Recently USADA announced that they were parting ways with the UFC starting in 2024. The news came coupled with an announcement that Conor McGregor had officially re-entered the athlete testing pool after months of hemming, hawing, and general foot-dragging.
The saga of McGregor’s re-entry into USADA’s oversight seemed to be an especially sore spot between promotion and agency. With the drug testing organization taking special care to point out that recent sentiments and statements from UFC brass and commentators, surrounding USADA’s requirement of a six-month testing window before McGregor should be cleared to fight, had made the relationship between the two companies untenable.
UFC sends legal notice to USADA over McGregor statements
However, if USADA is painting a picture of McGregor’s re-entry as the core issue between the UFC and the drug testing agency, the world’s largest MMA promotion is pushing back hard against that narrative. In a recent press event hosted by Business Officer Hunter Campbell and ‘Drug Czar’ Jeff Novitzky, the UFC announced that they had demanded a retraction from USADA over their statements about the Irish combat sports superstar.
Speaking to reporters, Campbell stated that USADA CEO Travis Tygart “lost his mind” when told by the UFC that the promotion was severing ties with the drug testing agency, adding that USADA’s treatment of Conor McGregor differs from the way the agency has treated all other past UFC athletes.
Campbell reportedly characterized USADA’s handling of McGregor as dictatorial, and felt that the agency was not used to dealing with independent contractors. Moreover, Campbell also claimed that the UFC were steadfast with USADA, that McGregor would not be getting any exceptional treatment from the promotion, and that the agency used McGregor to push a false narrative based on “ego and fear.”
Alongside Campbell’s statements, Novitzky characterized USADA’s version of events, involving McGregor’s return as “garbage” and that it has damaged the UFC’s reputation as well as sowing confusion among fighters and managers. He also noted that USADA has been difficult to work with throughout their relationship.
Not only for athletes, apparently, but for commissions as well. The UFC claims CSAC head Andy Foster reached out to them after USADA’s press release to congratulate them on moving away from USADA.
USADA defiant, not retracting their statement
ESPN’s Marc Raimondi reported that the UFC gave USADA a deadline to retract their statements:
“UFC chief business officer Hunter Campbell said at a news conference Thursday that he sent a legal letter to USADA on Wednesday night accusing it of defamation and demanding that it issue a retraction and apology by 5 p.m. Thursday.”
Also per Raimondi, USADA is not retracting their statement.
Promotion claims they paid USADA for better tech and didn’t get it
One of the major battles in the anti-doping industry is the constantly shifting landscape. Not just of doping strategies and new drugs, but also of potential technologies both for masking and for testing. Agencies in the field need to be constantly adaptive. Something the UFC now claims that USADA failed to maintain.
Interestingly, alongside these claims that USADA had failed to provide necessary technical improvements, Campbell also claimed he was audience to hearings by the agency that he felt were “unethical.” What exactly those might have been and what the UFC did to combat them at the time is unclear.
All told, it appears the UFC’s relationship with USADA is well and truly broken. The two companies say they’ll continue working side by side until the end of the year, but after statements like these, even that feels like a stretch.
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