LAS VEGAS — The USADA Era hasn't even reached its peak yet.
Though the UFC's anti-doping policy and failed drug tests have become one of the biggest stories of the year, the program was only just implemented completely last month.
UFC vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky told MMA Fighting on Wednesday at the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) Conference that USADA will test around 700 fighters in the third quarter of 2016. That's up from 450 to 550 tests per quarter previously and 150 to 250 tests per quarter last year, he said.
"We're very happy with where the program is, considering we started from scratch," said Novitzky, who gave a presentation on anti-doping and weight management at the ABC Conference. "I'm amazed the progress that we've had getting this off the ground. This will be the first quarter — the third quarter of 2016 — where we have a fully implemented program."
USADA and the UFC's anti-doping program have been under the microscope in recent weeks with Jon Jones and Brock Lesnar failing drug tests. Jones was pulled from his UFC 200 main event fight against Daniel Cormier three days before the event after failing an out-of-competition test. Lesnar's positive test came back after his win over Mark Hunt at UFC 200.
Both Jones and Lesnar are facing two-year suspensions from USADA as well as sanctions from the Nevada Athletic Commission.
Though Jones being pulled from an historical event shows the UFC's commitment to its anti-doping program, which began in July 2015, Novitzky said he would prefer if situations like that did not happen. That being said, it does set the tone for the rest of the program.
"Let me be clear: Just because this is my program, those days and those occurrences are challenging," he said. "I never want to see that happen. I don't take any pleasure that the program is working, seeing that happen. Sometimes one or two of those needs to happen for everybody to open their eyes. If anybody had any reservations about the seriousness, about the independence of the program, that it doesn't matter if you're the first on the depth chart of the roster or the last you're going to be treated the same under this program."
Novitzky said he sat down with USADA regarding the Lesnar situation, asking the agency what can be done to get those test results back before the fight. Hunt has been publicly furious with the UFC and USADA over the situation.
It is sometimes difficult to get back every single test result, because USADA does not want to have blackout dates where they don't test athletes. If an athlete knows he or she won't be tested a week out of the fight, that can be taken advantage of.
"We never want to see that," Novitzky said of Lesnar fighting after giving a dirty sample. "The whole reason of this program being in place is to prevent things like that from happening, prevent two individuals from getting into an Octagon where one has an unfair advantage. But based on timing, that potentially could be inevitable."
Jones and Lesnar are just the latest on the list of fighters who have been sanctioned by USADA or who are facing anti-doping violations. B.J. Penn is serving a six-month suspension after admitting to IV use. Chad Mendes was just hit with a two-year ban for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Yoel Romero and Tim Means were given six-month suspensions after proving they took tainted supplements, causing their positive tests. Mirko Cro Cop was banned two years after admitting to using growth hormone.
While fighters being caught shows the UFC's program with USADA is working, Novitzky would prefer a clean sport without having it come to fighters being out for a long period of time.
"A perfectly successful program is where the deterrent is on the front end and they realize how comprehensive it is and they realize what the penalty is going to be if they test positive and say, I'm gonna make the decision not to dope on the front end rather than catching them on the back end," Novitzky said. "But the reality is sometimes it takes a few of those hard lessons to happen for everybody to get the message that this is real and this isn't on paper or a theory. This is a real program where you're seeing the main event of UFC 200 be pulled because of a potential violation."