The expansion of drug-testing in the world of mixed martial arts has been well-documented since the UFC teamed up with the US Anti-Doping Agency last summer to expand its monitoring of its athletes. And while the USADA’s program expects to administer over one thousand tests per year, a positive test and a big name are often what bring a sport’s drug policy into the spotlight.
When Las Vegas hosted UFC 200 on July 9th, the main event was supposed to pit Daniel Cormier against Jon Jones in the evening’s main event, a fight for the light-heavyweight championship. Yet a positive drug test for Jones showing traces of an unspecified banned substance pulled Jones from contention. Cormier defeated Anderson Silva in a non-title fight, while Jones’ future with UFC appears to be in question.
That’s the stigma often attached to conversations about drug testing- suspensions, positive tests, performance enhancers. Maintaining a level playing field is certainly crucial when administering these tests, but another important function is to guarantee the safety of the fighters.
Up-and-coming fighters are ready to descend on Boise on August 12th for Front Street Fights 9, with these young athletes looking to add another high-profile win to their resumes as they climb the professional ladder. At Front Street Fights, there is structure in place to ensure that these aspiring athletes, many without the resources afforded fighters at the higher levels, can get into the cage and compete safely.
Dennis Richardson is the CEO of DrugShield, Inc., a company that has partnered with Front Street Fights and CenturyLink Arena from the beginning to ensure that athletes are meeting all requirements before squaring off in the cage. DrugShield serves as the Official Reporting Agency of the Idaho State Athletic Commission, helping the fighters, the promoters, and the state to keep all athletes in compliance.
“Every state is different,” said Richardson. “In Idaho, our specific requirements are that fighters have to have a physical signed off by a certified doctor. They must have blood drawn testing for HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. They need a urine drug test testing for the minimum of the 5-panel drugs of abuse test, and females have to have a pregnancy test. All fighters also must be licensed to compete in the state of Idaho.”
It’s obvious that all of these tests are designed first and foremost to keep the fighters safe, both they themselves and their opponents. It also guarantees the events will attract serious competitors, those willing to go through the preparation.
“It’s getting away from the just ‘believe days’, where people who don’t like the way it is now aren’t necessarily the people who train very hard,” said Jesse Brock, one of the most successful MMA fighters to come out of Idaho with 22 career victories. “Those guys want to get in there and fight, legally, but without doing any of the preparation or cleaning their body up.”
DrugShield has done its part to help streamline the process, helping fighters meet the rules and regulations and focus on the fights.
“We set up licensing nights,” explained Richardson. “In the past, fighters would have to go to one location for a blood draw, another location for a physical, another for the license and so on. What we’ve done is condense that to a one-stop shop.”
Simplifying such matters is good for the fighters, as well as for the promotion. People who want their taxes done correctly go to an accountant and those headed to court hire a good attorney. Likewise, a young fighter looking to compete can rely fully on the partnership between DrugShield and Front Street Fights to ensure he or she is qualified with the state.
One element the state commission does not test for is performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), though it has been a matter of recent discussion. Brock believes the current drug testing done by the state is important, ensuring that competitors are of sound body and mind in the cage, but he would like to see testing for performance enhancers added soon.
“It’s good for the guys who have been clean and doing it correctly, but with athletes testing positive now it casts a shadow of doubt over past performances,” said Brock, who does he believe he has competed against fighters in the past who were using performance enhancers. “Even athletes testing positive for the first time now, you wonder about past performances because from what I understand, the science is always ahead of the test.”
PED testing would require more expensive testing. Still, Brock mentioned Utah as a state that is testing for PEDs and hopes that it can influence the State of Idaho to do the same. While most discussions of PEDs usually revolve around the user and the quest for a competitive edge, Brock raised the equally important concern of fighter safety in the cage.
“For fighters using PEDs, you have to understand this is a combat sport. You could end someone’s life potentially, and there are guys with permanent injuries now,” said Brock.
He used Michael Bisping, the UFC’s current Middleweight champion, as an example. Bisping suffered a detached retina back in 2013 after a series of fights against fighters that have since tested positive for PEDs, most notably Vitor Belfort whose kick in a fight is said to have caused the injury.
“He’ll never be the same and he’ll never see properly out of that eye,” noted Brock. “Who knows if that would have been the case if these guys were on a level playing field with [Bisping].”
Brock was not in favor of some of the stiffer punishments given to fighters for failing recreational drug tests, believing Nick Diaz’s five-year suspension for marijuana (since reduced to 18 months) might have been an example of a judgment that was too harsh. But for fighters guilty of using steroids, Brock believes athletes should be responsible for what’s in their bodies and violators should, “have the book thrown at them.”
Whether or not Idaho takes that step remains to be seen. At the moment, Front Street Fights and DrugShield are making sure athletes are meeting requirements and that they have a resource to ensure they are indeed putting the right things in their bodies.
“The main gist of it is having an organization that knows all the rules and regulations of the commission and has the ability to implement all those rules and regulations to make sure that everything is done appropriately,” said Richardson. “That’s not just in testing, but in acting as a foundation of knowledge for those who question why, what, when, or where.”
Drug testing and compliance are always done for the integrity of the sport and for the safety of the athletes. As sports science takes a more prominent place on the MMA stage, and not always for positive reasons, drug testing will evolve as well to protect and support the fighters on Front Street.