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UFC should tackle drugs problem by joining WADA, says top Irish doctor

We spoke to Dr Conor O’Brien, an expert on drugs in sport, about the UFC’s current position and Jon Bones’ positive test.

UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
Image: The Canadian Press/Press Association Images

THE BEST WAY for the UFC to tackle its performance-enhancing drugs (PED) issue is to join the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

That is the opinion of Dr Conor O’Brien, who spoke to The42 at the recent MMA injury prevention event at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland.

The UFC, MMA’s top promotion, has had to deal with a number of high profile incidents involving its fighters testing positive for drugs in recent times and many, including former welterweight champion George St-Pierre, have voiced their concerns about how stringent the testing is.

“I think this is a big problem in the sport,” St-Pierre said last year. “Remember, because I’m an athlete, I have information internally and I know what happens. If you begin to test everyone, how (many) will be caught? I do not want to speak in public and I’m not accusing anyone, but the image of the sport may be affected.”

UFC president Dana White, however, insists that the UFC does not have a PED problem. Earlier this month, he announced that plans for an in-house drugs-testing programme to be undertaken out-of-competition on a year-round basis were being scrapped meaning it is the responsibility of state athletic commissions in the US.

When there is no independent regulatory body in place, like in Ireland, testing is self-regulated by the UFC.

As a former chairman of the Irish Sports Council Anti-Doping Committee, ex-Irish Olympic Team Doctor and author of ‘Drugs, Sport and the Young Adult’, the Dublin-based O’Brien is well-placed to discuss the topic.

And he believes taking the front foot by becoming a code signatory of WADA would benefit them in the long run.

“Unless there is an appropriate set of rules around a sport, it can have a very short life cycle and we have had plenty of examples of that,” O’Brien said.

What I would be saying is that they need to grasp the nettle. They have a set of anti-doping rules but it is self-monitored, whereas it should really be monitored by a third party.

“You need to have robust rules and the WADA’s are the best. They have been around long enough and a huge amount of medical science has gone into them so if you’re going to do it, you need to do it properly.

“When you sign up to WADA, you also get the secondary effects of education, research and knowledge. You become compliant with the rules and you also get a whole load of add-ons and I think that will make the sport sustainable in the long run.”

DSC_4252 Dr O'Brien Dr O'Brien speaking at last week's MMA injury prevention event.

Light heavweight champion Jon Jones tested positive for cocaine in December, a month before he defended his title against Daniel Cormier, and in recent was fined $25,000 (€22,078) by the UFC.

Although questions were raised about the adnormal testosterone to epitestosterone ratio levels Jones’ test showed, he was cleared of using synthetic testosterone by the Nevada Atheltic Commission.

O’Brien says after looking at the blood profile, he would have recommended further tests.

“If he was in the mainstream WADA testing, they would go to the next level by doing a carbon isotope ratio (CIR) test to see if there was any exogenous testosterone,” he says. ”With his blood profile, a lot of anti-doping experts around the world are saying ‘hold on here, we know what’s going on here and he needs to get the next test done’.

“By failing to do that, you are leaving yourself open to innuendo and suspicion on Twittersphere etc. They need to move from that and find out the facts — is he taking something or not? If he is, he is sanctioned. If he’s not, he’s not.”

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Ben Blake

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