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Are UFC Fighters Drug Tested?

If you’re a new UFC fan, you may have heard of steroid accusations fo certain fighters, and are wondering whether or not the UFC fighters get tested. Or perhaps you were just interested in knowing how fair and clean the sport actually is.

In this post, I’m going to talk about everything there is to know about drug testing in the UFC. Are UFC fighters drug tested?

In short, the UFC tests its fighters for Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) with the help of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). The UFC pays USADA to test the fighters, as well as hand out suspensions for failed drug tests. Fighters must also adhere to any additional testing requirements for the local Athletic Commission where their fight will take place.

So now that you know that the fighters do get tested, you probably have a lot more questions. How does the testing process work? How accurate are the tests? What substances are banned?

In the rest of this post, I will cover everything there is to know about how UFC drug testing works.

How Does USADA Test Fighters?

So first, I want to talk about how USADA first got introduced to the UFC. Before the UFC hired USADA to conduct drug testing, the UFC was basically a free-for-all in terms of PED use.

The UFC wanted stricter drug testing after finding that even big stars such as Anderson Silva were using PEDs.
The UFC wanted stricter drug testing after finding that even big stars such as Anderson Silva were using PEDs.

Sure there was drug testing in place. But this testing was at the discretion of the Athletic Commissions, and was not well enforced. Plus, fighters were not tested randomly, and were only tested during fight week.

For this reason, on June 3rd, 2015, the UFC announced it would be partnering with USADA to help clean up the sport of MMA. USADA testing officially started on June 1st, 2015, but it didn’t become commonplace until the end of the year.

So how does USADA test the fighters?

Well according to USADA’s website, “Any UFC athlete may be subject to urine and/or blood collection(s) both in- and out-of-competition”. The page also notes that the fighters are subject to any additional testing required by the athletic commission for the event.

As part of their partnership with the UFC, USADA is allowed to test fighters at any place and any time.
As part of their partnership with the UFC, USADA is allowed to test fighters at any place and any time.

Part of the purpose of implementing USADA testing in the UFC was to have fighters randomly tested outside of competition. This is because a fighter could use PEDs while out of competition, while still passing clean for their fight week testing and benefitting from the effects.

For this reason, the UFC gave USADA permission to test their fighters at any place or time. This means that USADA always has the location of every UFC fighter on the roster, and the fighter must allow themselves to get tested at USADA’s orders.

It is fairly common to see testing occur while fighters are at the gym, and USADA is known to show up at fighters’ houses as early as 5:00 am for testing.

When Did The UFC Start Drug Testing?

In short, the UFC officially started their current drug testing program on June 1, 2015. The UFC partnered with USADA, the company which conducts all the drug tests for performance-enhancing drugs and other illegal substances. However, USADA really became commonplace at the start of 2016.

How Often Do Fighters Get Tested?

In order to effectively detect and deter cheating in the UFC, USADA must test fighters often enough to increase the chances of catching a fighter who uses PEDs.

Conor McGregor was one of the most tested fighters (along with Jose Aldo and Ronda Rousey) of 2015, having been tested 8 times.
Conor McGregor was one of the most tested fighters (along with Jose Aldo and Ronda Rousey) of 2015, having been tested 8 times.

According to USADA’s website, “USADA retains the right to test athletes at any time and location”. This likely also means they have the right to test a fighter as many times as they wish.

During the last three months of 2015 (the first year USADA conducted testing), 131 fighters were tested, with a total of 272 tests conducted. This means each fighter was tested an average of 2.07 times.

However, that was only the testing done for the first year of USADA testing. When the UFC announced its partnership with USADA, they also noted that USADA would conduct a minimum of 2,750 tests a year. This averages to a minimum of about five tests per year, per fighter.

Former UFC Champion Daniel Cormier is one of few fighters to reach 50 USADA tests without adverse findings.
Former UFC Champion Daniel Cormier is one of few fighters to reach 50 USADA tests without adverse findings.

It seems that USADA also has specific guidelines used to decide which fighters it will test out-of-competition. On their website, it states that fighters are tested “at times when out-of-competition testing is most effective, and in accordance with the selection criteria”.

