Hero Image

UFC Dopes To Handle Anti-Doping

If there's one thing the UFC hates, it is when someone speaks the truth before the UFC has their lies ready. This was the scenario that played out recently in the world of Mixed Martial Arts when the United States Anti-Doping Agency released a statement in regards to the Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter, Conor McGregor, entering the drug testing pool. McGregor had broken his tibula and fibula above the ankle in a fight against Dustin Poirier at UFC 264 in July of 2021 and was obviously going to need a while to rehabilitate his injury. It was during this rehabilitation where the drama began as McGregor started posting pictures of himself in 2022 that led some to speculate that he was doing more than rehabbing a leg injury.


The suspicion grew as there were no records that McGregor had been tested on USADA's website. It would eventually be confirmed that McGregor had withdrawn from the UFC's testing program under the claim of retiring from the sport. Officially retiring is the only means a UFC athlete can escape from the USADA program. This retirement would become an issue when McGregor was named as one of the coaches for the UFC's gameshow, The Ultimate Fighter, where a select group of fighters compete for a UFC contract.

Traditionally the coaches of the two teams, the other TUF team being coached by Michael Chandler, would also face-off in a fight at the conclusion of TUF. But USADA requires that any fighter coming back into the program must wait 6 months and provide two clean tests before participating in a fight. There is an exemption in the contract with the UFC that a fighter can be excused from this testing but given that the only time that was used was when Brock Lesnar was brought in and subsequently failed a drug test for Clomiphene and a metabolite of Clomiphene, USADA was not likely to grant another exemption.

As the months went by it was obvious that McGregor would not be fighting Chandler and the question remained as to when McGregor would be entering the testing pool. Well as noted, USADA did answer that question but they also dropped a bomb that they would no longer be the UFC's testing partner as of the end of 2023.

“We can confirm that Conor McGregor has re-entered the USADA testing pool as of Sunday, October 8, 2023. We have been clear and firm with the UFC that there should be no exception given by the UFC for McGregor to fight until he has returned two negative tests and been in the pool for at least six months. The rules also allow USADA to keep someone in the testing pool longer before competing based on their declarations upon entry in the pool and testing results.

Unfortunately, we do not currently know whether the UFC will ultimately honor the six-month or longer requirement because, as of January 1, 2024, USADA will no longer be involved with the UFC Anti-Doping Program. Despite a positive and productive meeting about a contract renewal in May 2023, the UFC did an about-face and informed USADA on Monday, October 9, that it was going in a different direction.

We are disappointed for UFC athletes, who are independent contractors who rely on our independent, gold-standard global program to protect their rights to a clean, safe, and fair Octagon. The UFC’s move imperils the immense progress made within the sport under USADA’s leadership.

The relationship between USADA and UFC became untenable given the statements made by UFC leaders and others questioning USADA’s principled stance that McGregor not be allowed to fight without being in the testing pool for at least six months. One UFC commentator echoed this, recently declaring that USADA should not oversee the UFC program since we held firm to the six-month rule involving McGregor, and since we do not allow fighters without an approved medical basis to use performance-enhancing drugs like experimental, unapproved peptides or testosterone for healing or injuries simply to get back in the Octagon.

Fighters’ long-term health and safety — in addition to a fair and level playing field — are more important to USADA than short-term profits at the expense of clean athletes. USADA is proud of the work we’ve done over the past eight years to clean up the UFC, and we will continue to provide our unparalleled service to UFC athletes through the remainder of our current contract, which ends December 31, 2023. As always, we will continue to uphold the rights and voices of clean athletes in all sport.”

Shortly after USADA released their statement, the UFC responded by having Jeff Novitzky, Vice-President of athlete health and safety, and Hunter Campbell, UFC's Chief Business Officer, hold a press conference to give clarity on the situation. where they weaved a tale filled with the typical mythology making that the UFC loves to engage. They side-stepped why McGregor retired in order to avoid testing by talking about how he was "The most tested athlete" before the injury which is not an accurate claim according to USADA's records. Hunter Campbell then said what USADA had done to McGregor was disgusting and then went on to issue other allusions that USADA were the real villains of the testing world and not the fighter who inexplicably withdrew from the testing program under a false claim of retirement.

While their jibes at USADA were expected, what is really of importance was their statements regarding to their plans to replace USADA as they announced their partnership with Drug Free Sport and following the standard line of pronouncing everything the UFC does as excellent, this new testing partnership was going to be even greater than USADA! That was a comedy that they could not even get through the press conference without contradicting themselves as Novitzky stated that the UFC's science advisor was going to be Dr. Daniel Eicher. Let's go to the quote!

Dr. Dan Eichner runs the Sports Medicine Testing and Research Laboratory in Salt Lake City, UT, also known as SMRTL, one of two United States accredited anti-doping laboratories, the highest accreditation standard in anti-doping in the world

He will be our science advisor. He’s going to direct the program on test distribution, smarter testing planning, more efficient testing planning. He will evaluate the testing results in the program and make recommendations to our independent administrator.

