The last few days have provided a series of bombshells when it comes to the UFC and their longtime drug testing partner USADA. On Wednesday, October 11th, USADA released an official statement that they would no longer be partnering with the world’s largest MMA promotion, starting January 1st, 2024. Accompanying the statement was the news that Conor McGregor would be re-entering the drug testing program for his return to MMA.
According to USADA, these points where closely linked, with the agency stating that the UFC’s reaction to USADA’s policies surrounding McGregor had made the relationship between the two companies untenable. In a separate statement, USADA CEO Travis Tygart revealed that, in fact, the UFC told the agency during a recent phone call, that they would be leaving USADA at the end of their contract, to start their own internal program.
In a recent press conference, UFC ‘Drug Czar’ Jeff Novitzky and UFC Business Officer Hunter Campbell sat down to give the promotion’s side of the story. While they had a whole hell of a lot to say about USADA’s stance on Conor McGregor and how they felt the agency treated athletes, they didn’t counter the narrative Tygart had given about deciding to move on to a different drug testing system.
UFC hold press conference to announce drug testing future
In their press conference, Cambell and Novitzky were bullish on the idea that the UFC would be moving forward with a new standard of drug testing that wouldn’t just rival the system they had under USADA, but would surpass it. To get there, the UFC announced that they would be partnering with sample collection agency Drug Free Sport International to handle the hands on part of the job, actually working with UFC athletes around the world.
In the press conference, Campbell told reporters that the UFC plans to ensure that their new drug testing program is an improvement on the program they previously had under USADA, with Novitzky noting that he “will never be involved in a program that isn’t the gold, and now platinum, standard.”
To back up that claim, Novitzky pointed to DFSI’s involvement with the NBA, NFL, NHL, WNBA, and NASCAR among others, noting that they are extremely experienced in the job of sample collection. He also added that the promotion will “continue to have the most transparent anti-doping program in pro sports.”
UFC also partnering with SMRTL labs
Alongside partnering with Drug Free Sports International, the UFC has also announced their intention of contracting out their testing to the SMRTL lab for the actual testing of those samples. Novitzky noted that SMRTL has “the highest accreditation in anti-doping,” and that SMRTL head Dan Eichner has recommended increased blood testing using the TASSO+ system which does not require needles or blood draws.
The UFC also claims that they will have “the most comprehensive prohibited list” and will be implementing oral fluid testing alongside “advanced growth hormone detection.”
To run this new program, the UFC has brought on former FBI agent George Piro to act as an independent administrator who will “make every decision in the program” and operate with sole authority.
Piro rose to notoriety during the Iraq war as the leader of the ‘Saddam Hussein Interrogation Team’ in 2004. Piro’s work with Hussein helped confirm that Hussein had not expected the US invasion, did not have weapons of mass destruction, and included a complete denial of any links to Al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden. Prior to his career with the FBI, Piro served as a law enforcement officer with the City of Ceres Police Department and then a Criminal Investigator for the Stanislaus County District Attorney. In 2017, Piro was appointed Assistant Director of the International Operations Division at FBI Headquarters.
USADA predicted UFC would go to DFSI
As part of Tygart’s statements on the deterioration of USADA’s relationship with the UFC, he included his feelings on what he thought the promotion’s future drug testing program would look like. Coincidentally (or perhaps unsurprisingly) he was quick to pounce on the idea that the Endeavor-owned company would end up working with Drug Free Sport International. Although he had a much different view of rigorous that program would be.
“[Drug Free Sport International], for example,” Tygart noted, stating the kind of company that’s “willing to run any kind of program, whether it has credibility or not.”
“And then they’ll probably try to subcontract out with a laboratory, and then UFC likely will handle all the results will be my guess. So they’ll bring it in-house and control every aspect to it: Who’s tested, what’s tested for, at what times they’re tested, send out collectors to go test it. I don’t know, but that’s my prediction for sure.
“That’s not a model that comes close, probability-wise and effectiveness-wise. But that’s the model you can control and get the results that you want when you want them, without the same level of openness and transparency and independence that our program provides.”
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