Dana White and UFC Cannot Abandon Commissions for Better Drug Testing

I encourage you to watch the entire video. There are a couple of notable items in what White is saying. First, he states athletic commissions are already doing blood testing, which they most certainly are not or at least not in any kind of meaningful way. Second, he states he is very pleased with how well the athletic commissions currently screen athletes for drugs of abuse and performance enhancement. That may sound strange to those who can plainly observe how utterly anemic the current system is, but White is no dummy. He is stuck trying to find a way to keep his sport validated without alienating those who provide aforementioned legitimacy.

Here's the essential problem with the UFC doing their own testing on top of what the commissions already do: in short, it completely undermines the commission. It says to the commissions and the public that the UFC was forced to take matters into their own hands because the commissions simply could not be trusted to do their jobs properly. The move would be an admission that the steroid and performance enhancing drug problem exceeds the capacity of the athletic commission to meaningfully do anything about it.

And that's a major, major admission with serious penalties. White and the UFC are supporting the commissions (publicly, anyway) because they are the third-party validators necessary for the sport's and organization's credibility. White's line about the sport being "tested by the government" is a clever spin that's aimed at assuaging fears about who is really monitoring or regulating this activity. The idea that some form of government agency is overseeing everything is supposed to be a trump move of regulatory authority, competency and oversight. After all, who is better at regulation than an entity whose sole purpose is such? And if we throw in the familiarity people have with commissions testing athletes in boxing, the carryover effect is in play as well.

Dana White's and Marc Ratner's dilemma is that they are reliant upon state athletic commissions even when those commissions fail them and the sport miserably. For the UFC to do their own testing on top of what the commissions already provide is to admit the cops on patrol have been asleep at the wheel virtually the entire time. It's hard to argue the steroid use problem among athletes has gone up in recent years. There certainly isn't any data to that effect. That's remained a constant. So what's changed? The ability of the commissions to keep with advanced dodging procedure among PED users. Their equipment is antiquated and their methods outdated, but if White cosigns that idea he's calling into question the very bedrock of authenticity that allows MMA and the UFC to be called regulated sport.

There might be small adjustments that can be made, something I like to call "augmented testing". That would be expanded testing procedures (blood and urine, random or scheduled in some packaged form). For example, augmented testing for championship fights seems at least potentially tenable. However, unlike boxing promoters who use blood testing as a negotiating tactic, the UFC would be on the hook for the entire sport of MMA. If the fans or public found blood testing to be effective for championship fights, why not extend the policy to everyone? What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If the UFC is footing the bill for blood testing, then the slope becomes slippery almost immediately.

Everyone can suggest that White and the UFC need to do more, but the solution is not simple. They are in a very tough, unenviable position. They cannot alienate key allies in the name of satisfying demands for more stringent testing. The answer, however it can be produced, is to get the commissions to strengthen themselves. Going over their heads only complicates the matter and removes what the UFC has been saying about itself for more than a decade: we ran towards regulation, not from it.

Taking matters into their own hands is a de facto way of running away from regulation. That is not the solution to this very real problem.

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