The UFC is partnering with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for a landmark drug testing program in the mixed martial arts promotion.
USADA will independently administer multiple year-round, unannounced tests to the UFC's fighters when the program begins July 1, the promotion announced Wednesday. Fighters will be subject to multiyear suspensions for even a first failure under a policy modeled on the World Anti-Doping Agency's code.
"UFC's goal for this policy is to have the best anti-doping program in all of professional sport," said Jeff Novitzky, the UFC's new vice president of athlete health and performance.
After years of relying on government agencies to help monitor its fighters in a sport notorious for performance-enhancing drug use, the UFC is paying unspecified millions to turn over the responsibility to USADA.
"The UFC ... has taken the brave and important step to externalize their anti-doping programs to USADA," said Edwin Moses, the former Olympic hurdler and chairman of USADA's board of directors. "And because of the leadership shown by the UFC, these athletes will now have the anti-doping program they deserve."
The UFC's new policies also include heavy sanctions for steroid use: A suspension between one and four years for a first offense depending on circumstances, along with a possible eight-year ban for a second offense and a possible lifetime ban for a third violation.
A first-time violation of tests for other banned substances such as marijuana and cocaine will result in a ban between one and three years. Fighters will only be tested for these substances "in competition," defined as the period between six hours before the weigh-in and six hours after the fight.
Fighters also could forfeit victories, titles, rankings and purses if they fail a test before a bout.
The program will include a minimum of 2,750 combined tests per year. The UFC has more than 600 fighters under contract.
"Any fighter on our roster now has the potential that they could be caught," UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said. "There could be major fights that fall out, and we're prepared to deal with that. That's just a consequence. Hopefully it won't happen, but if it does, we understand that."
Fighters will be required to tell USADA of their whereabouts at all times, just like the standards imposed on Olympic athletes. Three missed tests would constitute a test failure.
"It's a brand-new and bright day for the athletes of the UFC," USADA CEO Travis Tygart said. "This new program sets a new standard for all professional sport."
MMA's image has been hurt by a long series of failed doping tests and inconsistent enforcement of anti-drug policies around the world. Just last year, the UFC and the Nevada Athletic Commission got rid of testosterone replacement therapy, a medically sketchy loophole that allowed fighters including Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen and Dan Henderson to compete while on steroids.
Even Anderson Silva, the Brazilian middleweight generally recognized as the greatest mixed martial artist in the young sport's history, failed two drug tests around his comeback fight against Nick Diaz last January.
The UFC also announced it will provide its athletes with new training in fitness, nutrition, injury recovery, financial planning and other wellness areas.
The promotion is building a new campus in Las Vegas with a training center and extensive facilities for its fighters in an attempt to minimize the training injuries that have forced the postponement or cancellation of multiple high-profile bouts in recent years.
"We love this sport," UFC President Dana White said. "We love the athletes, and we're trying to do what we can to fix things that seem like they can't be fixed. So we'll see how this plays out with both, with trying to prevent injuries and trying to prevent people from using performance-enhancing drugs."