The UFC’s new stance on drug-use is encouraging, but talk is cheap

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So, the masters of Zuffa have declared war on drugs. Henceforth, any fighter found to have consumed anything stronger than a Paracetamol will be banished, in disgrace, to a professional and financial exile, never to be heard from again. Well, not really.

At yesterday’s press conference in Las Vegas – presumably called because in the early part of 2015 there have been as many failed drug tests in the UFC as events- Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta announced new plans to counteract the apparent increasing use of PEDs, by handing down sterner reprimands to violators and subjecting all 585 UFC fighters to random drug tests as of July 1st.

Such pronouncements are certainly encouraging, but it still feels like the UFC are passing the buck when it comes to the biggest problem now facing mixed martial arts. Both White and Fertitta said they would advocate the type of suspensions handed out by anti-doping groups such as WADA which, of course, can last up to four years.

But there’s a pretty glaring caveat; the punishments for those that test positive will be at the discretion of relevant state athletic commissions, with the exception of self-regulated UFC events. The past tells us that said punishments are relatively tame; 6-9 month suspensions, accompanied by fines, the amount of which, would barely make a dent in the bank account of most top-level fighters.

As industry leaders, the UFC could be truly proactive and set a stern, but positive example by introducing very specific stipulations regarding drug use into fighters’ contracts. For example, if an individual tests positive for an illegal substance, PEDs in particular, then he/she should receive a lifetime ban from the UFC, and any of its affiliate organisations.

What’s more, such a contractual obligation could be retroactively applied to every fighter on their roster, not just those who are yet to put pen to paper. Additionally, any fighter presently competing in another promotion, who tests positive in the future, should not be eligible to fight in the UFC, regardless of their subsequent performances or notoriety.

Such legislation could have a number of profound effects. Firstly, it takes such decisions out of the hands of state commissions who, as MMA junkie correctly pointed out, simply cannot change their current laws overnight, just because the UFC have suddenly been forced to take this stance.

And, instead of just superficially endorsing the sanctions of bodies such as WADA, the UFC can carry them out themselves. If they are contractually obliged, by their own law, to punish every fighter in their employ in precisely the same way, then the chance of leniency for a high-profile or financially viable athlete evaporates.

It’s public record that the UFC are happy to take the moral high ground with a Pat Healy, but are discernibly less righteous when it comes to Vitor Belfort or, latterly, Anderson Silva. If they are truly serious about neutralising what is fast becoming an epidemic in mixed martial arts, then the brass will deprive themselves of such wiggle room, even at the expensive of their bottom line.

Yesterday’s developments should be viewed as a move in the right the direction, but until the UFC categorically demonstrate that all sanctions will be carried out on an egalitarian basis, no matter how much it will impinge on profit, the jury will remain out.

@oldmanrooney