UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta is in favor of random drug testing in mixed martial arts, but says the initiative to do more of it must come from athletic commissions.
There is an obvious need for more random drug tests in MMA. Tests administered by athletic commissions on fight night are routinely criticized, as potential cheaters know they’re coming.
Currently, state athletic commissions can perform random drug tests, although it’s very rare due to financial constraints. Last year, the state of Nevada randomly tested five of its licensed MMA fighters. California, another MMA hotbed, tested two.
Fertitta, who served as a commissioner on the Nevada State Athletic Commission from 1996 to 2000, said the UFC encourages commissions to test athletes more and is even willing to pay for it, but is hesitant to create a program that does it for them.
“I think we have to understand at the end of the day we are unlike other sports,” Fertitta told ESPN.com. “We are regulated and cannot be presumptuous in thinking we can just take away whatever authority [commissions] have and put it in our hands. It’s not that simple.
“You have to understand how state regulatory systems work. You have to work in conjunction with them. They issue us a license in order to promote events. It’s not like we’re putting on events on our own. We’re under their jurisdiction.”
Former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre has criticized drug-testing methods publicly since he vacated the title for personal reasons last year.
During an appearance on “The MMA Hour” earlier this month, St-Pierre advocated more random testing and called current fight night commission tests “ridiculous.” He also suggested the UFC partner with an independent drug testing organization.
Fertitta says he spoke with St-Pierre in February at Super Bowl XLVIII in Newark, N.J., where the two had what he called, a “really good conversation.”
One issue they still apparently disagree on, however, is the inclusion of a third-party organization like the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA). St-Pierre is a major advocate of the VADA for several reasons, one being it blood tests for HGH.
Fertitta says the UFC remains uninterested in contracting a third party, which has occurred in professional boxing with the VADA and United States Anti-Doping Agency. He believes commissions are capable of administering tests to an equal standard.
“VADA has no jurisdiction over a fight,” Fertitta said. “Whether a fight takes place, suspensions, a fighter license -- it’s all relative to the commission. I don’t want to put words in their mouth, but they don’t want to be in a situation where a third party has done testing, they have no idea what happened and are then put in a position where they have to render a decision on something they had nothing to do with.
“The commission is more than willing to test for whatever [banned substances]. Georges just wants to make sure they are adhering to the level of a VADA, which I think clearly can be put into place. That’s not a problem.”
The NSAC has been relatively busy already in 2014 with its random testing program. UFC middleweight Vitor Belfort was tested in February, although those results have not been made public as Belfort withdrew his request for a fighter’s license. World Series of Fighting welterweight Rousimar Palhares and Invicta FC featherweight champion Cris Justino were tested by the NSAC in March.
In December, the NSAC required UFC heavyweight Josh Barnett to submit to random testing ahead of a bout against Travis Browne at UFC 168 in Las Vegas as a condition of his license. He is also subject to random testing throughout 2014.
The UFC picked up the expense of that program, which illustrates the scenario Fertitta refers to. That was a special circumstance, however, as Barnett has a history of previous steroid use. It was also specific to the state of Nevada.
Legislature varies from state to state. California State Athletic Commission executive officer Andy Foster, for example, told ESPN.com he’s unsure whether a request for additional funding to test a specific fighter currently falls under his statutory authority.
Foster, who previously worked as executive director of the Georgia Athletic and Entertainment Commission and is a finalist for the vacant NSAC executive director position, said he would seek appropriate legislation in the state of California if the matter got to that point.
“We support what the UFC and Nevada are doing with out-of-competition testing and if this is something the industry is interested in, we could work together to seek legislation to allow something like that -- where promoters pay the CSAC additional funding and we run the testing.
“Any commission is going to try and protect the integrity of a bout. Random testing is needed to protect the integrity of the sport and the commissions can’t be held responsible to do that on their own. It has to be an industry-wide concept.”
It remains a compelling dynamic in the sport, and has received more attention due to St-Pierre’s comments and the recent ban on testosterone replacement therapy in several jurisdictions.
One initiative the UFC could take is randomly testing fighters ahead of any international events in which it self-regulates, due to the absence of an athletic commission. The promotion currently tests all athletes on those cards on fight night.
“We’re looking at all of those different options,” Ferttita said. “We’re embracing whatever we can do to rid the sport of any performance-enhancing drug. It’s not like we haven’t caught people cheating in the past during fights we’ve unfortunately had to fill that role of regulator. When we go to these international territories, we’ve caught a number of people and they’ve been punished severely.
“[Random testing] is happening now. [The NSAC] just tested Vitor and I read they tested Palhares. It’s happening. I don’t know what else people want to do. You can’t have somebody standing outside every MMA fighter’s door, asking them to take a test. There’s only so much you can do, and I think they’ve done a pretty good job of grasping this.”