UFC’s Encouraging Partnership with USADA

By: Yoonho Ji

The California State Athletic Commission determined that the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light-heavyweight championship bout between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier on July 29, 2017 was a “no-contest” due to Jon Jones’ failure to pass the drug test.[1] This major announcement put the spotlight once again on the United States Anti-Doping Agency (“USADA”) which administered Jones’ failed drug test, and the UFC’s mission to clean up the sport from performance enhancement drugs.

Until 2015, the UFC mainly looked to the rules and regulations of the State Athletic Commissions to conduct drug tests and impose penalties.[2]  Now with its partnership with USADA supplementing State Commissions’ drug tests, the UFC took a major step forward in making the sport of mixed martial arts safer for its fighters.

USADA’s stringent drug-testing procedures have been met with many criticisms.[3]  USADA’s “whereabouts” policy requiring fighters to disclose where they are going to be everyday three months in advance for random drug testing has raised concerns of privacy for the fighters.[4] Similarly, the USADA has a strict liability standard for unknowing ingestion of substances in contaminated supplements which is far stricter than the Nevada Athletic Commission’s case-by-case discretionary standard in lowering potential suspension.[5]

The harsh policies that came with USADA’s overseeing of UFC anti-doping policy are justified in making the sport safer for its participants.  Combat sports leagues such as the UFC should have the duty to protect its fighters.  Mixed martial arts is a sport that puts two people in an octagon cage to knock out or submit each other, and it is more important in this sport than others to make sure none of the participants are advantaged by performance enhancement drugs.  Performance enhancement drugs give participants in any sport an unfair advantage to win in a competition.  But in mixed martial arts, a fighter on a performance enhancement drug might seriously harm the other participant through increased power in punches, kicks, or any other form of strikes.

The potential for bodily harm and health consequences of participants fighting opponents that may be using performance enhancement drugs should be a significant factor in supporting UFC’s partnership with USADA to supplement the role of State Athletic Commissions.  This is an opportunity for state government agencies to cooperate with independent anti-doping agencies such as USADA, and take advantage of their resources to achieve its mission to regulate combat sports for the safety of the contestants.[6]

With the direct safety of the fighters at stake, as long as USADA does not overreach on the fighters’ privacy and due process in drug testing, other inconveniences are part of the process that the fighters in the UFC should accommodate.  This comprehensive reform of the anti-doping policy by the UFC and USADA will bring credibility to the sport and assurance to the fans and fighters that it is safe and fair.


[1] Damon Martin, Jon Jones’ Win Against Daniel Cormier Overturned to No Contest Due to Failed Drug Test, MMAWeekly (Sep. 13, 2017), http://www.mmaweekly.com/jon-jones-win-against-daniel-cormier-overturned-to-no-contest-due-to-failed-drug-test.

[2] Steven Marrocco, UFC confirms partnership with USADA, details of out-of-competition testing program, MMAJunkie (Jun. 3, 2015, 7:35 PM), http://mmajunkie.com/2015/06/ufc-confirms-partnership-with-usada-details-of-out-of-competition-testing-program.

[3] Jordy McElroy, Is USADA doing more harm than good in the UFC?, FanRag Sports Network (No. 8, 2016), https://www.fanragsports.com/usada-harm-good-ufc/.

[4] Marc Raimondi, Click Debate: How do UFC fighters feel about telling USADA their whereabouts?, MMA Fighting (Aug. 21, 2017, 11:00 AM), https://www.mmafighting.com/2017/8/21/16176760/click-debate-how-do-ufc-fighters-feel-about-telling-usada-their-whereabouts.

[5] Zach Arnold, Nevada’s athletic commission demanded USADA & UFC provide its contrac. So where is it?, Fight Opinion (Oct. 25, 2016), http://www.fightopinion.com/2016/10/25/nevada-usada-ufc-contract-jon-jones/.

[6] NEVADA STATE ATHLETIC COMISSION, http://boxing.nv.gov/about/Mission/ (last visited Sep. 18, 2017).