UFC planning random drug testing

LAS VEGAS -- The UFC intends to further its anti-doping effort as the lead promotion in mixed martial arts by implementing a random, out-of-competition drug-testing program later this year.

According to UFC vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner, the promotion is in discussion with "four to five" independent drug-testing agencies and is hopeful to officially partner with one by the end of 2014.

The end goal is unannounced, year-round blood and urine tests on the UFC's stable of approximately 500 athletes using an independent sample collector.

"We are meeting with different companies right now and we're going to have out-of-competition testing," Ratner told ESPN.com. "We're not sure when it's going to start, but we're working on it right now.

"Unannounced blood and urine is going to happen, hopefully in the next three or four months. When you're talking about 500 fighters, there are a lot of logistics. Having fighters in foreign countries makes it tougher, but we're coming up with a plan and (agencies) are making proposals to us in the next two weeks."

If implemented, the drug program in the UFC would represent a major landmark in MMA anti-doping efforts. Currently, the responsibility of drug testing falls to regulatory bodies like state athletic commissions or the UFC itself in various international territories.

Historically, state athletic commissions are underfunded and under-educated in the fight against performance-enhancing drug use, especially at an elite level. In some jurisdictions, licensed fighters compete absent any PED-testing whatsoever.

The UFC has worked with several commissions this year to implement an "enhanced program," which blood-tests athletes during the weeks before a fight, as opposed to traditional fight night urine tests. The cost of one of those programs can be in excess of $40,000. The majority of state athletic commissions simply can't afford those costs.

Several commissions are seeking methods to add funds to drug-testing budgets and a measure was introduced at this year's Association of Boxing Commissions that would have created funds earmarked for drug testing, although it was tabled for further discussion in 2015.

Partnering with an independent party, such as the United States Anti-Doping Agency or the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, for example, could help lower costs for the UFC. Ratner declined to provide specifics of the proposed program, citing ongoing internal discussions.

"The UFC will be randomly testing a percentage of fighters," Ratner said. "When we decide on this regiment, it's going to be a big cost but it's well worth it when we do these out-of-competition tests."

The reason an enhanced program is necessary is that certain banned substances are only detectable in blood and only for a short amount of time. Random blood testing is far more effective than the urine tests athletes expect to take the night of a fight.

Unannounced blood tests have proved effective -- and necessary -- by the amount of positive results in 2014.

UFC fighters Vitor Belfort, Wanderlei Silva, Chael Sonnen and Ali Bagautinov each ran into issues this year stemming from random tests.

The UFC has expressed its commitment in lowering PED use by funding the enhanced programs in Nevada, Maryland and British Columbia. Additionally, Ratner says all incoming athletes are tested before signing a contract with the UFC. Last weekend in Macau, China, the UFC implemented blood testing for the first time at a self-regulated event. Still, the need for comprehensive, year-round random blood tests is undeniable in MMA.

Inside the UFC specifically, that need has drawn plenty of attention in 2014.

UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones requested random blood tests ahead of a title defense against Glover Teixeira in Baltimore. Former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre has stated he will not compete in the UFC again unless he and his opponent are tested by a "credible, independent anti-doping organization."

The UFC program would seek to maintain a relationship with state athletic commissions, Ratner said.

UFC chief executive Lorenzo Fertitta has long stated he does not want the company's efforts to impede on the jurisdiction of any regulatory body.

"There are a lot of moving pieces here," Ratner said. "This issue has always been part of our regiment. We want to make sure there is a level playing field, so we're going to be testing."