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UFC pushing for harsher punishments, multi-year suspensions following new drug-testing policy

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UFC announced upcoming changes to its drug-testing policies today (Weds., Feb. 18, 2015). Starting on July 1, all fighters will be subject to random out-of-competition testing and the promotion is pushing for harsher penalties for those caught using performance-enhancing drugs.

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UFC held a press conference at the Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa in Las Vegas earlier today to address the recent issues the promotion has endured with high-profile fighters failing drug tests (sample).

UFC President Dana White, CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, and COO Lawrence Epstein addressed the problem and outlined their planned changes for drug-testing policies and punishments for fighters who fail to adhere to the rules and subsequently test positive.

"Given the recent spate of high-profile cases, we felt like we needed to do this sooner rather than later," Fertitta said. "For the good of the sport, for the integrity of the sport, for what we're trying to do here, we needed to address this issue ASAP."

So, effective July 1, 2015, the entire UFC roster will be subject to random-drug, out-of-competition testing. The penalties will still be handed down by the individual athletic commissions, unless it is an event being self-regulated by UFC (more on those changes here).

"We're talking to these third-party agencies to see how many tests we need to do to be sure we have a clean sample to be sure our athletes are clean," said Fertitta, who mentioned the UFC will be working with several global drug-testing organizations to create the drug-testing protocol to be used by the promotion.

The CEO then issued a stern warning:

"This is a call-out to all of the athletes on our roster. You'll be tested in competition, you'll be tested out of competition, and if you're using, you will be caught, and there will be significant penalties that go along with that."

Both Fertitta and White said they are pushing for harsher penalties for those using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in line with those issued by organizations like the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

That could lead to fighters being suspended for up to four years in certain cases, though White and Fertitta were suggesting two years be the minimum suspension for PED users.

White said that it is a "risk vs. reward" situation in the current state of PED users, because of the money they can make and the suspension they face if they get caught. With stricter and harsher punishments, perhaps athletes won't be as quick to break the rules.

"Two or four years (suspension time) could be career threatening. Now you look at the risk vs. reward, and it's a lot more dangerous," White said.

The topic of having main events cancelled due to a fighter testing positive was brought up and Fertitta said if it happens, so be it, the UFC will push forward.

"If we lose main events, we lose main events," he said. "Joe Silva and Sean Shelby are going to have to get just a little more creative."

White said the UFC spent roughly $500,000 dollars for drug testing in 2014 and the promotion will now commit several million dollars towards it going forward.

UFC had been looking into enhanced drug testing for several months, according to Fertitta, but with the high-profile names testing positive recently like Hector Lombard, and then Anderson Silva, who is considered the greatest the sport has ever seen, that forced their hand to get out in front of things and address the matters publicly at today's press conference.

"We've been working on this a couple years," Fertitta said. "We've been in conversations with third parties for six or seven months. What the Anderson Silva thing prompted us to do is address the issues and speed up the process. We don't have the luxury of debating all these points. We've got to just go. The results are going to be what the results are going to be."

"When a guy like Anderson Silva gets caught, it definitely sends a message," White added. "It shocked me. We were pretty blown away by it," White said.

The UFC said on 19 occasions during 2014 that fighters were given out-of-competition drug tests and five fighters tested positive. That is over 26 percent and an alarming number. Fertitta and White are fully aware that there may very well be much more bad news to come.

"Honestly, it's going to probably get worse before it gets better."