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By: Shawn Ennis, MMATorch Senior Columnist
I've been sick since last week, which put me out of commission during the initial furor over Alistair Overeem's failed drug test, and I'll admit I'm late to the party; but I do want to address the issue here before moving on to other things. It's an important enough thing that's not being addressed in the right way, when the right way is not all that hard.
Dana White has said several times that it's just not practical for the UFC to randomly test all its fighters. They do the initial drug testing when they sign people, they perform all kinds of background checks on TUF contestants, they do their own testing when they visit places with no commissions, and on and on. They've got between 300-400 fighters on the roster. How can they possibly test everyone? They can't keep track of fighters' whereabouts at all times! It's ridiculous. It's up to the commissions. They're the most regulated sport on Earth.
Most of the words that he's saying are true. The athletic commissions are there to take care of this sort of thing. It would be a lot of work to keep track of all these fighters and make sure they took their drug tests. And honestly, the UFC shouldn't test its fighters. All these things are true, but only on the surface.
The UFC shouldn't be in charge of randomly testing its fighters. That much is true. But not because of logistics or because it's already being taken care of. They shouldn't do it because it's a conflict of interest. If drug testing is going to be done correctly and in a manner that is a deterrent, they need to hire an outside agency to do it. We've already heard of Victor Conte touting Margaret Goodman's new organization, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA), who could certainly get the job done. But they're not the only ones. The point is that what the UFC is doing right now is admirable because they're doing things that they're not required to do in the area of PED testing, but if they're honest about not wanting it in their sport, they know it's not enough. Dana White knows full well that the testing happening under the current circumstances isn't near close to a real deterrent.
The most frequent argument White has made is that the athletic commissions are there for this sort of thing. It may be true that this is one of their duties, but does anyone really believe them to be 100% effective? Especially when you're outside of Nevada, New Jersey and California? If you're running an event in Virginia it's simply not the same as running it in one of the bigger and more influential AC's jurisdictions. Even in the big three, the funding isn't there to do the best and most rigorous testing. The only answer in that case is to have someone else do it.
I've heard the argument that hiring an outside agency undermines the athletic commissions, but I don't buy that. Unless the athletic commissions are willing to foot the bill for better testing methods and random testing leading up to fights, they have no leg to stand on. Even with the funding, I wouldn't trust most athletic commissions to handle the drug testing correctly. Of course, validity and truth has never stopped politicians from being upset, but the fact remains that an outside agency would hardly render athletic commissions impotent. There would still be pre-fight testing and suspensions would still be enforced if those tests came back positive. Not to mention the fact that drug testing is only a small part of what athletic commissions do anyway.
As far as not being able to handle such a large population of fighters, the argument becomes moot if you've got someone doing your testing for you. All the UFC would need to do is be the administrator over the disciplinary program for fighters who test positive. There is no legwork here. It would actually take work out of the UFC's hands. The agency could handle any pre-contract testing, any international event testing, etc. The UFC wouldn’t even have to think about it. Just write the check. By what I've been able to decipher it would cost the UFC between $1.5 million to $2 million per year (the high end would be something like $5,000 per fighter for 400 fighters) to contract the testing to VADA. Now White would probably say something to the effect that Victor Conte is a scumbag and can't be trusted, but there are others without Conte's history who are heavily involved with the program (e.g. Dr. Goodman, formerly of the NSAC).
This isn't meant to be a plug for VADA or any other agency. The point is that once again, Dana White is choosing to combat a real problem by throwing out half-truths and profanity to make people shy away from asking about it. Now, I don't buy the numbers that people throw around when they say that 90% or more of fighters are doping. But that doesn't mean there's not a problem. The fact that no one really knows how many fighters are doping is problem enough. Whether it's 10% or 50% or more, it's an issue. The drug problem in MMA isn't going to go away unless the UFC does something about it. They're the only ones who can, and it's their responsibility if they want the sport to continue to thrive.
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
STAFF COLUMNISTS: Shawn Ennis - Jason Amadi
Frank Hyden - Rich Hansen
Chris Park - Matt Pelkey
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