Enhanced drug testing implemented

Updated: April 29, 2014, 1:19 AM ET
By Brett Okamoto | ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- UFC welterweights Robbie Lawler and Jake Ellenberger will be subject to an enhanced drug-testing program ahead of their non-title bout at UFC 173 on May 24 in Las Vegas.

UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta and Nevada State Athletic Commission chairman Francisco Aguilar confirmed the news to ESPN.com. The program utilizes both urine and blood tests and includes Carbon Isotope Ratio testing, according to Aguilar.

Both Lawler and Ellenberger submitted tests last weekend in Baltimore, where they were each attending UFC 172. Test results usually require seven to 10 days. Neither fighter has ever tested positive for a banned substance.

The NSAC ran an identical program ahead of a world championship boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas earlier this month.

"This is going to become the norm for all major fights in Las Vegas, both boxing and mixed martial arts," Aguilar said. "It lets everyone who is going to fight in Nevada know they have the chance to participate in an enhanced process.

"We are no longer going to just test fight night or post-fight. We're going to test depending on how we feel as a commission."

This marks a first for the UFC in some ways. The NSAC implemented an enhanced program prior to a heavyweight bout between Josh Barnett and Travis Browne at UFC 168 in December, however they did as a stipulation to Barnett's fighter's license. Barnett had tested positive for steroids previously in Nevada.

UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and challenger Glover Teixeira were subject to enhanced testing ahead of their bout at UFC 172 in Maryland. However, those tests came as a result of Jones requesting them.

The cost of the enhanced program, which averages between $35,00 and $45,000, is being covered by the UFC. Top Rank did the same for the Pacquiao-Bradley fight. Aguilar said he expects a similar commitment from Golden Boy Promotions.

"Here's the thing," Aguilar said. "This should be the standard for every fight and I wish we could do it for every bout on every card, but it's not cost efficient. We have to determine how to be strategic and how we run the program."

Fertitta added: "The UFC fully supports the efforts by the NSAC."

The program is a major improvement from the traditional fight-night tests the NSAC relies on, as it calls for random blood tests during an athlete's camp. Different fight-night urine tests screen for steroids, diuretics and drugs of abuse and cost as little as $145, but are routinely criticized as being easy to cheat.

The reason a four-week program can cost up to $45,000, according to Aguilar, is the cost of collection. The NSAC uses a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) certified collector based in Salt Lake City, Utah. The same collector is used for every sample.

"The expensive part is the collection," Aguilar said. "The lab is about $12,000 to do the analysis and collections, but you have to remain consistent in who the collector is and how they collect a sample.

"You don't give the fighters any notice. The collector calls and says, 'I'm half an hour away from your house. Be prepared to provide a sample.' That same collector has to fly from Salt Lake City to where the fighters live and train, collect a sample and then fly back. That's the most expensive part."

In the UFC's case, Ellenberger (29-7) trains in Southern California, while Lawler (22-10) holds his camp in Coconut Creek, Fla. With Pacquiao, the NSAC sent a collector to the Philippines.

Tests are analyzed in Utah and results are forwarded directly to the NSAC.

"The lab sends us the invoice and we forward the invoice to the promoter," Aguilar said. "There is no contact between the promoter and the lab."

Currently, the NSAC is the only commission to administer this type of program on its own. It will be utilized at every UFC and major boxing event held in Nevada, according to Aguilar. The UFC promoted seven total events in Las Vegas in 2013.

Eventually, Aguilar believes the financial burden of the program could reduce. The entire NSAC budget in 2013 was $594,768, with just $2,958 earmarked for drug testing. In other words, one enhanced program represents the same amount as nearly 10 percent of the commission's budget last year.

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