Months removed from the Floyd Mayweather IV hydration controversy, an issue which involved the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the agency is once again involved with some questionable decision making that highlighted a biased relationship with the entity they are supposed to scrutinize.
Several days following the announcement that Brock Lesnar was to return at UFC 200, Yahoo Sports revealed that the UFC had waived the former heavyweight champion’s four-month mandatory testing period for returning fighters.
According to section 5.7.1 of the UFC’s anti-doping policy, fighters who opt to return to competition must be subjected to four months of USADA testing before they can compete in the UFC.
“An Athlete who gives notice of retirement to UFC, or has otherwise ceased to have a contractual relationship with UFC, may not resume competing in UFC Bouts until he/she has given UFC written notice of his/her intent to resume competing and has made him/herself available for Testing for a period of four months before returning to competition.”
However, the same section (5.7.1) also stated that the UFC – an entity scrutinized by USADA – has the right to grant exemptions on two distinct grounds:
“UFC may grant an exemption to the four-month written notice rule in exceptional circumstances or where the strict application of that rule would be manifestly unfair to an Athlete.”
Given the remarkable ambiguity associated with “exceptional circumstances” and “manifestly unfair,” it is entirely clear that there are few restrictions on the UFC’s ability to deviate from the mandatory testing process. The problematic framework associated with the policy evidently shows the loopholes within an otherwise strict policy.
A UFC statement confirmed that Lesnar was registered into the USADA program on June 6, 2016 and was subject to the testing process from that date. However, the statement underscored the extent to which the promotion is capable of altering the mandatory testing process. In Lesnar’s case, the promotion was able to entirely waive the four-month process and introduce him as a “new athlete” who is not subject to the same mandatory regiment that a returning athlete is.
“Given Lesnar last competed in UFC on December 30, 2011, long before the UFC Anti-Doping Policy went into effect, for purposes of the Anti-Doping Policy, he is being treated similarly to a new athlete coming into the organization.”
The aforementioned portion of the UFC statement is also troublesome because of its attempt to exclude Lesnar from the testing process because he last competed “long before the UFC Anti-Doping Policy went into effect.” However, their policy is not limited to athletes who pre-dated the USADA anti-doping policy. In fact, the policy only states that “an Athlete who gives notice of retirement to UFC, or has otherwise ceased to have a contractual relationship with UFC, may not resume competing in UFC Bouts…” There is nothing within that statement that limits the discussion to athletes during the USADA era.
Former two-division title holder BJ Penn announced in January 2016 that he would begin training at Jackson’s MMA to resume his professional career in the UFC. His fight was tentatively scheduled for UFC 197 in April 2016, four months following his announcement. Though Penn stopped fighting prior to the USADA anti-doping policy, he was still seemingly subjected to the four-month mandatory testing process.
Eventually, Penn suffered an anti-doping rule violation when he was flagged for the use of a medically-administered IV during a non-fight period.
Even Lesnar’s scheduled opponent at UFC 200, Mark Hunt, was not impressed with the UFC decision to allow the ‘Beast Incarnate’ to compete at the event.
“I don’t think that’s fair. I think it’s load of bulls***, I think it’s rubbish,” Hunt told Fox Sports. “I don’t think anyone should be exempt from testing. If they’re trying to clean the sport up — mixed martial arts — this is a bad way to do it. I don’t care who you are. It’s ridiculous.
“I don’t think it’s a great move. I think he’s juiced to the gills — and I still think I’m going to knock him out. So I don’t think that’s correct. I don’t think he should be allowed to get a four-month exemption otherwise everyone else should. Otherwise I should start juicing.
“How are you going to clean the sport up doing that s***? It won’t happen. I don’t think it’s fair.”
While the UFC’s vague policy is problematic because of the vague terminology and their ability to maneuver through it to suit their desires, their recent decision to waive Lesnar’s mandatory testing period is far more significant because it accentuates the biased relationship between the mixed martial arts promotion and the “independent” anti-doping testing agency that is contractually obligated to scrutinize the promotion’s fighters.
According to their official website, the “United States Anti-Doping Agency® (USADA) is recognized by the UFC as the official, independent anti-doping agency for the UFC.” However, the UFC’s ability to determine when “exceptional circumstances” can be applied proves that USADA does not operate entirely independent from the promotion. For those who are aware of previous controversies within USADA’s operations – an SBNation longform implied that the anti-doping agency showed favoritism for Mayweather when he was given USADA exemption to use a WADA-banned IV injection on the eve of his superfight with Manny Pacquiao – this is par for the course.
Ultimately, the UFC decided to use their “exceptional circumstances” clause to allow Lesnar to compete on the UFC 200 card. His inclusion on the landmark Pay-Per-View event will undoubtedly increase the value for the event and likely reap a significantly increased PPV buy rate. The promotion willingly set the precedent that they will overrule anti-doping policy to overcome obstacles to an improved PPV buy rates.
BloodyElbow reached out to the UFC and USADA for comment. Neither entity responded to the request for comment.
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