The UFC made good on its promise to create an innovative athlete marketing and drug-testing program, announcing on Wednesday a partnership with the United States Anti-Doping Agency to become an independent administrator of its new policy.
The program, which will begin testing UFC athletes on July 1, is intended to protect fighters and give them a level playing field when they step into the Octagon.
> READ: UFC Launches Athlete Marketing And Development Program
Jeff Novitzky, the UFC’s new vice president of athlete health and performance, called the program “the most comprehensive, effective, best in all of professional sports.”
Added Travis Tygart, USADA’s executive director, “Given the independence, the transparency and the robustness of the policy that’s going to be implemented, it’s the top of all professional sports around the world.”
> WATCH: Athlete Marketing and Development Press Conference Replay
In addition, the UFC said it is connecting with two companies, Fusionetics and EXOS, designed to help athletes with cutting-edge training programs, nutrition, recovery from injuries and other performance-enhancing and wellness techniques.
“The goal is to reduce injuries and optimize performance,” said Lawrence Epstein, UFC executive vice president and Chief Operating Officer.
The organization also conducted a two-day summit this week with 50 emerging athletes who attended classes on health, wellness, training, financial planning and social media training.
Clearly, the UFC views its marketing and development program and its association with USADA as proactive measures to help fighters stay healthy, train smart and fight clean. At a press conference in February, also held at Red Rock Casino Resort, UFC officials announced their intention to begin testing athletes in the wake of previous high-profile drug-related suspensions.
“Last time we came here and had this press conference, we said we were going to implement a serious anti-doping policy, and here it is,” UFC president Dana White said. “I’m hoping, I’m praying, that our guys aren’t using drugs. I hope that’s the case, but we’ll see how this plays out.”
By granting USADA the right to act independently in testing and sanctioning fighters, the UFC is sending a clear message to its fan base and athletes that it intends to take a hard line against the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
All fighters under UFC contract will be required to adhere to the new rules. Novitzky said an education program for athletes would take place over the next several months using in-person and hands-on demonstrations of online and mobile applications. Online education classes will also be made available.
“It’s a brand new and bright day for the athletes of the UFC,” said Tygart, who attended the press conference with Dr. Edwin Moses, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and the executive director of USADA. “This new program sets a new standard for all of professional sports.”
It also will levy some heavy sanctions, from one-year suspensions for a first offense to lifetime bans for multiple violations. Novitzky said UFC fighters would be subject to unannounced, year-round testing in and out of competition. Collections of urine and blood will be taken with testing “occurring any place, any time with no notice,” he said.
Penalties for a first offense of non-specified substances such as anabolic steroids, growth hormones, peptides and blood-doping drugs can range between two and four years. Sanctions could double for a second violation and double again, up to a lifetime ban, for a third offense.
For specified substances such as marijuana, cocaine and other stimulants, fighters can be tested only in-competition. Penalties would be similar to violations for non-specified substances.
Fighters can be tested six hours before a weigh-in to six hours after a weigh-in.
There are also financial deterrents: Fighters risk forfeiture of title, ranking, purse or other compensation, with those fines going directly to the anti-doping program.
Any sanctions are subject to an appeal by an independent arbitrator.
The UFC faces a significant task making all of its athletes around the world aware of the program, how it will work and the possible penalties. But excuses won’t be tolerated.
“We don’t want to catch you, but if they’re cheating they’re going to get caught,” Tygart said. “If they decide to make the mistake of cheating, they’re going to pay a heavy penalty. We hope they don’t.”
UFC light heavyweight contender Ovince Saint Preux, who attended the press conference, said he welcomed the new testing policy because he knows he can step into the Octagon with at least a fair opportunity.
“You’re going to give a lot of fighters like myself a chance,” he said. “A lot of times you hear stuff (about other fighters), but you don’t want to make speculations. I don’t know what fighters are using, but it opens their eyes. You might as well not do it.”
White said the connection of the drug-testing policy and the new marketing programs for athletes should make for a better UFC. The company is building a new campus in Las Vegas that will include a state-of-the-art training facility for fighters. It is hoped they will make use of the new technology to avoid the kinds of injuries that have forced previous bouts to be postponed.
“We’re being proactive in trying to fix things that seemed like they were impossible to fix, trying to educate the athletes to train better, how to warm up, how to stretch,” White said. “Obviously, we’ve had a couple of drug issues this year, and now we’re trying to fix this, too.
“We love the sport, we love the athletes. We’ll see how this plays out, trying to prevent injuries and trying to prevent guys from using performance enhancing drugs.”