The UFC and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) have had a partnership since 2015, with USADA being responsible for running the UFC’s anti-doping program. However, this partnership is set to come to an end on January 1, 2024. The announcement came after a meeting between the two organizations in May, where they discussed a potential contract renewal. According to CEO Travis Tygart, the meeting was initially positive and productive. However, the UFC had an abrupt change of heart and informed USADA on Monday that they would be going in a different direction. This sudden decision left USADA with no choice but to end their partnership with the UFC.
An Untenable Situation
The situation surrounding UFC fighter Conor McGregor played a significant role in the breakdown of the relationship between the UFC and USADA. McGregor, who is the UFC’s top star, removed himself from the USADA drug-testing pool after suffering a fractured leg in a fight against Dustin Poirier in July 2021. According to the UFC’s anti-doping policy, a fighter who wants to re-enter the drug-testing pool must spend at least six months in the pool and pass two drug tests before competing again. USADA felt that this rule should apply to McGregor as well.
In a statement, Tygart emphasized that USADA’s priority is the long-term health and safety of fighters, as well as ensuring a fair and level playing field. He stated that the organization values these principles more than short-term profits at the expense of clean athletes. USADA believed that McGregor should spend the full six-month period in the drug-testing pool before being allowed to compete again. This principled stance by USADA was questioned by UFC leaders and others, which ultimately led to the breakdown of the relationship.
Questioning USADA’s Stance
UFC president Dana White’s interview with TSN in July raised doubts about USADA’s stance on McGregor’s eligibility to fight before the end of the year. White hinted that McGregor might not have to be in the drug-testing pool for six months. These comments were seen as undermining USADA’s position. Additionally, UFC color commentator Joe Rogan suggested that the UFC should handle its drug-testing in-house due to dissatisfaction with some of USADA’s regulations. USADA’s Tygart addressed these criticisms, stating that they do not allow fighters to use performance-enhancing drugs like experimental peptides or testosterone for healing or injuries without an approved medical basis.
The decision to end the partnership between the UFC and USADA has left many UFC athletes disappointed. These athletes, who are independent contractors, rely on USADA’s independent and gold-standard global program to protect their rights to a clean, safe, and fair Octagon. The end of the partnership raises concerns about the future of anti-doping measures in the UFC and the potential impact on the integrity of the sport.
As the UFC and USADA part ways, concerns emerge about Conor McGregor’s eligibility to fight before the six-month requirement is fulfilled. With the partnership officially ending on January 1, 2024, it remains uncertain if the UFC will honor the six-month rule for McGregor. If not, McGregor could potentially return to the Octagon sooner than expected. This uncertainty adds another layer of complexity to an already contentious situation.
The decision to end the partnership between the UFC and USADA marks a significant shift in the landscape of anti-doping efforts in mixed martial arts. The controversy surrounding Conor McGregor’s eligibility to compete has highlighted the tension between ensuring the long-term health and safety of fighters and the demands of the promotion. Moving forward, it will be crucial for the UFC to address the concerns raised and implement effective anti-doping measures to maintain the integrity of the sport.