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UFC Beefs Up Efforts To Stop Drug Use Among Its Atheletes

Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

The UFC is working to beef up drug testing for its atheletes.

When UFC officials announced they would overhaul their drug-testing program, they assured major changes.

One big change was the hiring of Jeff Novitzky, who was also an investigator in the blood-doping cases of cyclist Lance Armstrong and Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens.

Lawrence Epstein, UFC’s chief operating officer, told KNPR’s State of Nevada that hiring Novitzky is a sign of the importance of the issue to the company.

“Obviously, by hiring Jeff, we’ve sent the signal that we’re going to take testing very, very seriously,” Epstein said.

The drug testing protocol is just one part of a three-part plan to improve the health and training of UFC fighters, Epstein said. He also said they introduced accident insurance policies and will create a comprehensive athlete performance and training program.

Epstein said when UFC first started the company only held four to five fights a year but now it holds about 40 to 45 fights a year around the globe.

“The stakes became higher and we had to take a larger role in regulating our athletes. This is once again another step in doing just that,” he said.

A series of events, including the recent positive drug test for Anderson Silva one of the top fighters, led the company to implement expanded testing. While Silva has not been banned from the sport, as of yet, his positive test did send a message.

“Clearly having an athlete of Anderson Silva’s stature, arguable one of the best mixed-martial artist of all time, have a positive test that absolutely sent a message to the mixed-martial arts world that this testing is taking place that if you’re taking performance enhancing drugs you’re probably going to get caught,” Epstein said.

One of the big problems the company faces is unlike a team in Major League Baseball or the National Football League, UFC fighters train separately in facilities around the world, making random testing between events difficult.

The logistical problems are not stopping the UFC from reaching for the goal of creating a strict drug testing regime.

“We’re going to try to build the best drug testing protocols of any major sport,” Epstein said.

Epstein said the UFC supports stiffer penalties for fighters who test positive for performance-enhancing drugs, and he said the company wants regulators to react more quickly to the changing science of drug testing.

“Like many sports, our goal is to have a playing field to be 100 percent fair and hiring Jeff Novitzky is just one more step towards trying to get to that goal,” Epstein said.

Lawrence Epstein, chief operating officer, UFC

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