The UFC might be implementing this new drug policy, but once it gets going it's the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's show, according to USADA CEO Travis Tygart.
Tygart told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour that the UFC will not be allowed to meddle in any of the drug-testing procedures once the new regulations go into place in July. The UFC won't have a say in who is tested nor when. It won't be able to shield a popular fighter from testing or prevent a main event from being scrapped due to a positive test, Tygart said.
And, perhaps most importantly, the UFC will have no say over discipline taken against a fighter. That eliminates all conflict of interest.
"Do you think Bud Selig back in the day really wanted to sanction Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa for their use of performance-enhancing drugs when they were going on the home run chase?" Tygart said. "Well, no. Because it's counter to their business obligation, which is to put fans in the seats and raise TV revenues, etc. That's not our obligation."
USADA's goal and mission is to serve clean athletes and the organization is one of the world leaders in that regard. Tygart said USADA would have never agreed to work with the UFC if promotion officials wanted to be hands-on with the program.
"They're removed themselves," Tygart said. "We weren't gonna be involved with a program if the sport continued to decide all the material things that made an independent program independent or not. That includes who is tested. They have no involvement in that.
"We decide who and when to investigate and to open investigations. We then decide when a particular case is brought, whether or not it contains a positive test or not."
Last week, the UFC announced in a press conference that it would be implementing a new, stringent anti-doping program highlighted by random testing for every fighter on the roster multiple times per year and a two-year suspension for first-time offenders. That's a significant bulking up from an organization that has relied mostly on state athletic commissions to test and sanction athletes in the past. The UFC was pressed into action when two of its biggest stars, Jon Jones and Anderson Silva, each had drug tests come back positive earlier this year.
Athletic commissions will still have jurisdiction over fighters competing in their respective states as far as licensing goes. Many, though, don't have the resources to test out of competition and the UFC is forced to regulate itself in some foreign countries. No longer. USADA will work together with commissions starting in July to implement testing and also take care of the testing for international shows.
"There's a host of issues that are gonna have to be overcome," Tygart said. "And [the UFC has] taken I think a bold and courageous step to put a stake in the ground to say we're gonna do our best to overcome those issues.
"At the end of the day, maybe there's a short-term painful process for some athletes and I understand that given that the rules, basically it was somewhat of a free-for-all in certain areas up until now."
Another part of the program that the UFC will have no hand in is the "whistleblower line." Fighters or anyone else involved in MMA are encouraged to call 877-PLAY-CLEAN (752-9253) to report knowledge of performance-enhancing drug use. USADA will then determine whether or not to investigate those filed reports.
"This is not gonna go to UFC," Tygart said. "By agreement, they have no right and we won't be providing any information to them of the whistleblower line that comes to us. We will take that information just like we did in BALCO or in the U.S. Postal Services case."
Tygart said his first introduction to MMA and its need for more drug testing came two years ago when he talked to a few fighters about it at a dinner. The UFC and USADA had talked in the fall, but Tygart didn't know officials were totally serious until the UFC announced it had hired Jeff Novitzky as vice president of athlete health and performance in April. Novitzky, formerly of the FDA, is a famed drug cop and almost singled-handedly took down BALCO, the most infamous drug lab in the history of sports.
Tygart called Novitzky a "superstar for clean athletes" and he looks forward to working hand-in-hand with him moving forward to improve the sport of MMA. Tygart believes that's exactly what will happen as USADA begins its program in the UFC this summer.
"There's no reason you're gonna be upset at all," Tygart said. "There are few days to celebrate within anti-doping. This is certainly a day for UFC fighters who value a clean sport and their own health, it's certainly a day for them to celebrate."