Before B.J. Penn and Rory MacDonald, there was Ben Askren. Earlier this summer, the Bellator welterweight champion was actually the first mixed martial artist to sign up with the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, an independent organization aimed at combating performance-enhancing drugs in combat sports.
Askren did so in the wake of a public back-and-forth with UFC president Dana White. At the time, White had suggested that the prospect of randomly drug-testing his fighters was impossible, a notion that Askren dismissed, calling it, "a bold-faced lie."
The statement got the attention of VADA, which invited him to join their program.
"I don't like all the cheating that's going in mixed martial arts," Askren told MMA Fighting. "I don't know what percentage of high-level fighters do it but I think it would be a significant amount. And if there's anything I can do to help that number go down, then I'm going to try to do it because it's not fair that I'm fighting clean and I don't know what my opponents have in their system."
Askren -- a former freestyle wrestling Olympian -- noted that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is charged with testing all of the nation's Olympians; during the recent Summer Games alone, that amounted to 531, a number far larger than Zuffa's roster of approximately 375.
At the time, White responded to Askren's tweet with an insult.
"Dana insulted me because he couldn't deny the facts of the situation," he said. "That's what happened. It would be very simple for him to put a testing program in place that would keep his guys in some kind of check."
Faced with backing up his own statement, Askren agreed to the testing, during which he will be required to inform VADA of his whereabouts at all times. The testing protocol will begin about eight weeks prior to his next title defense, which will come against Karl Amoussou at a date still to be determined.
While Penn and MacDonald have followed his lead for their upcoming UFC on FOX 5 fight, Askren said he is not especially surprised that enrollment hasn't surged past a small group. Though he noted it can be inconvenient to continually update VADA on his location, a clean sport would make it worth the effort.
"I don't know why more guys aren't joining," he said. "Maybe it's a sign of cheating."
As for his feud with White, the Bellator champion isn't planning on going anywhere anytime soon, but even if free agency was looming, he says he has no second thoughts about engaging one of the most powerful men in MMA and angering him on the important topic.
Notably, during the time since their brief interaction, the UFC has announced a formalized written policy against PEDs and said they would continue to work with athletic commissions "and other bodies" to ensure the detection of cheaters.
"I have zero regret about what I said," Askren said. "As long as I'm speaking the truth I’m going to be OK with what I’m saying. That's kind of how I’ve lived my whole life. I've never feared anyone or worried what they said as long as what I'm telling is the truth and I'm not telling lies about people."