As an example of how often fighters can get tested, Holly Holm has been tested 50 times by USADA since her UFC debut in 2015. She was honored by USADA due to all 50 of her tests returning clean.

Here’s how often Holly was tested, according to MMAJunkie: “In her UFC debut year of 2015, Holm submitted seven clean samples to USADA. She provided 10 in 2016, 15 in 2017, six in 2018 and 12 in 2019.”

Holly Holm was honored with a jacket from USADA as the first fighter to reach 50 clean tests. Championship-level fighters are likely tested more often than the average fighter.
Holly Holm was honored with a jacket from USADA as the first fighter to reach 50 clean tests. Championship-level fighters are likely tested more often than the average fighter.

So as you can see, the testing varies, and fighters are most likely selected at random. However, it may also have to do with how highly-ranked the fighter is, as the two other fighters to have matched Holly’s 50 tests are former champions Daniel Cormier and Max Holloway.

If you’re interested in knowing how often a specific fighter gets tested, USADA actually provides a search tool that publicly lists every UFC fighter’s testing history, which you can find here.

What Substances Are Banned?

There are many substances banned by USADA, many of which I’ve never even heard of. The official list of banned substances can be found here.

Among the list, you will find the usual suspects. This includes anabolic steroids, estrogen blockers, growth hormones, stimulants, diuretics, and masking agents. As I said, the list is very comprehensive, and it is easy to find out if a certain substance is banned.

Not only are substances banned, but methods as well. Paulo Costa was suspended for rehydrating with an IV, which is banned by USADA.
Not only are substances banned, but methods as well. Paulo Costa was suspended for rehydrating with an IV, which is banned by USADA.

I should also note that tainted supplements are an ongoing issue with USADA testing and UFC fighters. The most famous case is when Yoel Romero tested positive for Ibutamoren. However, Romero’s supplement did not list Ibutamoren as an ingredient, despite it containing traces of Ibutamoren.

For that reason, Romero’s suspension was reduced from two years, to six months. Although the issue was note entirely Romero’s fault, USADA has noted that fighters are responsible for making sure their supplements are not tainted with banned substances.

Are UFC Fighters Allowed To Smoke Weed?

Another common question regarding banned substances is whether or not marijuana is on that list. Are UFC fighters allowed to smoke weed?

In short, yes, UFC fighters are allowed to smoke weed outside of competition. However, they are required to have a THC concentration of less than 150 ng/mL by the time they are tested the week of the fight. A concentration of THC above 150 ng/mL will result in a positive test, and a suspension.

Nate Diaz is known for his marijuana use, and is partly the reason CBD was removed from the banned substances list.
Nate Diaz is known for his marijuana use, and is partly the reason CBD was removed from the banned substances list.

It seems USADA gets a lot of questions surrounding marijuana use from its athletes, as it has a whole page dedicated to Marijuana FAQs. On it, you will find the specifics on when exactly marijuana use is prohibited, as well as when you should stop smoking to prevent an adverse test finding.

As of 2019, UFC fighters are allowed to use cannabidiol (CBD) at any time they wish, without issue, in or out of competition. Every other cannabinoid is banned from use in competition.

Another question that comes up often is, are UFC fighters allowed to take Adderall?

The answer is no, UFC fighters are not allowed to take Adderall in competition. This is mainly due to its effects as a cardio-vascular restrictor, as well as its performance enhancement effects. UFC fighter Tim Credeur was pulled from a fight minutes beforehand due to testing positive for Adderall.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there are a lot of aspects of drug testing in the UFC that can be found on the USADA website. In addition, the fighters must submit to drug testing by the local athletic commission where they will be fighting.

In short, yes, UFC fighters are drug tested by the U.S. Anti Doping Agency (USADA). USADA is in charge of testing fighters with blood and urine samples, as well as declaring suspensions for adverse tests. Fighters must also adhere to test requirements by the athletic commission for the fight.

I hope this gave you some insight into the UFC drug testing program. If it did, please consider checking out similar posts on the Martial Arts History page.