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Click Debate: How do UFC fighters feel about telling USADA their whereabouts?

Bellator 136 Photos E. Casey Leydon, MMA Fighting

Brian Ortega is not the kind of guy who wants to be pinned down.

The long-haired surfer — and undefeated featherweight fighter — from Los Angeles’ South Bay appreciates what USADA has done since it started the UFC’s anti-doping program two years ago. The whole telling USADA where you’ll be every day, three months in advance, though? It’s not really for him.

“I’m gonna be honest,” Ortega told MMA Fighting. “Listen. I don’t check in with no one. Straight up. I’m not trying to be a dick. But f*ck man, why do I gotta check in? I could see if you paid me a lot of money, I’d have to check in. But we get paid per fight. Why do I gotta check in with somebody I don’t even know?”

In June, UFC star Nick Diaz was provisionally suspended by USADA due to receiving three whereabouts violations in a 12-month span. Many people wondered just what the heck that meant. Diaz hadn’t failed a drug test, so why was he facing a six-month to two-year ban?

Since USADA began with the UFC in 2015, every fighter on the UFC roster has had to electronically fill out what is called their “whereabouts.” Each fighter is supposed to have an app on his or her phone that needs to be set up with information about where that fighter will be over the next three months. Every single day.

The reason is so when USADA wants to send a doping control officer to test a fighter — and each of them gets tested randomly, year round — the agency knows exactly where that fighter will be based on what they put in the app. If a fighter is not there, he or she has about an hour to meet the sample collector somewhere. If that doesn’t happen, USADA could charge that fighter with a whereabouts violation.

If you get three of those in a 12-month span, like Diaz did, it might be almost as bad from a sanction perspective as failing a drug test.

“I’m all up for the random tests,” Ortega said. “That’s great. But having to check in sucks.”

UFC featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas said that USADA mostly wants to know the location of a fighter’s gym (or gyms) and home. Since fighters are mostly in one of those places over the course of a day, that is the focus.

“Sometimes I’m sitting at my house and I want to go to the grocery store or do whatever,” Lamas said. “I’m not gonna be like, ‘Oh, let me get on my phone and tell USADA.’ It gets annoying in that capacity. But they’ll work with you. As long as they know your home address, the gyms you train at, that’s basically what they’re after.”

Jim Miller, a veteran UFC lightweight, said he went to Cancun with his family after a fight with Dustin Poirier at UFC 208 in February and forgot to tell USADA about it via the app.

“It’s a pain in the butt,” Miller said of checking in. “I don’t know [what fighter is] gonna be on there every time they go someplace that’s an hour away, two hours away, that they’re gonna fill it out. I’ve forgot quite a few times, I’ve just been lucky that I haven’t gotten caught for any.”

UFC heavyweight Oleksiy Oleinik said he was charged with a violation once, but it wasn’t his fault. He was in the hospital with an injury and UFC knew about it. The violation, he said, was eventually wiped from his record after his management team explained the issue and the UFC backed them up.

“The only problem I’ve ever had is when I was injured,” Oleinik said. “I filled out the app saying I was in a specific location, a hotel, but I was injured and in the hospital. It was a miscommunication. The showed up to the hotel and I wasn’t there. But UFC knew about it.”

Curtis Blaydes, another heavyweight, was not as lucky. He said his manager freaked out when he was hit with a violation within three months of his UFC debut in 2016 and warned him not to do it again. More than 12 months have passed since that mistake, Blaydes said, so his record is now gone back to zero violations.

Blaydes said he gets an automatic text message on his phone every day asking him if he’s in the place that he put on his whereabouts app. Despite the inconvenience, Blaydes said he’s very much in favor of USADA and all it does.

“If they get one guy a year, then it’s a worth it,” Blaydes said. “That’s one less cheater in the UFC. So it’s worth it.”

In an interview with MMA Fighting earlier this year, UFC vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky explained it in similar terms, praising UFC fighters for making the sacrifices to allow for a stringent anti-doping program.

“Not only is this sport just incredibly complex and comprehensive, what they have to do on the anti-doping side is — no doubt about it — it’s a burden,” Novitzky said. “Keeping track and reporting to USADA where they’re at every day, being woken up at five, six in the morning, being followed into the bathroom, I don’t argue that that is not a burden.

“However, I think they deserve even more credit as the unique athletes that they are to be under this program. It’s a pain in the ass to be woken up in the morning. There can be some chirping about that happening. But I think long term, I think everybody realizes that it’s a burden that’s worth it, because it’s making the sport safer, it’s making the sport mainstream and that’s going to be better for everyone in the end.”

Lamas said he feels like the whereabouts system is an undue burden on fighters, who are independent contractors and it seems more like something a company would oppose on full-fledged employees. The Chicago native said he wishes USADA had some kind of GPS key chain that athletes can turn on when needed rather than them having them constantly fill out their whereabouts.

And then there’s Ortega, who said he has somehow not gotten a whereabouts violation. The top up-and-coming fighter that USADA could always just find him in “the club.”

“I do enough just to meet the requirements,” Ortega said. “Other than that, I don’t even care, bro. I’m an alley dog, bro. I don’t even know where I’m gonna be. And I’m gonna text you where I’m gonna be? Nah.”

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