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UFC in the USADA era – Heads continue to roll in the promise land

With some big names getting flagged for doping violations in the past few weeks, we take a closer look at UFC in the USADA era.

Chad Mendes became the most recent fighter to get popped for doping violation

A decade ago, you could talk about TRTs and the fighters being on PEDs in PRIDE, and no one would’ve flinched.

It is indeed surprising as to how long it has taken the sport of MMA to follow the path of other sports leagues, such as NFL and NHL. Performance enhancers have always been a systemic problem in any sport – changing policies and the policy structure have always taken time.

You talk about NFL or NHL, where the problem of steroids has been rampant till about half a decade ago, and you understand how quickly MMA has adapted to the new and better policy structure. It did not come overnight, and it isn’t something that has been completely taken care of.

Much like any other sport, MMA needs time and constant effort to get clean, which is where UFC’s partnership with USADA has had a telling contribution.

Couple of years ago, fighters would allege their opponents of “juicing”, or being on TRTs. The science behind steroids, PEDs or other supplements may differ in the minute details, but in the end, they all play a part in the fighters performing better.

The intense competition fighters face just to make a name for themselves pushes them to the edge; it can just as easily be compared to the Olympic athletes going on steroids, just to gain that split second advantage over the competition.

However, in combat sports, a split second could also be the difference between getting knocked out or getting your hand raised in victory. Ask any fighter about having that split second to react – whether you’re defending or slipping inside someone’s defense – it gives you a clearer picture about how pivotal a split second’s decision can be.

UFC and USADA – Not a match made in heaven

Ask any promoter if they would ideally be open to the banning of PEDs, and if they’re perfectly honest with you, they would say no. It might not be the most popular option, but one has to remember that a promoter’s job is to make big money fights.

It isn’t the promoter’s duty to ensure the clean nature of the fight, or to make sure that the fighters follow the protocols to the dot.

It has taken over a decade for the sport of MMA to acknowledge the rampant problem of steroids and PEDs. Substance abuse is nothing new, but to make sure that the fighters engage on an even playing field, the promoters – and mainly Dana White and the UFC – have come under the scanner.

Whether UFC and Dana like it or not, but as the leading MMA organization in the world, they set the precedent for other organizations.

Drug testing is indeed tricky. Until USADA stepped in, UFC acted as its own regulatory body when the organization traveled overseas. This could result in one of the labs (which, of course, isn’t anywhere close to WADA or USADA level) mixing the samples up – something that caused former UFC fighter Cung Le to rebel against the organization.

However, UFC has now made it mandatory for every fighter fighting on an international card to get tested.

Recent casualties – Endemic in the world of MMA

While the in and out of competition testing bears different consequences, as recent as last year, it was reported that at least 50% of the fighters were on drugs (non – specified). The alarming rate at which fighters are being flagged resonates with the fighter’s inability to hide the traces – or in more recent cases taking anti estrogens (for which the likes of Jon Jones and Lesnar were flagged) – or their inability to get off the supplements.

While certain fighters need to stay on supplements for therapeutic purposes, others can get popped for taking supplements which, unbeknownst to the athlete, contains traces of banned substances.

Few days ago, former featherweight title contender Chad Mendes received a 2 year suspension for testing positive during an out of competition testing. Mendes tested positive for GHRP – 6, which is designed to increase the production of growth hormones in an athlete’s body.

Brock Lesnar also failed two tests – one conducted on June 28th – an out of competition doping violation, and the other conducted on the day of the fight – which could have severe repercussions.

Jon Jones tested positive for clomiphene and letrozole, and has been suspended indefinitely by the UFC. Jon will learn his fate at a later date, as his formal hearing is set to go down in either September or October of this year.

For a fighter, it is extremely difficult to stay in top shape, and perform at high levels throughout their career. This is why someone like Demetrious Johnson is held in high regards – for his technique and constantly evolving as a martial artist.

There is no easy route to the top, and while tens of fighters find that out in the hard way every year, USADA’s partnership with UFC is a step in the right direction to clean up the sport. 

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