There has been much talk over the last two years of the UFC having the “best anti-doping program in professional sports” but it seems they may be backing up the talk.
In conversation with Joe Rogan on the JRE Experience, UFC Vice President of athlete performance Jeff Novitzky revealed that the UFC are now employing cutting edge technology on behalf of USADA.
Traditionally blood testing has been seen as the best weapon in anti-doping but the vast majority of samples collected from athletes are urine only. The reason: blood collection traditionally has needed a phlebotomist or blood collection officer, someone specifically trained to collect blood. The cost involved and the lack of trained phlebotomists means that only a small percentage of test sessions include collection of both blood and urine.
That could all be changing. New technology has seen the introduction of “dried blood spot testing” which the UFC are now using in conjunction with USADA.
Described by Novitzky as “leeching” a small device pierces the athletes skin in a similar manner to that in which a diabetic would collect a sample, and a drop of blood is applied to a testing card where it is dried, and then sealed and shipped to the lab. There they can be analysed for a wide range of substances including stimulants, steroids, drugs of abuse and human growth hormone.
While this will not replace blood testing, and it remains to be seen if USADA will use it as a primary method of charging an athlete with a violation, or as a parallel system to point to athletes that need further attention, one thing is for sure, the introduction of blood testing at every test session would be a huge leap and one that the anti-doping community outside of the UFC will be paying extremely close attention to. Already athletes have been widely supportive of the potential of the new technology.
It was also stated by Jeff Notvitzky that the first recipient of the new test was women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas. Rose submitted a two sample session to USADA back in late November suggesting that the use of the “leech” is already well under way.