Wait a minute, what organization sets the standards that Novitzky himself said is, "the highest accreditation standard in the anti-doping world"? Why that would be the World Anti-Doping Association. Who is the signatory of the WADA code that is tasked to establishing and governing the WADA code in the United States? Why that would be USADA. So during the same press conference where the UFC was stating all the ways USADA was deficient, they bolstered their new testing regime by bragging about how their science advisor runs a lab that has to meet the standards set by WADA. They also left out the part where SMRTL was co-founded by USADA and the National Football League. So you can clearly see how USADA just was not living up to the standards that the UFC needed!

But they were not done as they also announced that the UFC was going to have an independent administrator and boy howdy, did they ever stock up on platitudes when announcing that former FBI Special Agent George Piro was going to be in charge of the new program.

When you talk about George Piro, you’re talking about an individual with the highest level of integrity and credibility you could possibly imagine, While I had a noticeable Federal law enforcement career, my resume pales in comparison to that of George Piro. As I talk about George Piro, he’s quite literally an American hero.

Nice of Novitzky to give himself shine during the introduction but what exactly did Piro do to achieve this American hero status in Jeff's mind? He was the agent who interrogated Saddam Hussein. Not the guy who captured him, he's the FBI agent who talked to him. While Piro did have a dignified career, let us remember that at the time of the Iraq War, he was one of approximately eight FBI Special Agents that had the ability to speak Arabic(along with Assyrian). That might have given him a little boost in the old career track during that time period. By the way, can someone tell Novitzky that I know how to say potato in French? That should at least get me an assistant job with this new testing scheme.

What the UFC did not state in any fashion is what exactly a career as an FBI Special Agent has to do with drug testing. Furthermore, this idea in regards to credibility did not even last a day as anyone who searched for George Piro would find that he had an Instagram account under the name of "georgepiro_att". The "att" stands for American Top Team which is a Mixed Martial Arts training facility. So from the jump the man the UFC is claiming has the "highest level of integrity and credibility" has a personal relationship with a gym that has had numerous fighters fail for performance enhancing drugs, most recently in May of 2023.

Of course there is nothing connecting Piro to any of these activities but if you're going to drone on about how you picked someone who is beyond reproach maybe try not selecting someone who was so attached to an MMA gym that they include the name in their Instagram account handle? Piro has since changed his handle to "georgepiro_bjj". You know, like someone whose activities are beyond reproach would do.

Novitzky would go on in the press conference to list all the ways that their new drug testing program would be superior to the former program. I do not mean to shock you even further but surprisingly most of the methodologies he named are standard practice under the WADA-code and would already be implemented by USADA.

What Was The Media Reaction

You need to understand that most of media that covers the UFC has been cowed into doing little more than clapping like trained seals at whatever the UFC puts out in regards to statements. So the reactions ranged from wariness from some of the writers who have been around longer and have a history of not falling in line with the UFC like this Bloody Elbow piece by Zane Simon to outright glee from pundits such as Luke Thomas who was overjoyed that USADA would be out of the UFC anti-doping program.

Normally this would be the time where after identifying my Chump Of The Week I would go into detail why you, the dear reader, should view the identified cad with scorn. But Luke is a man whose ignorance on anti-doping is only surpassed by his pompous belief that he is a subject matter expert. I cannot do any justice without a detailed breakdown of how many ways he is wrong for his approach to this issue. To counter his level of misinformation you need the same kind of time one would require to point out the various ways a "sovereign citizen" is incorrect. It also requires actually watching and reading the person in question and that's painful. So very painful.

To pluck one stance out of many poorly thought out arguments, Thomas suggests that USADA and the World Anti-Doping Association code actually impedes the ability of athletes to properly recover from injuries. A very odd stance to take given that the WADA code allows for athletes to receive Therapeutic Use Exemptions for recognized medical treatments that might involve prohibited substances. Ah, but the stumbling block is the part about "recognized" medical treatments. Luke seems to be under the impression that athletes have a better idea of what might work for them than the actual companies that consult with WADA who spend, on average, $1.3 billion to develop the various chemicals that were abandoned before coming to market or are not approved for off-label use. I can see Luke's point, though. I mean, the government says that smoking crystal meth has no benefits and can lead to harmful addiction but it sure helps me get the dishes done!

So Where Do Things Stand?

Who knows what is to become of this anti-doping move by the UFC. But as Travis Tygart suggested in the Bloody Elbow piece cited earlier, Drug Free Sport is where organizations go when they want the appearance of credibility while shaping programs that undermine the WADA-code. The track record for DFS run programs has also been subject to much criticism from media not dependent on UFC access.. I am not even going to pretend that this drug-testing policy will be anything the UFC does not want it to be. Their independent advisor is not independent and has no background in the types of investigations that are needed to combat anti-doping. Then on top of it, this program will be under the supervision of an organization that is known to play favourites.

In the end, the UFC will do what is pleases. They have shaped their sport to be like a Nigerian email scam, if you are smart enough to notice the lies, exploitation and double-standards they do not want you as a fan. They want the people who will just cheer them on no matter what trash they are fed.