Posted June 4, 2015 by Melanie Gale in Editorials

Popped: PEDs, WMMA & the UFC Drug Policy

The UFC announced a far-reaching new drug policy for fighters yesterday, and we are cautiously optimistic this is the first step to improve the fighters’ working conditions and protect their health.

In attendance at the presser were Dana White and other long-time UFC leadership, USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) CEO Travis Tygart, best known for exposing Lance Armstrong’s PED use, Olympic hurdler and USADA Board Chair Edwin Moses, and newly-minted UFC Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance Jeff Novitzky, known for investigating PED use by Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Floyd Landis, Lance Armstrong, and many others.


The following multi-tiered policy takes effect July 1:

Punishments for non-specified substances (steroids, HGH, blood doping drugs, etc.) — Athletes will be tested in and out of competition year-round.

1st offense: 2 years (with possibility of 4 years for “aggravating circumstances”)
2nd offense: Double the sanction for the 1st offense
3rd offense: Double the sanction for the 2nd offense

Punishments for specified substances (marijuana, cocaine, other stimulants, etc.) – Athletes will be tested for in-competition use only, which is defined as six hours before weigh-ins and six hours after a fight.

1st offense: 1 year (with possibility of 2 additional years for “aggravating circumstances”)
2nd offense: Double the sanction for the 1st offense
3rd offense: Double the sanction for the 2nd offense

Other highlights of the policy include:

Forfeiture of UFC ranking, belt, and purse or other compensation due to a failed test, and wins will be changed to a disqualification loss; Forfeiture of purses and/or fine will go toward the cost of the UFC’s anti-doping program and/or anti-doping research.

There will be a minimum of 2,750 tests per year across the entire UFC roster, administered without advance notice, and testing blood, urine, athlete biological passport, CIR analysis, EPO analysis, and human growth hormone analysis. This averages out to a little over five tests a year per fighter.

An internal investigation “whistleblower” hotline will be available.

Fighters must inform USADA of their whereabouts at all times. Failure to properly notify USADA of whereabouts or ducking a drug test will be a strike against a fighter, and three strikes within a one-year period equals a failed drug test.

Past failed drug tests prior to the new policy will be used to determine punishments for repeat offenders.

Testing information will be available on the USADA website, searchable by fighter’s name.

The USADA has full control over drug testing protocol independent of the UFC. However, if a state or country’s regulatory body issues a punishment that is harsher than the UFC punishment, the lengthier suspension will be recognized.

Language concerning the new policy will be written into all contracts as of July 1. No fighter can opt-out, as UFC fighters are not unionized, and there is no collective-bargaining representative who can question the contractual provision.

Fighters can appeal a positive test through independent arbitration.

Novitsky also said Therapeutic Use Exemptions will be handled by the USADA.

WomensMMA editorial staff tip their hats to the UFC-USADA for not considering so-called street drugs PEDs. Completely banning cannabis use would be especially problematic, as it’s both legal in many places as well as prescribed for medical and emotional ailments.

Although many of the most well-known elite athletes reported for PEDs are men, with Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong being two of the biggest, PEDs use among elite women athletes is nothing new, and some of those who have returned dirty tests have been at the very pinnacle of their careers. Sprinter Marion Jones, marathoner Rita Jeptoo, and cyclist Tammy Thomas, whose steroid use so changed her body chemistry she developed male-pattern baldness and whiskers, are just a few.

Cyclist Tammy Thomas

Cyclist Tammy Thomas

WMMA fighters are included on this dubious list, and those popped include Cris Cyborg Justino (13-1), Ashlee Evans-Smith (3-1), Jessica Rakoczy (1-5-1), and Carina Damm (22-12), the latter who holds the “honor” of being the first female fighter testing positive for PEDs. Jessica Eye (11-2) tested positive for cannabinoids, and while she did break the rules in place at that time, in our opinion she was not guilty of using PEDs. Jessica Rakoczy’s suspension for Oxymorphone and Oxycodone is more problematic, because a painkiller can definitely give an athlete an edge by masking pain that could unduly effect their performance.

Carla Esparza (10-3) has recently very publicly accused fellow strawweight Jessica Aguilar (19-4) of juicing, claiming a friend witnessed Aguilar injecting herself.

We are aware cleans tests are not necessarily indicative of non-PEDs use, but Aguilar has never had a dirty test. Third-party accusations without facts are at best distasteful, and WomensMMA asked Aguilar for a statement concerning Esparza’s comments. She had not responded as of press time. In lieu of a statement, the following is a video of Aguliar’s respone to the accusations on Ariel Helwani’s show:

Reasons for using PEDs range from “everyone is doing it” to claiming they speed recovery. Women athletes use them to gain an edge “leaning out” over non-juicing opponents. But they’ve always been banned in the UFC, and fighters know this. Prolonged use of PEDs can also cause devastating and permanent physical damage to athletes.

Travis Tygart released this statement on the new policy yesterday:

“Today is a huge win for the athletes in the UFC as they set a new standard for all professional sport in protecting the rights and health of clean athletes and the integrity of competition.

The UFC has taken a bold and courageous leap forward for the good of its athletes in developing a comprehensive and cutting edge anti-doping policy expressly modeled on the key elements of the WADA Anti-Doping Program and by having it run by an independent and transparent National Anti-Doping Organization. USADA looks forward to supporting clean athletes in this sport, as in all sport, to achieve success on the playing field fairly and safely.”

Many fighters publicly agreed with the USADA’s statement, praising the new policy, including bantamweight Sarah Kaufman (17-3), who quickly expressed her pleasure for the policy on twitter:

Leveling the playing field is easier said than done, but this is a gigantic step in the process of making that happen.


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Melanie Gale