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UFC president Dana White isn't one to react passively to events. He spoke to the LA Times' Lance Pugmire on Friday about the recent rash of failed drug tests that have afflicted the UFC. Most recently the UFC lost its headliner for the upcoming UFC 146 when Heavyweight title challenger Alistair Overeem failed a random urine test in late March for an elevated testosterone:epitestosterone ratio.
White told Pugmire the UFC is taking steps to expand their internal drug testing program:
White: "The steroid, [performance-enhancing drug] thing affects the whole sport. The key is to make sure these guys never get on it, because once they do, they change. The problem with Overeem is that I want to sit in a room with him man to man and believe him. He told me before he ever fought for us, 'Don't worry, I'm the most tested athlete in sports.' But I think we have about 42 fights a year . . . you have a guy or two popping [positive tests] here and there, that's a pretty good ratio."
Pugmire: Do you want to increase testing?
White: "Yes. We're going to do our own testing, order these guys into [a lab]; we're sorting it out now. You have to do this to save the sport. You can't have these guys fighting on this stuff."
This is a massive sea change in the UFC's approach to drug testing. For years they deferred all questions regarding drug testing to the various athletic commissions that regulate the sport and hoped no one important would note that they acted as the commission in jurisdictions (the UK, Japan) with no regulatory body in place.
White also addressed what he regards as the uninformed coverage in the MMA media about the declining UFC ratings on Fox, FX and Fuel TV:
See what Dana has to say about TV ratings after the jump...
White: "The real story is, what do the Internet reporters know? When they say Fox made a big bet on the UFC, and now it's tanking . . . it's not. It's given Fox an audience it never had before. [Research] shows 3.9 million new viewers to Fox networks in the last three months, [more] new women viewers, and UFC on Fox 1 had a higher composition of Latino viewers than the big four sports leagues."
Pugmire: You set the bar high at the UFC on Fox 1 card with the heavyweight title bout between Junior Dos Santos and Cain Velasquez, but it did seem as if your May 5 card was a pretty big drop-off.
White: "Who's hotter than the Diaz brothers now? And Nate Diaz put on an absolute show. That was a bad TV night. It was the biggest movie night of the year, with 'The Avengers.' It was Cinco de Mayo, so people went out. Plus you had the Floyd Mayweather fight. The numbers cycle up and down in sports, but we felt Diaz went out and won a big fight, and our sport makes its stars different than boxing. Mayweather was a 1996 Olympian, and now he's finally at his biggest. With our guys - like Jon Jones, who no one knew a year and a half ago - they become huge stars overnight with one great fight. [The Fox fights] aren't all going to be 10 million viewers. There are a lot of things we still need to dial in, but everybody's good with what we're supposed to be doing. If a rating is bad in another sport, do you see a writer say, 'This sport's over?' No."
Dana's right to accentuate the positive but the issue isn't that the Fox, FX and Fuel TV ratings are bad per se (although they've definitely dipped a toe into those waters) it's that the ratings are declining from show to show and week to week. With the exception of preliminary fights for UFC pay-per-views airing on FX and Fuel TV and UFC Fight Nights on FX, every program the UFC has put on the Fox family has declined from installment to installment. That goes for UFC on Fox, The Ultimate Fighter Live, and UFC on Fuel TV.