boasts about their earning revenue, and of you are so dedicated to cleaning up the sport, pay the extra costs to make sure the results are in before hand. But there is one simple problem with this. Just because a request for expedited results is given, there is no guarantee it will happen. The primary testing facility for the USADA, UCLA’s Olympic Analytical Laboratory, states on its own webpage that”

“…more than 40 scientists analyze approximately 45,000 urine specimens per year for traces of banned substances intended to give athletes an unfair edge in competition.”

This roughly translates to an average of 3750 samples per month, which may not seem like a lot, but this year is an important one. As everyone should know, the 2016 Summer Olympics are taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which means far more testing for the USADA then in a testing quarter or year. Like it or not, the UFC does not take priority in testing simply because people think it should. Many have stated that there is no point to have out of competition testing if the athlete who is flagged can still compete, and in a perfect world, this would be true. But testing is not not magic process, one that a sample can be looked at for a second and instantly know if an athlete has been using any form of banned substance. The more alarming number here should be the lack of overall testing to all UFC athletes, rather than the speed of a test, based on the hindsight of the results. Look no further than former Featherweight title contender Chad Mendes, who is currently facing punishment following an out of competition test in which he failed, for proof that testing does work, but there was no time frame for him to be tested and to receive the results. When a fight card is approaching, time becomes paramount in testing.

Again though, state athletic commissions such as Nevada surely still conduct their own testing for events, but if this is still happening, and the USADA is clearly not testing all athletes with the same vigour as others, if at all, then what was the point of employing the services of such a body? If the UFC is once again worried about the cost of proper and precise testing, why brag about having the best testing in the world?

Had the UFC expedited every out of competition test sample since the beginning of the USADA era, 1096 in total, at the highest cost of $450, the total cost would amount to $493200. That’s right, slightly under $500000 to have all tests expedited and ensure that a level playing field is in play come fight night. Now of course, athletes can use after the out of competition testing has completed, but that is something no one can stop from happening. Post fight tests are in place for this, and while it will never fully wipeout the use of banned substances, they are testing for it. But that is what state athletic commission were doing before anyway.

Having the USADA logo paired with the UFC looks nice on paper and online, but looking at the raw numbers, and the costs that are too high according to Novitzky, is it really causing any change in the sport? If testing is conducted on a cost first measure, then nothing will truly change. Lesnar’s case can be viewed as the exception to the normal rules, as his bout with Hunt seemed like a one off payday for the WWE star. But in most cases, these athletes are in it for the long haul, and deserve the best testing possible, not the best testing based on a budget.

Plain and simple, while Hunt has a legit gripe with Lesnar competing at UFC 200, his test went with the rules and protocol already in place. Problem is, the rules and protocol don’t seem to apply to all in the UFC, and others are surely set to be placed at risk due to cost effective measures and overworked labs. Testing does not need to stop obviously, and some will always fall through the cracks, but shouldn’t the UFC and USADA at least pretend to try and fill in these cracks, rather than pretend they are on solid ground?

Jasyn Zangari

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