Another overseas UFC event, another set of positive drug tests.

On Thursday, the promotion announced that both Joey Beltran and Rousimar Palhares had been suspended following their fights at UFC on FX 6, which took place in Australia. Beltran’s test came back positive for nandrolone, a banned steroid, while Palhares’ testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio was outside of the permitted limits. The fighters’ results represent the third consecutive event outside North America where fighters have been popped for prohibited substances—Thiago Silva tested positive for marijuana metabolites after UFC on Fuel TV in Macau and, at UFC 153 in Brazil, both Stephan Bonnar (steroids) and Dave Herman (marijuana metabolites) were shown to have been fighting dirty.

So what’s different about these events outside North America that seem to make positive drug tests more prevalent? The main unique factor seems to be the lack of athletic commissions outside the United States and Canada to conduct the necessary screenings. This leaves the UFC to perform its own drug tests, and apparently it’s doing a pretty effective job.

While its certainly possible that this streak of positive tests after events where the UFC screens its own fighters is coincidental, it might also indicate that the UFC’s own testing protocols trump those of the various North American commissions. If that is, in fact, the case, could it be argued that the UFC should always conduct its own fighter screenings?

The NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL all have their own individual company standards for drug testing and do not rely on third-party commissions to ensure their athletes are competing within the agreed-upon rules. In fact, those leagues all operate with relative independence from the government. It’s only really because of the more brutal nature of MMA (and boxing) that state sanctioning becomes a legitimating factor for those sports, but that’s another discussion for another time.

What’s more, certain athletic commissions have not exactly proven to be the most rigorous guardians of clean sport. Chael Sonnen has been allowed to compete while using testosterone replacement therapy with impunity, and while he does have a medical clearance from his doctor, there has been almost zero public scrutiny from any of the country’s sanctioning bodies on the reasons why a professional athlete in his mid-30s should be allowed to use performance-enhancing drugs.

On the other hand, however, the presence of a third-party to make sure the UFC’s fighters are entering the cage with untainted blood or urine lessens the possibility that the promotion itself would conceal or alter a positive test conducted by its own screeners. This is certainly not to impugn the credibility of the UFC with regard to drug testing—after all, we’ve seen how effective the UFC’s testing has been during foreign events—but the fighters that have tested positive were mid-card performers at best. Imagine if someone like Anderson Silva or Georges St-Pierre were to test positive for banned substances after a UFC-conducted screening. There might be the temptation among some in the company to keep the test under wraps, lest it should tarnish the image of one of the sport’s superstars. This is not without precedent, as the U.S. Olympic team’s treatment of certain track and field superstars from the 1980s and ’90s has shown.

Instead, if the UFC is serious about having clean fighters, it should insist on more stringent screening protocols by state athletic commissions or, taking it a step further, supplement the commissions’ testing with additional work with the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (which has been repeatedly trumpeted by PED expert Victor Conte as the world’s top screening organization). There are expenses that come with more thorough testing, but how much money is too much to ensure that the prevalence of positive tests will likely be lessened with the implementation of VADA screening? Unless we’re missing something, the UFC isn’t exactly strapped for cash, so shouldn’t it invest as much as possible to ensure clean competition?

Again, it’s possible that the fact that the UFC’s own testing has yielded a much higher percentage of positive tests than those done by athletic commissions is strictly by chance. Maybe the fighters participating in overseas events realize there are no athletic commissions in China or Brazil or Australia and decide to take their chances with various banned substances, not realizing the extent to which the UFC will be conducting similar tests. Perhaps the UFC’s own testing protocols have come a long way in the last few years, and its fighters’ respect for said protocols has yet to catch up.

Regardless, the solution is not for the UFC to always conduct its own testing. The temptation to alter a positive test that would ruin an event would be too great. Instead, the UFC should spend the necessary money to supplement the existing commission testing to further ensure the cleanliness of its fighters. Perhaps with the threat of more stringent testing at all events, the UFC will not have to release another statement explaining how it has suspended more fighters after an event outside North America.

Photo: Rousimar Palhares (Marcelo Alonso/Sherdog)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.

  • Craig Perlman

    Highly informative article. Does anybody know Rousimar Palhares’ exact T/E ratio?

    • Rob Tatum, News Manager/Assistant Editor

      Craig, the UFC acted as the commission at that event and as far as I know, they did not reveal that detail.