USADA on UFC split: They want control over drug testing, without transparency and independence

USADA CEO Travis Tygart has a few feelings about why the UFC is choosing to part ways with the drug testing agency.

By: Zane Simon | 2 months ago
USADA on UFC split: They want control over drug testing, without transparency and independence
The UFC Octagon. - Jason da Silva IMAGO/USA TODAY

The UFC’s relationship with USADA seemingly went from fine to fractured in a real hurry. The organization that has been handling drug testing for the world’s largest MMA promotion stretching back to 2015 is now set to part ways with the UFC, stating their intention in a recent press release posted on the agency’s website.

That call, it seems, came after months of wrangling between the Endeavor-owned company and USADA over the fighting future of combat sports superstar Conor McGregor. McGregor had announced a hiatus from competition following a broken leg suffered in a 2021 bout against Dustin Poirier. Although the specifics of the Irishman’s recovery have never been made public, McGregor himself sparked rumors of possible PED use in a social media rant back in 2022, noting that removing himself from the USADA testing pool allowed him to “heal/return to a normal way of life.”

From that point forward questions about how/if McGregor could make a clean re-entry to MMA via USADA testing protocols have been continuous. If it seemed bad from the outside, apparently it wasn’t any better behind the scenes.

LAS VEGAS, NV - March 4: (L) Conor McGregor and Dana White share a laugh dayside at T-Mobile Arena for UFC 285 -Jones vs Gane : Event on March 4, 2023 in Las Vegas, NV, United States.(Photo by Louis Grasse PxImages) (Louis Grasse SPP) PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxBRAxMEX Copyright: xLouisxGrassex xSPPx SPP_157548
Louis Grasse / PxImages / SPP / IMAGO

USADA CEO Travis Tygart explains end of UFC relationship

Following a recent USADA press release that the company would no longer be doing business with the UFC in 2024, promotion CEO Dana White was quick to label the announcement a “dirty move” and “straight up scumbag-ism.” Speaking to MMA Fighting earlier this week, however, USADA CEO Travis Tygart gave some background on what lead to their decision make the rift between themselves and the world’s largest MMA promotion public.

“They said something about their own tailored program—or flexible program—set costs,” Tygart told Fighting, recalling a recent conversation with UFC executives where the promotion apparently revealed they would not be renewing their contract with USADA. “And I pressed them on the cost, because we gave them one number that was very consistent with the past eight years’ numbers—including inflation and pool size, athlete size increases and that kind of stuff. And we never heard another peep about the number. Never a question about, ‘Can we cut some here? This seems too high.’

“It was now financial, suddenly. And I said that, ‘That rings very hollow. Because this is the first you’ve ever—you know—the day we have a scheduled call about it, you tell me that costs are an issue, when they’ve never been before. And you all are now valued at $12 billion, and $7 million dollars to a $12 billion company is frankly peanuts. So what’s really going on here?’”

In Tygart’s opinion, it seems that the bulk of the problem lays squarely with the amount of control an independent organization like USADA can exercise over some of the UFC’s most high value talent. With the recent formation of TKO (the UFC & WWE merged sports-entertainment brand) making the UFC a publicly traded company “you’re most concerned now about your bottom line,” Tygart explained—adding that he hopes the UFC still honors the six-month window on McGregor’s return.

USADA and UFC anti-doping program logo

Tygart believes UFC wants a system they can manipulate

In the meantime, Tygart believes that the UFC will move over to a private company that can be better molded to what the promotion feels it needs; who needs to be tested, for what, and when.

“[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.”

In a recent press event held by the UFC, promotion ‘Drug Czar’ Jeff Novitzky and Business Officer Hunter Campbell announced that the promotion would, in fact, be working in partnership with Drug Free Sport International going forward.

Whether or not the UFC’s new program will, in fact be less effective or comprehensive than their previous USADA deal still remains to be seen. At the same press event, Novitzky claimed that UFC drug testing would increase “right off the bat with the new program,” and that he would “never be involved in a program that isn’t the gold, and now platinum, standard.” Time will tell.

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About the author
Zane Simon
Zane Simon

Zane Simon is a senior editor, writer, and podcaster for Bloody Elbow. He has worked with the website since 2013, taking on a wide variety of roles. A lifelong combat sports fan, Zane has trained off & on in both boxing and Muay Thai. He currently hosts the long-running MMA Vivisection podcast, which he took over from Nate Wilcox & Dallas Winston in 2015, as well as the 6th Round podcast, started in 2014. Zane is also responsible for developing and maintaining the ‘List of current UFC fighters’ on Bloody Elbow, a resource he originally developed for Wikipedia in 2010.

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