UFC and USADA Make Major Change to Anti-Doping Policy Going Forward

The UFC and USADA have announced a dramatic change in how they will announce potential doping violations for athletes going forward.

Guilty until proven innocent.

That was the perception felt by many fighters when it came to USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) and the UFC in regards to the current doping program.

Whenever an athlete was flagged for a potential violation of the UFC’s anti-doping policy, an announcement would be made with very little information provided regarding what was usually a failed drug test and the fighters would be left to defend themselves publicly until the adjudication process was completed.

Now that policy has changed as the UFC and USADA have announced a dramatic shift in how they will handle doping violations going forward.

The updated version of the program, which apparently launched back in July, will no longer immediately announce potential doping violations suffered by fighters.

Instead, the UFC and USADA will grant the fighters time to go through the entire adjudication process before an announcement is made with the results of the potential doping violation.

“I have nothing but the highest caliber of respect for USADA, but it would be obtuse on our part if we did not take a look after a three-year period and say, ‘What are the things we’ve learned and what changes might we need to make to this program?'” UFC chief legal officer Hunter Campbell said when speaking to ESPN.

“If an athlete has a positive drug test, we aren’t putting them in a fight until their case is resolved — but what we can do is give the athlete an opportunity to adjudicate their issue without the public rushing to judgment. Announcing the test result creates this narrative around the athlete before people understand the facts.”

According to the statement provided by the UFC and USADA on the rules change, the biggest reason for the change in direction is because so many athletes have been flagged for a potential doping violation but ultimately it’s proven that they were the victim of unintentional use (typically from a contaminated supplement).

Jeff Novitsky, the UFC vice president of athlete and performance, revealed that out of the 62 cases that have been adjudicated since the doping policy was launched, 21 of those were found to be caused by unintentional use.

There have been several high profile cases including those involving former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos and Josh Barnett where USADA or an independent arbitrator ultimately ruled that the athlete was not at fault for their doping violation but rather they were the victim of a contaminated supplement.

Unfortunately the damage had already been done to the fighters’ reputations publicly and that’s rarely returned just because the end result was essentially exonerating them from any wrongdoing.

There was also a similar case with reigning UFC women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg where she was flagged for a potential doping violation but then received a retroactive therapeutic use exemption that cleared her from receiving any kind of punishment.

Because these cases have been so frequent throughout the course of the UFC’s doping program, the promotion felt that it was more beneficial to the athletes to allow them to go through the adjudication process before any sort of announcement was made public.

“Part of the feedback Jeff and I have received from the athletes is, ‘I would have appreciated the opportunity to adjudicate this, so the story could be I tested positive, a full investigation was conducted and it was found the use was unintentional,'” Campbell said.

“That story is very different than giving somebody a six-month window, where they are trying to defend themselves against accusations they are a cheater.”

Of course one of the biggest problems with the UFC’s anti-doping program with USADA has been the time it’s taken to come to a conclusion with the adjudication process.

For instance, Barnett was out of action for 15 months while working towards a resolution in his case where he was eventually exonerated and only issued a public reprimand for a failed drug test that was a result of a tainted supplement.

Sadly, Barnett didn’t get those 15 months back in his career and as of right now, neither the UFC or USADA has addressed the possibility of the adjudication process taking any less time but at least there will be no public announcement regarding a potential doping violation until the results are determined.

Another change the UFC is reportedly looking to make to the current doping program with USADA is in regards to second time offenders.

Currently, athletes are subjected to double the penalty for a second time violation of the anti-doping program.

Just recently, former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was potentially facing a four-year suspension after previously serving a one year suspension for a separate violation of the anti-doping program. An independent arbitrator had previously ruled that Jones’ first offense was due to reckless behavior rather than intentional use after he took an off market sexual enhancement drug that had a banned substance in it.

The second violation ended with an independent arbitrator ruling that they didn’t believe Jones intentionally cheated but he still faced a stiff penalty for another infraction of the anti-doping policy.

“One of the reasons a guy like Jon Jones was facing four years is that he was a multiple offender of the program,” Campbell added. “My issue with that is that Jon Jones was found to have not done anything intentional in his first offense. He was found to have exercised a degree of irresponsibility.

“I do not think anyone who has two unintentional violations should have to face a four-year suspension. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. You have to have, and we will continue to have, increasing penalties in the event a violation is found to be intentional.”

As of now, that particular change to the program hasn’t been made but obviously it’s something the UFC and USADA are exploring as the doping policy continues to evolve.

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Damon Martin is a veteran mixed martial arts journalist who has been covering the industry since 2003 with bylines on FOX Sports, CNN, Bleacher Report and numerous other outlets.