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California's Andy Foster lays out commission's plans for better drug testing

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The container used by the California State Athletic Commission to collect urine samples.
The container used by the California State Athletic Commission to collect urine samples.
E. Casey Leydon, MMA Fighting

IRVINE, Calif. -- Prior to Bellator 136, California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) executive officer Andy Foster invited a small group of writers to take part in its first media day.

With the goal to promote transparency in how the commission operates, the group spent the day gaining an insider's perspective on the issues regulating the young sport.

Before the media underwent an MMA judging training seminar with John McCarthy and sat cage-side to submit scorecards shadowing commission judges, Foster laid out ambitious plans to further combat the use of performance-enhancing drugs through increased testing.

Short of collecting urine and blood samples, Foster walked the media through the entire chain of custody a sample goes through. While the UFC relies on The Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City, Utah, the CSAC is fortunate to have the only other American World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accredited lab at nearby UCLA processing its athletes' samples.

The high cost of testing has forced officials everywhere to be judicious with how best to use their budget allocations, but Foster is looking for ways to make the process more scalable.

Much like a large Division I NCAA football program's revenues subsidizing a school's smaller sports, the larger MMA events likewise cover the costs of regulation.

Earning a percentage of the gate receipts, Foster estimates the CSAC took in about $139,000 at UFC 184 in Los Angeles. For the first time in history, the CSAC administered post-fight blood and urine tests to an entire card. All the athletes tested clean. To enable that testing, Foster estimates the commission spent $25,000.

The margins shrink considerably outside of UFC events. Foster estimates that the CSAC would take in about $11,000, but spent about $6,000 to $7,000 of it regulating Bellator 136 in Irvine.

Only two bouts at Bellator 136 were subject to additional out of competition drug testing. While the promotion paid for the main event between lightweight champion Will Brooks and challenger Dave Jansen, the CSAC picked up the tab to test fellow lightweights Marcin Held and Alexander Sarnavskiy.

According to Foster, Held and Sarnavskiy were tested Wednesday and due to an expedited request he got the results back by Friday afternoon before the fight. Both fighters were clean.

Bellator used Request A Test, a private organization "partnering with nationally recognized and certified laboratories, such as LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics," to test Brooks and Jansen. Those results were also clean.

Foster hopes to contract Request A Test to broaden the CSAC's reach in testing its athletes, especially as the sport continues to expand internationally. Rather than test competitors on fight week when most savvy users have cycled off a PED regimen, Foster hopes the service will allow him to test athletes much further out and internationally.

While blood and urine testing an entire UFC card in and of itself is ambitious, Foster has his sights set even higher. Foster was happy to report that he was in preliminary discussions on how best to replicate that same level of comprehensive testing as far as 28 days before an event. Foster said he would soon test an entire card out of competition.

Aside from the screenings, Foster also hopes the CSAC will spearhead a movement to help combat excessive weight cutting in MMA. In February, Foster called weight cutting the ‘most dangerous thing in combat sports right now.'

"It's all connected," Foster said Friday in Irvine. "Dehydration is connected to traumatic brain injury. Traumatic brain injury is connected to getting hit in the head. Getting hit in the head is part of our sport. We're trying to mitigate the risk. I'm not here to tell people not to do it, I'm here to figure out the best way to do it and do it safely."

If circumstances were a bit more ideal, Foster said he would even hope to have MMA weigh-ins more closely resemble the NCAA's Weight Management Program for Division I wrestlers.