On PEDs, drug testing and the UFC’s decision to grow up a little bit

In an era where other sports leagues have been dedicated to putting on at least the appearance of a "serious face" in respect to…

By: Brent Brookhouse | 9 years ago
On PEDs, drug testing and the UFC’s decision to grow up a little bit
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

In an era where other sports leagues have been dedicated to putting on at least the appearance of a “serious face” in respect to performance enhancing drugs, the UFC has been content to pass the buck. The UFC’s public stance has been a mix of claiming that the promotion was “cleaned up of PEDs” and that “these guys are tested by the government,” as though cash strapped state governments were the most legitimate of available options.

Fighters, media and (most) fans weren’t buying it. And, now that Wanderlei Silva is running out the back door when a drug tester shows up at his gym, Chael Sonnen is testing positive for everything under the sun, past steroid cheat Vitor Belfort is testing for off the charts levels of testosterone and results sheets are littered with footnotes of “failed drug test,” the UFC has changed their approach.

Last week came the news that the UFC is meeting with companies about unannounced, year-round blood and urine testing. While the UFC hasn’t yet been specific on the sort of testing program they want (i.e. will there be carbon isotope ration testing for the presence of synthetic testosterone?), the “random” element has been huge in catching the above big names in Nevada alone.

In March of last year, I reported that VADA had a standing offer to oversee the UFC’s drug testing program. “On 2/16/13, VADA sent a proposal to the UFC addressed to Lorenzo, Dana and Frank that VADA would help them set up a state-of-the art PED program with unannounced random testing for blood and urine,” Dr. Margaret Goodman said. “We indicated that there would be no adminsitrative charges at least for the first year. This would include education courses. We would use a WADA-accredited lab, certified doping collection officers and the results would go to the fighter, the UFC, the ABC/the official MMA record-keeper for the ABC, and the commission where the fighter held a license.”

VADA is not without its own issues, and the “perfect” organization, it should be stressed, does not exist. But serious drug testing programs are not an option that suddenly became available, nor is the UFC breaking new ground by deciding to move on the issue.

When VADA testing was pursued by Georges St. Pierre for his bout with Johny Hendricks, the UFC seemed to do everything in their power to sink the idea. White was public in calling St. Pierre’s desire for enhanced testing “weird” because (of course) “we’re regulated by the government.”

With the aforementioned stars spoiling the ability to continue pretending that the UFC was a “clean” promotion, the brass are making the right change for public perception.


The technology of sport is ever changing. The time it took for the UFC to go from Royce Gracie (popped for steroids in his career) and Ken Shamrock (…yeah) to Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort is the same it took for the NFL to go from Lombardi’s power sweep to Bill Walsh’s west coast offense–AKA that period when more than 1 in 5 players admit to having been on steroids.

A debate will continue until the end of sporting competition between those squirting out anger tears while claiming these artificially enhanced, superhuman freaks endanger the lives of anyone in a twenty foot radius and those who bury their heads in the sand and claim that PEDs are really only used for recovery purposes.

What probably shouldn’t be up for debate, however, is if PEDs have led to some fun in the cage. That’s not to say I’ve suddenly pulled a 180 on my hot take stance of “I would prefer fewer drugs in MMA,” but who has truly not enjoyed the track list on Vitor Belfort’s hit album “Songs in the Key of T?”

If the Belfort we get against Weidman is an old, slow, weak version of the fighter who got his shot through dynamic violence (and a willingness for the NSAC to not punish him for a failed drug test in February), is anyone going to be happy that they spent $60 because “at least he ‘s clean?” I suppose that some will, but it will feel like quite the fizzle to the Belfort story. A fighter defeated by piss in a cup.


MMA, regardless of the community’s willingness to accept the fact, is a brutal and dangerous sport. We don’t yet know the true toll the sport takes on the body, but this is a lifestyle where months of taking shots to the head in camp, brutal weight cuts that are leading to dangerous health conditions and even death, all culminate in a confrontation between hulking men trained to punch, kick, choke and torque the limbs of their opponent…all live on your TV. The end result of a ten year cycle of this will be, for some, twilight years marked by slurred speech, memory loss, never-ending pain and worse. Krzysztof Soszynski retired from the sport and said that he has significant trouble with his memory and things like counting backward from 20.

I love MMA, it’s why I dedicate most of every single day of my life to watching, reading about, writing about and thinking about it. And that’s why the idea of PED use is so complicated for me, and what leads me to sit here writing about it.

I’m aware of the dangers of the sport and I’m pretty sure–though hardly certain–that these drugs don’t do anyone any good beyond competition in terms of long-term health. And there are just so few fighters are making the kind of money that will set them up for this kind of potential physical and mental ruin.

But, so much of what attracts myself and others to fight sports is the spectacle and I can’t get my brain completely past the reality that bigger, stronger, faster certainly makes for more fascinating spectacle than smaller, weaker, slower.

Beyond the excitement of the most dynamic humans possible competing in a fight sport, it is undeniable that a better drug testing program is needed. Pre and post-fight urine tests are the current standard and that’s simply not good enough to have a significant, measurable impact on the sport.

Some fighters will always use and drugs will always be a little bit ahead of the testing this is the great bugbear of the Clean Police. But the UFC appears ready to grow up and start taking the issue with a little bit more seriousness.

And that’s a good thing, even if some pretty awesome stories have been written with the aid of TRT and PEDs.

Author note: A note of something I forgot to include. Aside from not knowing the exact testing protocols. How the UFC would handle failed tests is something important to know. Will failed tests be made public? I have some concerns with the way commentators are seemingly kept from mentioning failed tests on air (often they’re limited to saying “issues”) it’ll be interesting to see if failed tests will be made public or kept behind some sort of fog.

Also, the exact method of punishment for failed tests will be important to know. Will they be reported to commissions? Will there be a system where one failed test is allowed before any sort of suspension? ..etc.

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Brent Brookhouse
Brent Brookhouse

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