TORONTO - Looking to bolster its war against doping, the UFC has hired a former federal agent with a history of going after high-profile drug cheats as vice-president of athlete health and performance.
Jeff Novitzky, an agent with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 2008, was involved in the U.S. criminal investigations into the BALCO lab, Roger Clemens and Lance Armstrong.
As a special agent for the Internal Revenue Service before that, Novitzky investigated high-profile athletes over the use of steroids and other illegal substances.
The UFC says Novitzky will "spearhead the development of the organization's clean initiative education program designed to ensure that every athlete competes with natural ability on an even playing field."
"There is no bigger advocate of clean professional sports than Jeff Novitzky," Lawrence Epstein, UFC's senior executive vice-president and CEO, said in a statement Monday. "When we announced our commitment for an enhanced drug testing program in February, we wanted to ensure that the best people would be helping move this program forward and Jeff will lead the UFC in developing the most comprehensive anti-doping policy in professional sports."
Plagued by a spate of high-profile doping cases, the UFC announced plans in February to spend millions to expand drug testing of its 585 fighters.
The mixed martial arts promoter also said it will press athletic commissions to impose or accept far more severe doping penalties.
The UFC said at the time it was holding talks with "numerous'' drug-testing organizations to establish the expanded drug testing protocol, using World Anti-Doping Association standards, co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta said.
Novitzky will be in charge of having that program in place this July.
The UFC has been hit hard by doping in 2015.
Former middleweight champion Anderson Silva, seen by most as the sport's greatest ever fighter, tested positive for steroids twice around UFC 183 in January.
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.
Currently athletic commissions randomly test competitors on fight night with limited out-of-competition testing, funded by event organizers. The UFC said five out of 19 fighters tested out of competition failed their tests in 2013-14.
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.
The UFC has conducted its own drug-testing in venues where there is no commission.
Novitzky will join the UFC later this month.
"I am confident that UFC will be able to create a new gold standard testing program and implement it so a sustainable and level playing field is provided for all athletes," he said in a statement.
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