Some fighters take a variety of performance-enhancing drugs (PED) for a variety of reasons.
I’m not writing this article to judge, and I’m not an expert on PEDs. Rather, I’d like to share my experience with USADA (the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) and how it’s been implemented to combat the PED usage problem.
I’ll briefly touch upon the various types of PEDs first.
Some of the commonly used forms:
- Human Growth Hormone (improve bone and muscle growth, improve metabolism, aids weight cutting);
- Stanozolol (diuretic, strength gain, etc);
- Testosterone Propionate (helps reduce fat);
- Erythropoietin (or “EPO” – increases red blood cell production, so increases stamina and recovery during training)
And others. Ostarine is a man-made compound that doesn’t do anything except possibly mask the use of PEDs in doping tests. That’s why the chemical Ostarine is banned, but many fighters test positive for it. They claimed that their supplements were tainted with it without their knowledge, and that they didn’t actually purposely engage in doping. Some PEDS are used to help heal injuries faster.
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USADA and the UFC
The UFC started using USADA in 2015 to eliminate performance-enhancing drug usage with fighters.
I had overall good experiences with USADA. The organization sends registered nurses to a fighter’s house, training site, or fight location unannounced to collect a urine and sometimes blood sample. Of course, nobody ever likes an unexpected visitor to interrupt what they are doing, but I know it was for the greater good of eliminating unfairness in the playing field.
The powers that be decide which drugs are illegal in our sport, so if we are caught doing them anyway, we get the most valuable thing taken away from us, something we can’t get back or buy with money: time.
Fighters are suspended from anywhere between six months and four years, and are prohibited from competing. If that’s your only source of income, you’re screwed, so you better not do PEDs. USADA consequences make it not worth the potential gain of a slightly better performance.
I’ve had about two or three different nurses come to my home, but I frequently got the same lady. She told me that she tried to look at my schedule that I submitted and pick the most convenient time.
Here’s how it works: fighters have to submit a “whereabouts” calendar to USADA once a quarter over the course of the year. We list locations, addresses, and times. We can do it on the computer or in the Athlete Express app.
For example, Monday:
- Overnight at house. Address (123 Street name, Las Vegas, NV, 89148).
- 9 AM – 1 pm: Gym. 6330 Rainbow Blvd.
- 1-3 PM: Home. Address (123 street name)
- 4-6 PM: Gym.
- Overnight location.
That way, the nurse, who would be told to test a fighter on a certain day, would look at the fighter’s time table and know where to find them at any given time. The point of not announcing the visit is to let the fighters know that at any moment they could be tested, so they better not do drugs.
If the nurse comes and they aren’t at the location, they had one hour to get there, or they’d be given one miss. On the third miss or whereabouts violation, they’d get a suspension and not be able to fight for six months. It was in our best interests to comply.
First USADA test
My first testing experience in 2017 was unfortunate. I didn’t know that I had to erase my time at home and re-enter it as “movie theater.” I was double-registered to be in two places at once between 1 pm and 3 pm on a Saturday. I should have just edited the location. Of course I turned my phone off.
After the movie ended and I turned on my phone, I got a voicemail: “Hello, this is USADA. We’re at your house right now. It’s 2 pm.”
“AAAAH!” I screamed, leaping up and almost peeing in my pants. My best friend and roommate at the time Serena DeJesus almost dropped her phone, following me as I sprinted out. It was 3:15! Had I failed my first USADA test?
Luckily, the theater was only down the street. As we parked and jumped out of the car, the USADA nurse also exited her vehicle nearby and identified herself: “I decided to wait because it was your first time, and you seemed a little confused with logging your location,” she said sweetly with a smile. I could have cried with relief.
I had just sat through a long movie so I had to pee. If the fighter can’t provide a urine sample over 90 ml, the nurse has to wait. And wait. And wait. We also can’t go anywhere, so it can be stressful if we don’t have to pee and are scheduled to be somewhere. That was my only issue.
One day, I had just gotten out of the bathroom to prepare to leave the house when USADA knocked on my door. I had 30 minutes to pound down water so I could give a sample and then go teach a kids jiujitsu class. I almost didn’t make it.
We also have to stay within sight, so if I get up to go into another room, the nurse has to follow us. I guess that’s to make sure we don’t grab fake pee or take some kind of masking agent. They also have to watch us provide the sample.
One time during a visit, I couldn’t provide a sample yet, so we sat in the kitchen and waited. I ended up telling the nurse my life story, showing her my coffee mug collection, and sock collection. Another time, she came in the middle of my training session and I didn’t have to pee, so she had to sit on the bleachers at the gym and watch me train for two hours.
Some fighters have interesting stories. We heard about how Jon Jones hid under the cage when USADA came for him. Some fighters complain that they get their sleep interrupted in the early hours of the morning.
I only drank protein powder from an approved brand, but I always felt so nervous when they tested me. Who knows if my powder would have a taint? I turned down all free samples of supplements because I was terrified of a mistake, and it was stressful when the nurse came to test me. However, I’m glad to know my opponent probably wouldn’t have been doing steroids thanks to us having to test, so I was grateful in a way.
I think some athletes probably find a way to do PEDs anyway. There have been fighters who claimed their lives were ruined by tainted samples. Casualties are unfortunate. I think USADA has definitely reduced usage and evened the playing field a bit.