The folks at Deadspin have released an expose on the UFC that delves into the crazy time between 2010 and 2014, when fighters were being granted Testosterone Replacement Therapy exemptions by athletic commissions. At the very least, it pulls back the curtain on the UFC’s knowledge and involvement in the process. At the worst, it makes it look like the UFC hid failed drug tests from its biggest fighters.
Let’s take a look at the most damning facts from the article: In 2012, the UFC accidentally mailed out the results of a Belfort blood test to a group of 29 fighters and managers; something one manager claims happens “at least once or twice a month,” although not with drug test results.
That blood test showed Belfort’s testosterone levels at 1038ng/dL (higher than the 700ng/dL average, but still under the legal limit), while his free testosterone was 47.7 pg/ml (two and a half times more than normal). If a commission had received those results in a pre-fight test, Belfort would have been suspended, and his upcoming fight in Toronto against champ Jon Jones would have been cancelled.
But the provincial commission was never informed of the test; they weren’t even told that Belfort had been given a therapeutic use exemption for testosterone by the UFC leading up to the fight. Those who received the Belfort test accidentally were sent stern follow up emails from the UFC’s legal council threatening “to seek all available judicial remedies against you in both your professional and personal capacities” if they shared the info it contained.
Other claims made by the Deadspin article were that UFC doctors suggested TRT to fighters suffering from low energy, and that the promotion was issuing exemptions for testosterone and monitoring the blood work of fighters taking it. That last point was no secret; Dana White told the press that the UFC was testing TRT users regularly to make sure they weren’t abusing the system. But most of us assumed that the promotion would take some sort of action if it turned out a fighter’s results were above the allowed levels.
While the Deadspin article is very careful in what it accuses the UFC of, it does paraphrase numerous anonymous industry sources who felt “Belfort had cheated and that the UFC had covered it up.” It’s worth noting, though, that Deadspin and the UFC have an extremely adversarial relationship, with Deadspin regularly pushing articles suggesting the UFC is soft on domestic abuse, pays press outlets for positive coverage, and is okay with its champions hanging out with war criminals. The author of the piece, Josh Gross, was blacklisted by the UFC back in 2006, ostensibly for revealing the winners of The Ultimate Fighter season four before the show aired.
While this story definitely doesn’t look great for the promotion, we should probably wait to hear what they have to say about it before we bring out the pitchforks. There’s also the fact that the UFC now funds a massive random drug testing program run by USADA, and is completely done handling drug testing duties on its own. That’s probably a good thing, because the temptation to sweep an iffy drug test under the rug must be pretty high when tens of millions of dollars is on the line.