There’s something shady going on with USADA. I know, I know – that’s like saying “water is wet” and “Dana White curses a lot.” But the tiles that make up the grand mosaic of combat sports are starting to reveal a bigger picture… and it’s ugly.

The Solution to the UFC’s Drug Problem… Somewhat

Rewind to just a few years ago… heck, rewind to anytime from the birth of the sport here in the US in 1993 to when the UFC handed USADA the keys to the performance enhancing drug kingdom: steroids were rampant. Back when Ken Shamrock was a star and Kimo Leopoldo was lugging around crosses, no one gave a crap if fighters were on drugs. Then Zuffa took over, and they cared enough to test fighters outside of whatever athletic commissions would do (when Zuffa caught a fighter testing hot, they usually warned them; some didn’t listen – one lost his heavyweight championship belt when the commission busted him for real!).

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But in the never-ending quest to get legit everywhere, the UFC put that testing stuff on USADA. As per veteran boxing journo Thomas Hauser:

USADA has shown that it knows how to catch drug cheats. In 2015, it entered into a contract to test mixed martial arts combatants for UFC. UFC wanted USADA to catch the drug cheats. In part, that might have been because a multi-billion-dollar sale of UFC’s parent company was in the works and prospective buyers wanted a clean sport. It’s also possible that Dana White and the rest of the UFC leadership understand the difference between right and wrong when it comes to illegal PED use in a combat sport.

Since then, some of the biggest names in UFC have been suspended pursuant to tests administered by USADA. This includes Brock Lesnar, Chad Mendes, Junior Dos Santos, Francisco Rivera, Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, Josh Barnett, and Nick Diaz.

An Imperfect System

No system is perfect, though, and USADA has had its issues. Mostly, it’s been things like busting fighters for taking tainted supplements, punishing them without recourse, and messing with careers when they didn’t have to.

Lyoto Machida: screwed by USADA.

However, the rising tide of shadiness got up to our knees when they busted Jon Jones for his one thousandth failed drug test, yet gave him a slap on the wrist for – supposedly – snitching. I saw supposedly because, well, there’s no real transparency in what may or may not happen next with whoever Jones snitched on. Are the USADA police kicking down the doors of Jones’ suppliers and carting dealers off to jail?

There might not be any mechanism in place for what happens next with that stuff, but there should be. Because if we don’t know what happens with all the info Jones allegedly gave to earn his wildly reduced sentence, then how do we know for sure that he actually did something worthy of him not being banned from competition for twenty years? How do we know that USADA didn’t let Jones off the hook simply because the UFC desperately needs one of its pay-per-view stars back in rotation? I’m not saying that’s the case. I’m just saying, how do we know it isn’t?

Can USADA Be Trusted?

I want to believe in the best in people, and that government has our best interests at heart. Also, I want to believe that the UFC puts the sport before business, and that as a general rule only immoral fighters do drugs. I also want to believe that the organization tasked with policing the drug use of UFC fighters is doing that unequivocally. But I’m too old and wise for any of those wants to overshadow reason and facts.

According to Hauser, USADA is being shady as f*ck with their oversight of boxing.

USADA has been testing professional boxers for performance enhancing drugs since 2010. Its website states that it has administered 1,501 tests on 128 professional boxers through August 22 of this year. Yet it appears as though, in all these years, USADA has reported only one adverse finding regarding a professional boxer (its belated report of Morales to the NYSAC) to a governing state athletic commission.

Is it possible that USADA has administered 1,501 tests to 128 professional boxers and that only one of these tests has come back positive? Yes. It’s also possible that a giant asteroid will obliterate life as we know it on earth tomorrow. But it’s statistically implausible and highly unlikely.

Sure, USADA has busted tons of UFC fighters, but if they’re dropping the ball in the boxing arena, what does that say about their efforts in mixed martial arts? At the very least, it raises some questions, like: How genuine are their efforts to police the sport? What happens when MMA starts getting the same treatment that boxing does – will we even notice?

Oh, look, some boxing.

California Is Getting Uncomfortable With USADA

Erstwhile UFC superstar Jones is returning at the end of this month. He’s fighting Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232 in Las Vegas because of dollars, dollars, dollars. Because Jones failed his drug test at UFC 215 in California, he had to do a song and dance before the California commission, and of course they’re letting him fight in Nevada. Because dollars, dollars, dollars.

Jon Jones Daniel Cormier UFC 226
I can post any picture of Jon Jones in the cage, and odds are he’s on drugs in the pic.

But Andy Foster of the California State Athletic Commission spoke afterwards about how he’s not too high on USADA. Most of what he said had to do with procedural stuff, like USADA screwing over fighters. Yet the crux was that he didn’t want to let USADA decide punishments anymore. Foster would prefer the Commission handle that.

He also wasn’t too keen on Jones getting a reduced sentence for snitching. As per MMAFighting:

“That’s nonsense to me,” Foster said. “You’re gonna tattle on somebody and get your [suspension] reduced? That doesn’t mesh with my way of thinking. I’m dealing with Mr. Jones or I’m dealing with Fighter X or Fighter B. I’m not gonna reduce their punishment if they tell me somebody else is a doper. I don’t want to speak exactly for [USADA], but part of the rationale was that’s part of an effective anti-doping program. I don’t know about anti-doping programs other than the drug tests that we issue here at CSAC. … Somebody wrote, it’s called the ‘snitch’ rule. Somebody wrote that. I don’t know about that.”

However

Multiple sources say that Foster has made it clear to promoters that he is uncomfortable with the pattern of USADA’s reported test results for boxing and would prefer that promoters use VADA or another reliable testing agency until the issue is resolved. On December 5, Foster told this writer, “It’s the weirdest thing. USADA has reported lots of positive test results for MMA but none for boxing. When it comes to boxing, I feel much more comfortable with VADA.”

Imagine that. A commission expressing their mistrust of USADA, and leaning towards the use of another organization to screen for drugs. What is this world coming to?

I’ll tell you what it’s coming to: A world where we might have to question USADA and whether they’re truly effective and genuine.