70 Days (and Counting) Into the UFC-USADA Era

Fightland Blog

By Dan Shapiro

Image via usada.org

This story begins with Tecia Torres and a simple tweet the UFC strawweight sent out on September 2.

Torres, who will face Michelle Waterson on the December 12, UFC 194 mega card, is among the first wave of UFC fighters to surrender voluntary blood and urine samples under the promotion’s new USADA-enforced testing program. She is complying with what UFC Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance Jeff Novitzky recently referred to as “intelligent testing,” the samples logged into her gen-1 biological passport.

Just hours later, after Torres’ surprise visit from a USADA collector, on the other side of the country, UFC interim featherweight champion Conor McGregor held court in downtown Los Angeles, promoting The Ultimate Fighter 22, on which he is a coach.

McGregor, the UFC’s most high profile male athlete, next competes on the very same day as Torres, his name emblazoned atop the UFC 194 marquee. He has been holed up inside a Las Vegas mansion for the better part of four months, and despite this proximity to company headquarters, McGregor has yet to receive an unannounced drop in from the doping authorities.

“I’m not so sure what the deal is with that just yet … is the testing happening? I’m not so sure,” offered McGregor, who was last tested, in competition, after claiming the interim strap on July 11. “It’s been told it’s started, but I haven’t really seen … I don’t think they know what they’re just doing yet. I think they’re still trying to figure it out. They’re still in the figuring out stage.”

How can it be? How is it possible that the UFC’s poster boy is still unfamiliar with the newly implemented regulations? The new rules did go into effect the very same week that McGregor won his interim belt at UFC 189 after all.

Was McGregor just having a laugh at the promotional scrum, pleading ignorance on the testing questions while delivering sharp-witted and braggadocious sound bites? Or was he really in the dark on the new USADA program, which includes an upcoming ban on IV re-hydration methods?

Tough to say, but just 70 days into the UFC’s USADA era, there are already conflicting reports like those of Torres and McGregor. And it is with this odd pairing, that we take a closer look into the age of advanced and discreet drug testing.

Having already been publically accused of taking performance enhancing drugs, Torres is likely one of those special few that Novitzky might deem at high risk of using. Her physique basically looks too good to be true, and she’ll face a higher level of scrutiny for it.

McGregor, while big for a featherweight, does not possess a suspicious physical appearance. He doesn’t trigger the engage mechanism on the litmus test, yet.

But neither does flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and his recent UFC 191 challenger, John Dodson. Both fighters reported on random tests during recent training camps, despite impeccable testing records and stellar reputations in the past. There was a belt on the line; however, so increased testing has long since been the norm in title fights.

“When I fought Chris Cariaso for UFC 178 … they tested me six times,” commented Johnson back in February 2015.”

Is it possible that Johnson actually experienced less testing under the current USADA measures than during the previous testing era, when samples were collected directly by the Nevada Athletic Commission?

The varying reports continue …

Down in Florida, on August 20, lightweight Dustin Poirier also tweeted about giving some spontaneous samples:

Poirier famously fell to McGregor on the same UFC 178 card when Johnson endured six drug tests. He also moved up a weight class following the bout, a move that may have potentially tripped the signals down at USADA HQ.

Was Poirier then targeted for a random test because he moved up in weight? And will others who jump up a class, like Benson Henderson and Nik Lentz, be subject to random tests as well? Or was Poirier’s surprise visit merely protocol leading up to his October 24 headlining bout in Dublin?

Again, nothing about this USADA style of sample collection seems to have identified any new PED users over the course of nine events, despite targeting those potentially deemed at high risk. It merely appears as though USADA is objectively identifying testing candidates, and to make matters worse, they’ve even opened the phone lines to gossip and leads, where fighters and those in the MMA game can report on potential PED usage.

Imagine that, someone might just call USADA with a “hot tip” about their upcoming opponent.

From even this smallest of observations, it’s already clear that the new USADA testing program has a very long way to go to clean up the drug problem in the UFC. Now the pressure is on for the program to deliver results, and according to Novitzky, accountability will soon come in the form of a website, set for an October launch.

In a recent interview, Novitzky outlined a public forum where all fighter test results will be published. Athletes, coaches, promoters, commissions, and anyone in the general public can cross-reference every fighter and their testing history from July 1, 2015 onward.

And while Novitzky has offered the website as a final measure for transparency, even more questions remain before the launch: Will every fighter slated to compete throughout the remainder of 2015, during the UFC’s “Go Big” season and its “December to Remember,” have been tested before the site goes public? Will McGregor join Torres, Johnson, Dodson, and Poirier on the tested list?

Perhaps it needs to in order for true accountability to be held across the board for all UFC athletes, so that this new era of advanced testing actually means as much in practice as it does in theory and design.


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