UFC and USADA Collaborate on Independent Drug-Testing

Morgan Slade
Associate Editor
Loyola University of Chicago School of Law, JD 2017


In 2015, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) partnered with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to create a program which protects the integrity of the sport and the health of athletes.

The UFC took a bold step when it chose to collaborate with USADA. The move resulted in a fully independent and transparent anti-doping program regulation. Modeled after the World Anti-Doping Code, the rules equip USADA with the authority to drug test UFC athletes year-round.

As part of the program, USADA provides all UFC athletes with a list of prohibited substances and prohibited methods for when UFC deems an athlete either “in-competition” or “out-of-competition.” The program considers an athlete “in-competition” twelve hours before their fight to the end of the fight, including the drug testing sample collection process. An athlete is considered “out-of-competition” at all other times.

Factors for Independent Testing

The nature of the policy gives USADA the authority to run the program independently from the UFC’s influence and control. Section 5.1.1 of the policy states that USADA has the sole decision making power on the number of placement tests, random tests and target tests performed in accordance with the criteria established by the International Standard for Testing and Investigations. This authority also extends USADA’s ability to require any UFC athlete, subject to USADA authority, to provide a test sample at any time and any place.

USADA’s independent testing and recording of results allow for a transparent program which highlights UFC’s view of the importance of anti-doping policies in mixed martial arts. The program creates a strict compliance mechanism in which USADA independently collects samples and tests them to provide results for UFC athlete enforcement. This transparency essentially removes potential conflicts of interest that arise when drug testing entities are the same entities profiting from the test results.

The effectiveness of this program became apparent a few days before UFC 200 when UFC pulled Jon Jones from the card. Jones’ fight against Daniel Cormier not only headlined UFC 200, but also involved high levels of publicity and anticipation. Just days before the event, USADA, in partnership with the UFC, pulled Jones from the card and replaced him with another fighter.  Despite the resulting fan reaction and financial impact, the UFC held firm, demonstrating their commitment to the transparent drug-testing policy.

2017 Policy Changes

After assessing the program’s effectiveness throughout the past two years, USADA and UFC recently enacted changes to take effect on April 1st, 2017. The changes include written policies and procedures that athletes must comply with in order to participate in a bout.

One of the most significant changes refers to retired fighters, fighters returning to the UFC and new UFC competitors. The previous version of the policy required a retired fighter to give the UFC notice and participate in four months of drug testing before UFC allowed the fighter to compete. The new rule requires those who have retired or taken an extended leave of absence to undergo at least six months of drug testing instead of the previous policy’s requirement of four months. Additionally, new fighters are required to participate in one month of drug testing before competition, as opposed to the previous four-month requirement.

The new policy also changes the aforementioned time window for when an athlete is “in-competition,” which affects the timeline of when certain substances are banned or monitored on a certain level. For example, under the list of prohibited substances, marijuana is not banned when “out-of-competition,” but athletes must have less than a specified amount in their system when entering the “in-competition” time window. The new rule in effect on April 1st defines “in-competition” as twelve noon the day prior to a fight and ends upon completion of a post-fight drug test.

The UFC’s partnership with USADA creates a well-defined anti-drug policy with written rules for implementation and compliance. By monitoring the athletes through random drug tests, the UFC ensures the effectiveness of their policy and limits the ability of athletes to simply alter their drug habits around predetermined drug tests. The UFC’s compliance and partnership with USADA’s administration of the drug-testing policy creates both a fair and competitive playing field while increasing athlete health and performance.