In 2014, with the Nevada Athletic Commission banning the use of testosterone and the UFC enforcing stricter drug testing within its ranks, the sport of MMA has perceivably started to become a more even playing field.
Perceivably, because the UFC is only now just beginning to ramp up the process of weeding out cheaters within the sport. As UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta recently told ESPN, Zuffa is currently interviewing companies to enact out-of-competition drug testing to the fighters under contract with the UFC. It won’t be long before any fighter under the Zuffa banner can be randomly tested, in and out of competition, for performance enhancing drugs.
And the Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for the UFC, Marc Ratner, has been instrumental in not only educating officials within new markets about the sport but of also standing at the forefront of the movement to clean up MMA as well. One of the reasons for the emphasis is that fighting, as a literal transaction between two combatants with an intent to do harm, is far more dangerous than other sports, where a ball or a puck becomes a metaphor for exacting that will.
Ratner appeared on the Monday edition of The MMA Hour and talked about the UFC’s efforts to clean the sport up.
"I think that this year-round testing and out of competition is very important," Ratner told Ariel Helwani. "Unlike baseball if you’re taking a performance enhancing drug and you hit the ball further, that’s a big advantage, but in fighting, whether it’s boxing or in MMA -- and you’re chemically stronger and you win a fight that you may not of and hurt somebody and test positive -- that could be a criminal offense as well as losing the fight or it becoming a no contest.
"So I’m all for out-of-competition testing. I want an even playing field and I believe in it with all my heart."
Just in 2014, out-of-competition testing cost Chael Sonnen, who tested positive for HGH, EPO and other banned substances in June, not only his next fight in the UFC, but ultimately his television job at FOX as an analyst. Flyweight challenger Ali Baugatinov also tested positive for EPO, while the freshly retired Wanderlei Silva fled a random test back in May, which in the eyes of many (including the NAC) looked like an admission of guilt.
Ratner said that right now the UFC is still talking to companies to determine who will conduct the out-of-competition tests going forward, and that there were some broader logistics to sort out.
"I’ve had some proposals from different [companies]," he said. "I’ve had some telephonic talks and one in-person meeting. Yeah, we’re still in the process. One of the hold-ups will be…if the fighter tests positive, the arbitration process, how it will be dealt with in every state. We have to make sure that if somebody is suspended that all states honor it, which they should, and foreign countries also.
"So there are some logistics, but we are going to do something. I’m very confident. It may not be by the first of the year but it’ll be right after that. We are in the process, and everybody here has bought into it, so we are going to do something it’s just a question of when."
When asked if at some point in the near future the entire fight card of a given event will be subjected to testing, rather than just designated competitors, Ratner said it would depend on the independent third party conducting those tests.
"That’ll be up to the drug testing company that we select, and they will randomly test, and it’s all be out-of-competition," he said. "And just so everybody knows, out-of-competition is for performance enhancing drugs. So we’re not talking about illegal street drugs, we’re only talking about performance enhancing, and if somebody had smoked dope in February and fighting in April it’s not relevant to what we’re talking about."
Ratner wouldn’t say how much Zuffa is budgeting out to make the out-of-competition drug testing a reality, but did say, "We would all like to get paid that kind of money."
Another subject that Ratner talked about was the UFC’s controversial removal of a judge mid-event at UFC Fight Night 48 in August. UFC president Dana White plucked judge Howard Hughes from the rotation in Macau -- a place where the UFC acts as its own commission -- after he saw a scorecard he didn’t agree with. It turns out that it wasn’t Hughes who came up with the disagreeable score, it was another judge, which complicated the breach of protocol that much further.
But Ratner said it didn’t matter who it was, because it’s not something that should ever happen.
"It’s an impossibility to do and he’ll never do it again," he said. "It’s the fan in [White]. He is so passionate about this sport and when he feels there’s a wrong, he wants to correct it. It so happens he didn’t get all the information and the correct information, so this won’t happen again. But it is a complete no-no.
"I’ve been in college games refereeing football where I’ve had a coach tell me, if I could get rid of you right now I would. But they can’t. They can’t do that in the NFL, they can’t do that in the NBA. What happens though is if you get enough bad marks on your name, you don’t get rehired. All these contracts in all the major sports are year-to-year. There’s always a way to get rid of a bad official, but not during the event."
Asked to explain why it’s a conflict for a promoter -- even one acting as its own commission in a foreign land -- to meddle with officials, Ratner didn’t mince words.
"It undermines the whole regulatory process," he said. "If a judge is judging and is so worried that the promoter or the owner or somebody is going to say something, you can’t have that. It’s just the wrong message to send.
"Like I said, it won’t happen again. I love Dana’s passion, though. If I would have been there I would have certainly talked to the judge and say look it, you’ve got to be better in the next fight, and then maybe not of used them again. But that wasn’t the case, and I was in Tulsa [for UFC Fight Night 49, going on later that night]."