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McGregor’s return causes UFC to split from anti-doping agency

Updated October 13, 2023 - 6:34 pm

The UFC is moving on from the United States Anti-Doping Agency and is creating its own drug-testing program in a feud that involves former champion Conor McGregor.

The mixed martial arts organization also sent a legal letter to USADA to demand a retraction and apology for a statement it issued Wednesday regarding the end of its deal with the UFC.

In a statement to The Associated Press, USADA CEO Travis Tygart said, “We stand by our statement and our credibility.”

Drug Free Sport International will be in charge of the collection process under the new program that begins in January, when the UFC’s deal with USADA ends. Former FBI Special Agent George Piro, best known for interrogating former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, will be in charge of the new program.

“You identify people and entities in this space that can make something that is already working well and you make them better,” said Jeff Novitzky, UFC senior vice president of athlete health and performance. “You learn that USADA is not the only player in this space and that a combination of other entities and individuals can actually make your program stronger and better, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now with our program.”

The USADA announced Wednesday it was severing its 8-year-old relationship with the UFC over a dispute regarding McGregor. UFC officials said in a news conference Thursday that the organization informed the USADA on Monday it was ending its relationship.

“I think it’s a self-preservation tactic,” Hunter Campbell, UFC executive vice president and chief business officer, said of the USADA’s announcement. “I think it will ultimately fail.”

Tygart acknowledged in the Wednesday statement that the UFC told his organization on Monday it was leaving, but said the two organizations in May had “a positive and productive meeting about a contract renewal.”

McGregor said on social media this week that he was returning to the USADA testing pool, a requirement before returning to competition. McGregor, 35, hoped to fight Michael Chandler in December, but the USADA requires a six-month period of testing as well as at least two negative drug tests.

UFC officials said McGregor wasn’t scheduled to fight in December and would be in the testing program that meets the testing minimum before going back into the octagon. McGregor hasn’t fought since injuring his leg in July 2021.

A letter from Las Vegas law firm Campbell & Williams said Tygart’s statement included “several false and highly misleading representations.” The letter also said it appeared “to be the first time USADA has publicly announced an athlete’s entry into its testing program.”

“(McGregor’s) fulfilled every obligation under the rules that’s been asked of him and gets rewarded with that garbage statement that came out early this week,” Novitzky said. “It’s really unfair.”

The USADA partnered with the UFC in 2015, its first deal with a domestic professional sport. The agency is mostly known for its involvement with Olympic sports.

Drug Free Sport International has numerous clients that include the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and the NCAA, among others.

“In fact, we see from time to time that USADA has contracted out with Drug Free Sport and their collection network of over 5,000 strong international collectors,” Novitzky said. “They test in over 100 countries. They collect over 200,000 samples annually. So for a sport with over 650 athletes in over 50 countries, they fit us perfectly.”

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