UFC: USADA cases now won’t be announced until after they’re resolved

A little more than one week after Jon Jones received a 15-month suspension for a second USADA violation, the UFC has announced changes to its anti-doping program.

Moving forward, the promotion will no longer announce potential anti-doping violations committed by fighters – until their cases are resolved.

Since the beginning of the UFC’s partnership with USADA, fans have been inundated by news of potential violations by fighters. But now, the public won’t receive any notice on whether a violation has or hasn’t been found until a case is completely resolved.

It’s a shift UFC executives believe will be more fair to athletes, they told ESPN.com. They’re also not the only changes that could be ahead.

“If an athlete has a positive drug test, we aren’t putting them in a fight until their case is resolved – but what we can do is give the athlete an opportunity to adjudicate their issue without the public rushing to judgment,” UFC Chief Legal Counsel Hunter Campbell told ESPN.com. “Announcing the test result creates this narrative around the athlete before people understand the facts.”

The change actually was put into place back in July, but not revealed until this week, according to ESPN.com’s report.

In 2017, USADA CEO Travis Tygart supported the idea of withholding the announcement. When the anti-doping agency addresses cases involving U.S. Olympic athletes, it doesn’t make the resolution public until a final decision has been made.

Tygart said withholding information could create “two different processes” between the UFC and athletic commissions, who could announce potential violations of which the promotion wasn’t aware.

But he also noted that immediate announcements could be more fair to fans, who might want to know if a fighter’s potential anti-doping violation had ruled them out of a card they planned to attend or buy on pay-per-view.

The UFC apparently supported that stance until it took a look at data from the anti-doping program. Of 62 cases resolved by USADA, 21 were ruled to be unintentional use, often linked to tainted supplements.

With so many fighters being accused of violations, only to have USADA find they didn’t intentionally cheat, fighters said they were being branded cheaters by fans who didn’t understand the full facts.

“Part of the feedback Jeff and I have received from the athletes is, ‘I would have appreciated the opportunity to adjudicate this, so the story could be I tested positive, a full investigation was conducted and it was found the use was unintentional,’” Campbell said. “That story is very different than giving somebody a six-month window, where they are trying to defend themselves against accusations they are a cheater.”

It appears the promotion has yet to address the effect of less transparency. By withholding information on athletes, the agency could fuel the same type of speculation that accompanied long periods between the announcement of a potential violation and resolution of a case. Before Jones’ case was resolved, USADA took the unusual step of defending itself against charges that it was paid off to resolve his case.

The UFC, however, believes the move balances the anti-doping efforts of USADA with the rights of athletes. It’s an idea that could also change the way the promotion views fighters like Jones, who has twice been found to have unintentionally doped. Campbell cited the four-year sanction faced by the ex-champ for a second violation as excessive.

“I do not think anyone who has two unintentional violations should have to face a four-year suspension,” he said. “The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. You have to have, and we will continue to have, increasing penalties in the event a violation is found to be intentional.”

Part of USADA’s job is determining the degree of fault an athlete bears for having a banned substance in his system. The standard punishment for violations can be reduced – sometimes drastically – if a fighter is able to show he did not intentionally cheat.

In the case of Jones, it didn’t count against him that he couldn’t establish the source of a banned substance found in his system. But an independent arbitrator agreed with findings that indicated he unintentionally ingested a banned steroid metabolite, which ultimately led to him facing between 12 and 18 months of suspension – instead of four years.

The UFC executives still believe the program is strong enough to catch those who are trying to cheat. For those who aren’t, they acknowledge more concessions need to be made.

“This program is meant to punish and catch intentional cheaters,” UFC VP of Athlete Relations Jeff Novitzky told ESPN.com. “None of us are saying there will be no liability when it comes to unintentional use, but to punish that level of liability in the same manner of someone who was knowingly using something is not what this program was meant to do.”

For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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