UFC's Euro Drug Testing a Faustian Bargain

December 22, 2008

We are less than a month out from the UFC’s most recent foray into their European adventure, UFC 93 from Ireland on January 17th. If this were a card emanating from Las Vegas we would be hearing the news that all athletes had cleared their out of event drug testing. Nevada’s out of competition testing is seen as the benchmark for the sport, a long needed step in the right direction to ensure that athletes are competing clean. Nevada’s testing plan is being hailed by the California State Athletic Commission as a model that they hope to implement in their recent overhaul of their often assailed drug testing procedures. With Nevada’s model becoming the de facto standard for Steroid testing, it is curious the testing regimen of the UFC has chosen for their Euro shows.

Little if anything is known about the drug testing procedures of the UFC when they put on their European cards. These cards take place by and large beyond the scope of any athletic commission to provide adequate testing of athletes. The only real information that surfaces comes when an athlete on one of these Euro cards tests positive, like Chris Leben from their card in Birmingham this past October. MMAPayout.com sought to get more information on how the drug suspension of Leben was handled, but UFC brass referred back to a vague press release on the company’s website. The lack of transparency by the UFC in respect to their steroid policies is not the ideal situation if they want to give the public the impression that their fighters are not using performance enhancers.

One seeming thing that can be deduced from the UFC’s testing is that they aren’t doing out of competition testing, instead deciding only to test after the competition. Such a plan can be the only explanation why Leben was able to perform in the the main event of the Birmingham card against Michael Bisping. Out of competition testing prior to the event would have popped Leben well in advance of the event. The alternative is that they do have out of competition testing and Leben was allowed to compete anyway, which I don’t believe is the case. Such a scenario would be a PR nightmare that wouldn’t be worth it for such a high profile sport still in its fledgling stages.

The UFC seemingly goes with a less than optimal drug testing procedure, but the reasoning behind the moves aren’t hard to guess. After the fact testing like the UFC implements for their Euro cards has the least amount of impact on the card. Any drug failures aren’t learned about until after the fact, allowing for a more stable product to sell to TV viewers or PPV buyers, whichever may be the case. It is a strategy that comes off as more cynical than safe, and more bottom line motivated than competitive minded. The Leben pairing was an ill fated one from the beginning, with their first scheduled date being sidelined by a period of incarceration for Leben. Using out of competition testing prior to their Birmingham bout would have only served to further torpedo the match-up. The seeming conclusion to be drawn from the UFC’s testing decisions is that convenience trumps completeness when testing is left to the whims of the the promoter. Questions about the UFC’s durg testing procedures will only increase as they ramp up the volume of their international cards in 2009.

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