SPORTS

UFC to spend millions more on drug testing, promises to catch cheats

02/18/2015 04:03 EST | Updated 04/20/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - In the wake of a spate of high-profile doping cases, the UFC has announced plans to spend millions to expand drug testing of its 585 fighters.

The mixed martial arts juggernaut also said it will press athletic commissions to impose or accept far more severe doping penalties. UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta said he supports the World Anti-Doping Association's two-year ban for first-time offenders and would have no issue with increasing that to four years if WADA goes that route.

The current standard for first-time MMA offenders is generally nine months.

"There has to be harsher penalties to rid the sport of PED (performance-enhancing drug) usage," Fertitta told a news conference Wednesday in Las Vegas.

"Two or four years is career-threatening," UFC president Dana White said of the longer bans.

"If you are using performance-enhancing drugs, you're going to get caught," he added.

The UFC is holding talks with "numerous" drug-testing organizations to establish the expanded drug testing protocol, using World Anti-Doping Association standards, Fertitta said. The goal is to have the new program in place by July 1.

"Honestly it's going to probably get worse before it gets better," said Fertitta. "But we have to put these procedures in place to eventually make it better."

The UFC said it is not alone in battling drug cheats. But, as White noted, using performance-enhancing drugs in a combat sport is different from baseball.

"They're hitting a ball with a stick. Who cares," he said. "If two human beings go in and compete in combat sports and one is using performance-enhancing drugs, it's incredibly dangerous. I hate it. I hate everything about it.

"And if you can't compete in this sport with your natural abilities, you don't belong here."

Fertitta said the UFC spent approximately US$500,000 on drug testing in 2013 and 2014. With the number of tests expected to multiply at least tenfold and with fighters spread around the globe in 45 countries, the organization is now willing to spend "several million dollars" to fund expanded in- and out-of-competition testing.

The UFC has had a series of doping black eyes recently.

Former middleweight champion Anderson Silva, widely seen as the sport's greatest ever fighter, tested positive for steroids twice around UFC 183 in January.

"That shocked the entire MMA community and sports world," White said. "It shocked me. We were pretty blown away by it. Now we're going to dig in."

Nick Diaz, the man Silva beat, also tested for marijuana. And light-heavyweight champion Jon (Bones) Jones, seen as Silva's successor as the world's best pound-for-pound fighter, tested positive for cocaine before UFC 182.

Welterweight contender Hector Lombard also tested positive for steroids at UFC 182.

"Our current methods are catching athletes using PEDs," Fertitta said in his opening statement. "Although we feel confident that the in-competition has been effective, we recognize the need for a more robust out-of-competition plan in accordance with athletic commissions and regulatory bodies.

"Simply put we can do better. We've all seen similar challenges in the world of sports. And consequently we see that the UFC is no more immune to performance-enhancing drug use than any other major sport."

Fertitta said fighters in all main event and championship bouts will undergo out-of-competition tests. And all other fighters will face random out-of-competition testing.

Currently athletic commissions randomly test competitors on fight night with limited out-of-competition testing, funded by event organizers. Five out of 19 fighters tested out of competition failed their tests in 2013-14.

The UFC has conducted its own drug-testing in venues where there is no commission.

Former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, a longtime advocate for more drug testing, applauded the moves.

"Very happy to learn about the UFC announcing a new comprehensive random PED testing," the Montreal native tweeted.

"Clearly a big step in the right direction for our sport."

Montreal-based Rory MacDonald, slated to face UFC welterweight champion (Ruthless) Robbie Lawler on July 11 in Las Vegas, also welcomed the announcement.

"Great news about the new drug testing policy! I hope my next fight against (Lawler) will be part of this new testing era. Make it happen!"

UFC chief operating officer Lawrence Epstein said the organization planned to strengthen its fighter contracts to have the right to suspend athletes who test positive. The UFC will also look to work with athletic commissions to convince them to adopt such harsher suspensions.

The UFC had initially considered taking over the expanded testing itself but backed off after its legal team mishandled the length of suspension after a positive drug test by Cung Le in an event in Macau last year, White said

"We are not in the drug-testing business," said Epstein. "We're in the sports media business."

White declined to call doping in MMA an epidemic but said "there's definitely a problem."

"It's no different than any other sport. When there's money involved, people are going to find a way to beat the system and get that edge."

The UFC said 900 fighters were subjected to in-competition testing over 79 events in 2013-14. Twelve fighters tested positive for PEDs and 10 for street drugs.

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