The leaders of the Ultimate Fighting Championship reacted to the damning positive drug tests that have threatened the integrity of mixed martial arts by vowing to spend millions of dollars to clean things up.
Then unbeaten women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey sat atop her training ring in Glendale on Wednesday afternoon and provided a gripping example of why the sport should endure.
“You can’t exchange your honor for the accolades of any kind of accomplishment,” Rousey said at a news conference to promote her Feb. 28 title defense against No. 1 contender Cat Zingano (9-0) at Staples Center.
“Some people believe that, but it’s not just about honor with MMA, it’s also about the safety of your opponent.”
The UFC collected millions of dollars in pay-per-view and live-gate sales in January as light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones fought a month after testing positive for cocaine, and former longtime reigning middleweight champion Anderson Silva fought 22 days after submitting to a surprise drug test that found two anabolic steroids in his system.
Because Jones’ out-of-competition test was for a drug that has been classified non-performance-enhancing, the UFC let his fight proceed. The Nevada State Athletic Commission failed to attach a rush order on Silva’s test and the respected lab that analyzed it returned its report to the Nevada commission days after Silva’s victory.
Silva’s opponent, Nick Diaz, was positive for marijuana in a post-fight test, and UFC welterweight contender Hector Lombard had a main-event bout later this year scrapped after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug following a fight on Jones’ undercard.
Rousey, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in judo, has submitted to several Olympic-mandated drug tests from the time she was 14, she said.
“One thing I thought that was really lacking before [in the UFC] was random, out-of-competition drug testing for everybody all the time,” Rousey, 28, said. “I thought it was a real shame that I was being tested more stringently at 16 than as a world-champion fighter.”
With Wednesday’s announcement, Rousey said, “I’m extremely encouraged by all the steps they’re taking. It’s becoming much closer to the drug testing and policies I had growing up.”
Taking performance-enhancing drugs is “not just unfair,” she said. “It’s unsafe. Someone can get hurt, can die. It’s not like beating a weightlifting world record. It’s another human being [hitting] another human being harder. There’s a limit to what a person can take. Once you pass the threshold of what’s natural, then you start to get to another whole level of … these people are taking unnatural levels of punishment, and something bad is going to happen.”
Rousey admitted to being “heartbroken” at the news of MMA legend Silva’s positive tests, which included a post-fight positive for a steroid.
She said she took it upon herself to tell UFC leadership that improvements are necessary.
UFC Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta and company president Dana White said they will launch by July 1 a new policy of testing all fighters on fight night, adding more tests during training, and introducing random tests for marquee fighters even when they don’t have a bout scheduled.
Fertitta said he’s exploring following the lead of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which oversees Olympic athlete testing and will suspend for four years an athlete who submits a first-time positive test.
Rousey said she’s given one sample during this training camp and said she’s willing to be tested at any time.
“I believe with a combat sport like UFC, it’s so important – so much more important than any other sport – because it’s not just fairness,” Rousey said. “It’s the safety of the fighters. And keeping the sport safe is what makes it possible for us to do it.
“I gave my opinion, and I’m glad it didn’t fall on deaf ears. These guys are smart, they know how to do business. The No. 1 thing they can do to protect their investment is to make sure the sport endures.”