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Revamped UFC drug policy includes random year-round testing, two-year suspensions for first-time offenders

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The UFC earlier this year teased a significant transformation to its drug testing policy. On Wednesday, that transformation became a reality.

Jeff Novitzy, the UFC's new Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance, outlined a series of dramatic changes at a press conference in Las Vegas intended to create what he termed "the best anti-doping program in all of professional sports." The new program, under the leadership of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), is expected to roll out July 1.

Once established, the UFC's entire roster of 500+ fighters will be subject to "unannounced, year-round in- and out-of-competition testing," including both blood and urine testing, "with the possibility of a collection occurring any place, any time, with no notice," according to Novitzy.

The announcement comes on the heels of the Nevada Athletic Commission's sweeping series of changes to its own drug testing program, which included a swathe of increased punishments for failed tests. The UFC's new program emulated a series of similar changes, although there are several differences. The revamped list of UFC sanctions is as follows:

"Non-specified substances"

As defined by WADA code: Anabolic steroids, growth hormones, peptides, blood doping drugs and methods (tested for in- and out-of competition):

  • 1st offense: 2 years (with possibility of 4 years for "aggravating circumstances")
  • 2nd offense: Double the sanction for the 1st offense
  • 3rd offense: Double the sanction for the 2nd offense

"Specified substances"

As defined by WADA code: marijuana, cocaine, other stimulants and glucocorticosteroids (tested for in-competition only):

  • 1st offense: 1 years (with possibility of 2 additional years for "aggravating circumstances")
  • 2nd offense: Double the sanction for the 1st offense
  • 3rd offense: Double the sanction for the 2nd offense

Sanctions

  • Anti-doping violation during or leading up to a bout will result in disqualification of result of the bout, and forfeiture of title, ranking, and purse or other compensation
  • Any purse, compensation or fine forfeited will be put towards cost of UFC's anti-doping program and/or anti-doping research

Novitzy defined "aggravating circumstances" across several spectrums including "egregious intent, conspiracy or agreements with others to attempt to defeat the testing system," along with past offenses and multiple offenses, all modeled after WADA code. Novitzy also defined "in-competition" as the time period between six hours prior to weigh-ins until six hours immediately following an athlete's fight.

In the case of reduced sentences handed out by lax state commissions, the UFC would instead overrule the sentence and enforce its own drug policy.

"Today is a huge win for the athletes in the UFC as they set a new standard for all professional sport in protecting the rights and health of clean athletes and the integrity of competition," said USADA CEO Travis Tygart.

"The UFC has taken a bold and courageous leap forward for the good of its athletes in developing a comprehensive and cutting edge anti-doping policy expressly modeled on the key elements of the WADA Anti-Doping Program and by having it run by an independent and transparent National Anti-Doping Organization. USADA looks forward to supporting clean athletes in this sport, as in all sport, to achieve success on the playing field fairly and safely."

According to Tygart, a minimum of 2,750 tests are expected to conducted per year -- a number that signifies over five tests per UFC fighter -- although the total figure could climb higher in execution. All testing will overseen globally by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accredited labs and include carbon isotope radio tests.

The UFC intends to fund the program itself to tune of "multiple millions of dollars," according to UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta. Other than that, however, it will employ a hands-off approach and allow USADA to singularly oversee testing procedures. A special phone line will also be made available for UFC fighters to supply information to testers regarding suspected cheaters.

"It's a great new day for all athletes in the UFC and pro athletes around the world," Tygart said.

"We don't want to catch anyone. But if they're cheating, they're going to get caught."

The UFC's announcement fulfills a promise made by the organization in early 2015 following a barrage of positive tests from high-profile fighters, included a three-month stretch in which former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, Nick Diaz, and Hector Lombard all tested positive for various substances, shining a light on an increasingly obvious drug problem within MMA's top organization.

"We're being proactive now in trying to fix things that seemed impossible to fix," UFC President Dana White said.

"We are jumping into this issue into a very aggressive manner," Fertitta echoed. "There is the potential that some very high profile fighters, or any fighter on our roster, now has the potential to be caught. There could be major fights that fall out, but we are prepared to deal with that. That's a consequence that, hopefully it won't happen, but if it does, then we understand that.

"But I think that at the end of the day, the way this program was structured and the education process and the way it's going to be rolled out, we're hopeful that there is a strong enough deterrent aspect to what we are doing here; that is very clear to every athlete on the UFC roster -- and even an athlete who potentially believes they will be on the UFC roster in the future -- that they cannot use any prohibited substance. And that's the bottom line."