You’ve Got Questions. Does USADA Have the Answers?

Fightland Blog

By Dan Shapiro

Image via USADA.org

Back in February, the UFC announced its intention to partner with USADA to implement the professional sports world's most comprehensive performance enhancing drug-testing program. But seven months after the announcement, and 90 days into the UFC's official USADA era, it seems like not enough is being done to eradicate steroids from the Octagon, as only 50 of the UFC's 500 athletes have been tested under the new system.

The epidemic of PEDs in MMA hit an alarming level in early 2014, following high-profile failures by the likes of Anderson Silva and Hector Lombard, along with Nick Diaz's positive pot test. UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta and President Dana White summoned the media to Las Vegas and sat at a dais with Novitzky, the promotion's Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance, and other assorted officials, to unveil its effort to clean up the sport.

It appeared that the UFC was going to go after drug users, hard, employing USADA to chase down its athletes for random samples. However, what was presented in theory is not exactly what has materialized since the partnership began on July 1.

To their credit, the UFC has pursued its biggest stars and investments, proving that no one is immune to the unannounced drop in from USADA. Ronda Rousey has already delivered five samples ahead of UFC 193, while UFC 194 main eventers Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor have surrendered two sets of blood and urine. But what about flyweight Ali Bagautinov, who returns from a year-long suspension this Saturday at UFC 192 after testing positive for EPO in June 2014? Why was he not tested out of competition, prior to his upcoming fight with Joseph Benavidez?

Sure, Bagautinov is still relatively unknown outside the MMA bubble, but weren't former offenders supposed to be targeted during the early stages of the new USADA program? Perhaps it's just too difficult, or rather not cost effective, to send a collector out to Russia.

Much like the Reebok uniform deal that went into effect in July, the USADA testing program will still take some time to hit its stride. It just seems like not enough is being done thus far considering athletes like Nate Marquardt and Kevin Casey, who, at one point in their careers, tested positive for Nandrolone and Drostanolone, respectively, have yet to be tested under USADA, but still have fights coming up before the end of 2014.

Image via USADA's facebook page

There is also Holly Holm, who will challenge Rousey for the women's bantamweight title at the UFC's largest event to date. Yes, Holm has a clean record through two UFC fights and a decade of professional boxing, but she's in the big leagues now, fighting for the title. And when the stakes are higher, desperation has a way of entering the picture.

Holm may not be the best example to pick apart the efforts of the UFC's new USADA standards. And, again, they've gone directly after guys like Thiago Alves and Antonio "Big Foot" Silva, a pair of former offenders with big fights in the next two months. But where does Cezar Ferreira fit into the mix? A known cohort of MMA's most notorious offender, Vitor Belfort, Ferreira has been tested twice as much as his mentor, despite Belfort's upcoming main event with Dan Henderson.

It's true that a lot of this assessment is just nitpicky. A lot of what has been conducted over the last three months is already an improvement over what has come before. The documented results of the new UFC-USADA website just seem lackluster compared to the mass unveiling they hoped for when first announcing the partnership.

Yes, UFC 192 main, and co-main, eventers Daniel Cormier, Alexander Gustafsson, Johny Hendricks, and Tyron Woodley have all been tested prior to tomorrow's card. Highly touted newcomer Sage Northcutt, however, has not. And if you recently had a chance to see the UFC's new Looking For a Fight show, you'd know that Northcutt applies mass amounts of bronzer and spray tan chemicals; who knows what other stimulants are loaded into those unknown substances.

As previously mentioned, Novitzky also alluded to a "smell test" that would target potential at-risk athletes. Women's flyweight challenger Tecia Torres was likely part of this group (she also trains at American Top Team, which has had several failures in the past). But what about her teammate Yoel Romero, whose physique has changed significantly over the course of the last year? Why has he not been included in the USADA random tests? He is, after all, fighting Jacare Souza at UFC 194, in a fight that could likely determine the next middleweight contender.

Lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos is another high-profile athlete who has yet to be tested by USADA. And while RDA has never failed a drug test over the course of 31 professional fights, he has been called out by several other fighters, and it makes no sense that a champion would be omitted, while Cris "Cyborg" Justino be tested twice, despite having never fought in the UFC and having no scheduled bouts.

On a positive note, it's clear that USADA is going after main event athletes, with Bethe Correia, Andrei Arlovski, Dustin Poirier, Josh Barnett, John Dodson, Demetrious Johnson, and Roy Nelson all included among the first batch of fighters announced on the website. But testing at the top of the card has long been the standard by athletic commissions, so where is the real improvement?

And how is it that Alistair Overeem, a man who blew the testosterone:epitestosterone ratio out of the water in 2012, and Ben Rothwell, who failed the T/E test after UFC 164, both of whom are slated for big-time fights in the next few months, are absent from the website?

Cleaning up PEDs from mixed martial arts was always going to be a huge challenge, and the UFC certainly said all the right things back in February when they unveiled the USADA plan. But three months into the new era, it's clear that not enough is being done, or, at least, not enough is being disclosed to the public, to back up their intent.

The new website, which hit the Internet on October 1, is definitely a step in the right direction. It's great that any fan, potential sponsor, or bored netizen can check to see how many tests their favorite fighters have taken. But let's be honest, it's still not the solution to a problem rampant in the sport.

And with three month remaining in 2015, and a handful of important and exciting cards in the coming months, let's challenge the UFC and USADA to really step up to the plate and not only test every athlete who is scheduled to fight before the end of the year, but also be forthright in the release of the information. It's as simple as a Twitter account, owned and operated by the UFC and USADA to let us know who's given samples and when those results become available.

Just this tiny little effort will go a long way to restoring faith in the system and sport. And seriously, it will likely blow your web analytics and metrics out of the water.


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