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UFC announces overhaul of drug-testing policy in wake of high-profile failures

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of an alarming string of recent drug test failures by high-profile fighters, the UFC announced a major overhaul of its testing program on Wednesday.

During a Las Vegas press conference, UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, president Dana White, and COO Laurence Esptein laid out the changes in UFC parent company Zuffa's testing policy.

All fighters on the roster -- approximately 585 or so on any given week -- will be subjected to random, year-round, out-of-competition testing. The new policy will be effective beginning July 1, in order to allow time to iron out the details and begin implementation.

"You will be tested in competition, you will be tested out of competition, and if you are using, you will be caught," Fertitta said.

Additionally, the UFC will administer mandatory, enhanced out-of-competition drug testing to main event and championship fighters on all cards beginning July 1.

While that might cause more fight fallouts in a sport which has been plagued with them, UFC brass say they are willing to let the chips fall where they may.

"However the cards fall, they're going to fall," Fertitta said. "But we're going to make sure the fighters get tested."

While the UFC will still follow the direction of athletic commissions' lead on punishment of fighters who fail tests (with the exception of overseas events, which are largely self-regulated), they say they will strongly advocate for harsher penalties.

Fertitta noted the Wold Anti-Doping Agency is pondering changing bans for first-time doping offenders from two years to four. The influential Nevada Athletic Commission, home of many of the UFC's biggest bouts, hands out nine-month suspensions for first-time failures. Fertitta hopes NAC ups their first-time penalty to two years.

"We certainly advocate for [the two-year ban]," Fertitta said. "We are committed to it in every way that you possibly could be. There should be no mistake there. This is a call-out to all of the athletes on our roster."

While not outright committing to the idea, Fertitta also said that if a champion tested positive and was given a two-year ban, he or she would likely be stripped of their title.

According to White, it is necessary to increase punishment because too many fighters are measuring the risks vs. the rewards and deciding the benefits -- especially for main eventers earning major paydays -- are worth taking the chance. But a minimum of two years away from action instead of nine months should tip the scales, White believes.

"Fighters are going to look at risk vs. reward," White said. "If I can make a couple million dollars, I'll take the risk. Two or four years [suspension] could be career-threatening. Now you look at the risk vs. reward, and it's a lot more dangerous."

The changes were made in the wake of a series of high-profile test failures -- for both PEDs and street drugs -- which came during a string of the biggest fight events the company has put on in more than a year.

First came UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who briefly checked himself into rehab after it was revealed he tested positive for cocaine metabolites in an out-of-competition test conducted in the run-up to his Jan. 3 victory over Daniel Cormier in Las Vegas.

Then, Anderson Silva failed both a random out-of-competition test and his Jan. 31 post-fight drug tests, coming up positive for multiple PEDs in his unanimous decision win over Nick Daiz in Las Vegas. Diaz, for his part, tested positive for marijuana, the third such failure in Nevada of his career.

Finally, it was revealed that Hector Lombard tested positive for PEDs in his Jan. 3 post-fight drug test after defeating Josh Burkman at UFC 182. He has been temporarily suspended by NAC and was pulled from an April bout with Rory MacDonald.

"Given the recent spate of high-profile cases, we felt like we needed to do this sooner rather than later," Fertitta said. "For the good of the sport, for the integrity of the sport, for what we're trying to do here, we needed to address this issue ASAP."

The UFC gave several statistics on their drug testing efforts in 2013-14. The company said 900 fighters were subjected to in-competition testing over 79 events. Twelve fighters tested positive for PEDs and 10 for street drugs.

Five out of 19 competitors tested out-of-competition failed their tests. Fertitta termed the 26.3 OOC failure percentage "an alarming rate for us."

The company also challenged competitors in the industry, such as Bellator MMA, to up their testing game.

"We encourage other companies in the industry to adopt the same procedures," Fertitta said.

Finally, with several months to go before the details are hashed out on the new testing system, Fertitta cautioned the UFC isn't out of the woods just yet on the issue of drug-test failures.

"Honestly, it's going to get worse before it gets better," he said.

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