The Ultimate Fighting Championship will take significant steps to implement a more stringent drug-testing program later this year.
During a press conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday, UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, President Dana White and Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Epstein laid out a plan that will officially take effect on July 1. At that time, all fighters on the UFC roster -- approximately 585 total, according to the promotion -- will be subject to testing by an independent third party using World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) testing standards.
The UFC is currently in discussions with several drug testing organizations in order to establish random drug testing protocol by that date. Exactly which third-party organization the promotion will partner with has yet to be determined, and Fertitta was unable to reveal any of the candidates due to confidentiality agreements.
Fighters competing in championship and headlining bouts will be subject to even greater scrutiny, as they will all be subjected to enhanced out-of-competition testing beginning in July.
“The UFC will immediately advocate to all commissions to test every fighter in-competition on every card,” Fertitta said. “We want 100 percent of the fighters tested the night they compete in competition. And if there’s additional costs associated with that outside of any state or federation’s budget, we will pay for any additional cost required.”
The Las Vegas-based promotion is prepared to commit “several million dollars” to in- and out-of-competition as well as random performance-enhancing testing on a yearly basis. That is a significant increase from 2013-14, when UFC spent approximately $500,000 on testing expenses.
The UFC will also encourage the various athletic commissions to institute longer suspensions and harsher penalties for those fighters who fail drug tests. Most notably, Fertitta mentioned that he would support the WADA standard of a two-year or possibly a four-year ban for a first-time offender.
“We certainly advocate for [a two-year ban]. We are committed to it in every way that you possibly could be. There should be no mistake there,” Fertitta said. “This is a call-out to all of the athletes on our roster: You’ll be tested in competition, you’ll be tested out of competition, and if you’re using, you will be caught, and there will be significant penalties that go along with that.”
Added White: “Fighters are going to look at risk vs. reward. If I can make a couple million dollars, I’ll take the risk. Two or four years could be career-threatening.”
The announcement comes on the heels of a number of high-profile UFC athletes, including Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Nick Diaz and Hector Lombard, failing drug tests in 2015. Silva, who tested positive for anabolic steroids in two separate drug screenings in relation to his main event bout with Diaz at UFC 183, was perhaps the most high-profile instance, and his failures have only served to intensify the outcry for tougher standards.
However, Fertitta said during the press conference that discussions to implement a new program had been ongoing before Silva was popped.
“What the Anderson Silva thing prompted us to do was address the issues and speed up the process,” he said.
According to the UFC, from 2013 to 2014, the promotion held 79 events, with 900 in-competition tests administered during that time. Of the approximately 900 tested, 10 (1.1 percent) were positive for recreational drugs and 12 (1.3 percent) were positive for PEDs.
On 19 other occasions, fighters were subjected to out-of-competition tests, and five (26.3 percent) tested positive.
Fertitta described the failure rate for out-of-competition testing as “alarming.” He also acknowledged that with the stricter drug-testing program, things could get worse before they get better.
“If we lose main events, we lose main events,” he said. “This company has been through a lot. We’ll get through that, too.”