In times like these, with the UFC recently hitting DEFCON 1 and blowing up it's previous drug testing policies, it's easy to get caught up in the hysteria of MMA's obvious drug problems. The first two months of 2015 alone have seen six fighters from major promotions fail drug tests in some fashion, cresting with Anderson Silva's multiple steroid failures ahead his UFC 183 comeback fight against Nick Diaz.
California State Athletic Commission executive director Andy Foster is as involved in these proceedings as anyone -- his commission, for example, was the body that popped WSOF welterweight Jon Fitch for an unspecified banned substance earlier this month. And while Foster acknowledged that it could be easy for outsiders to look at the endless stream of positive fighter tests and assume that everyone involved in the sport is competing dirty, he believes that such charges would be, if nothing else, grossly exaggerated considering the current evidence at our disposal.
"I mean, I do a lot of testing over here, so I look at all of the results that we get back, and certainly there is a problem," Foster said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I think we all agree that there is a problem. Do I think that 90-percent of the fighters, or 80-percent, or even 50-percent of the fighters out there are doing performance enhancing drugs? I do not. I do not believe that. My evidence does not support that.
"You get a fight card of 24 athletes and you get one or two who pop -- the percentage of that is not that high. You even go to the out-of-competition stuff, and I think with the recent [results] -- very small numbers, mind you -- but what, 30-percent, or 38-percent, or whatever it was, who popped? I mean, that's certainly a problem. Certainly it's a problem, and I'm not saying it's not a problem, but it's not 90-percent of the people doing it."
A former fighter himself, Foster added an addendum to his thoughts, surmising that the percentage of PED users in MMA likely rises alongside the level of competition and the age of the fighter. Basically, as he says, "when there's more on the line, people tend to take greater risks." And at least in the current landscape, nowhere is there more on the line than in the UFC, which is what makes last week's impromptu PED press conference so noteworthy moving forward.
"I think there's a lot of great ideas that came out of the press conference," Foster said. "We've got to wait and see more specifics on who they get, how they unfold it. But certainly I think everyone would agree that those are a lot of good ideas that came out of that."
Among the key points of the UFC's proposed changes to its drug testing policies -- of which include increased penalties and stricter testing for all championship matches -- none are potentially more seismic than the revelation that the UFC plans to enact random, year-round out-of-competition drug screenings for all 500+ fighters on the promotion's roster.
It's an undertaking unlike any ever seen before in combat sports, and one that will likely result in massive financial and promotional losses in the short term, whether due to the high costs of testing or unexpected dropouts of high-profile fighters from major events. Many observers have already voiced reservations about whether the UFC can follow through on such a rigorous plan, though Foster believes it can be done.
"Certainly I think they can," Foster said. "With any new program, they'll have to get the logistics in order, but certainly they can. It's going to be expensive, I would think. I know it's going to be expensive.
"I would guess that would be about two millions dollars. Two or three millions dollars. Maybe two million. Depends on how many times you want to test them, but that seems about right. Obviously (it also matters) what you want to test them for. I don't know what they're paying and all of that. I just know what our contract says and how much it costs and these different types of things. Depends on what you want to test them for. If you add blood to the mix as well, which I assume they do, it certainly increases the cost of the test.
"I'm not a lab guy," Foster later added. "I've never taken a performance enhancing drug and only have looked at the studies, so I don't know. I don't know if [fight night urine tests are] easy to beat or not. Maybe they are. But I think out-of-competition (tests are) good. That way people know that they can't take [PEDs] during their training, so I think that's important. I think increasing the penalties are important. Because what you want to create is an environment of deterrence and a clean sport."