When the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) banned testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), random drug testing became the number one hot button topic in mixed martial arts.
Former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre gave the topic a bit of a nudge when he appeared on The MMA Hour and said, "drug testing had something to do" with his decision to step away from the sport. In that same conversation St-Pierre said that he felt UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta understood that the system - not the UFC was the problem regarding drug testing.
A few days after St-Pierre spoke on The MMA Hour, Fertitta addressed the subject of random drug testing with ESPN, saying that ultimate authority to institute a random drug testing protocol rested with the state athletic commissions and not the UFC.
NSAC chairman Francisco Aguilar told Bloody Elbow that Fertitta's comments were on the mark, "I understand the perspective that it needs to be done by the state athletic commission because they are the governing body with jurisdiction of the sport and they have some regulatory power over the fighters," said Aguilar.
Nothing is stopping the UFC from developing its own random drug testing policy and implementing that policy. However any testing that the UFC would do would not remove the athletic commissions from the equation. One of the main reasons the commissions would still need to be involved is that they are independent of the fighters and the promotions that hold events in their states.
As Aguilar said, "We would have to have control and we would have to have chain of custody of the entire process." In short, even if fight promoters did random drug tests the state athletic commission would still need to do its own set of tests.
With the onus of a random drug testing policy on the state, Aguilar said that Nevada is looking into developing a program of its own, "If you look at the last nine months, the progression we've made in our drug testing program has been substantial. But, are we to a point where we are comfortable? No. There's a lot more we need to do, and can do, and will do."
"We have to be smart about how we do this. We can't just develop a drug testing program just to have a drug testing program," Aguilar said. "There has to be some logic and methodology behind the program, and we will get there, but we've had this little bit of a hiccup of not having an executive director. Once we get an executive director in place this is going to be a high priority for the commission. It takes consultation of the doctors, the commissioners, the executive director and some of the past fighters to say, ‘hey, this is a strong program, this is how it needs to work.'"
Another thing that the commission has to be careful about is how they talk about any program they develop, as Aguilar said, "We don't want people to know what the full methodology is behind the program, so that they can work to beat it."
When asked when we could expect to see a program in place, Aguilar said, "It's going to take some time for us as a commission to force the issue, and we will continue to do that. You've seen our enhanced testing during major bouts that we've done with blood and urine, you look at the decision we made with TRT, now we have to look at what we're going to do as a program as a whole."
The ESPN report stated that five fighters were randomly tested last year. Aguilar said that number represented the number of fighters that the NSAC used its own funds to randomly test, and that additional fighters were tested where the promoters funded the random tests.
That leads to what could be one of the bigger roadblocks for random drug testing - who is going to pay for it? As Aguilar said, "You also have to understand that we have resource limitations too. We have to deal with those limitations."
If the NSAC wants the state to pay for the random tests, it will have to go before the legislature and make a case for why it thinks random drug testing is important.
Another option would be to find out if fight promoters would be interested in funding a program in some way. Aguilar said of that scenario, "We'd have to figure out how that would work. We work with them now with the enhanced testing and they have covered those expenses, and they never have hesitated to do so."
In closing, Aguilar echoed St-Pierre's comments on Fertitta, saying, "Lorenzo comes from a perspective of being a previous regulator and understanding it. He wants to do the right thing for the sport - we just have to figure out what that is."