Joe Duffy made a recent appearance on MMA Junkie Radio to discuss his contract negotiations with the Ultimate Fighting Championship as well as his recovery from a torn labrum.
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Joe Duffy made a recent appearance on MMA Junkie Radio to discuss his contract negotiations with the Ultimate Fighting Championship as well as his recovery from a torn labrum.
Georges St. Pierre’s long-time friend and Tristar Gym training partner Rory MacDonald doesn’t believe the former welterweight and middleweight champion is done with the sport.
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It has been a long road for mixed martial arts (MMA) veteran Jessica Eye, but the former women’s bantamweight contender is finally set to make her UFC flyweight debut tomorrow night (Sun., Jan. 14, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 124 live on FOX Sports 1 from inside Scottrade Center in St. Louis, MIssouri, as she takes on Brazilian finisher Kalindra Faria.
Unlike her first scheduled UFC bout at 125 pounds, which saw Paige VanZant pull out due to injury, Eye, as well as Faria, have successfully made weight and are healthy enough to compete this weekend. It will be Eye’s first fight in well over a year, as she aims to capture her first UFC win since 2014.
“Since the moment I got into the UFC, it’s been kind of a (expletive) road for me,” Eye said during Friday’s media day for UFC Fight Night 124 (h/t MMAjunkie). “From my first fight until some of the other fights that have happened. I’m glad that I took the time off that I did and I’m glad that things kind of happened the way they did.
“Because I don’t think I would appreciate this moment as much as I have. Or realized that, maybe those other moments were making me to this point.”
Most fight fans don’t know this but Eye was competing at flyweight before making her UFC debut back in 2013. The promotion did not have a 125-pound female divisions which forced “Evil” to move up and challenge the likes of proven bantamweight title threats Miesha Tate, Julianna Pena, Sara McMann, and Bethe Correia.
“I had no choice,” Eye said about her move to 135 pounds in order to compete in UFC. “Where else was I supposed to go? At that point, I was 27 years old. What was I supposed to do? Fight locally again and see what I could do?”
Luckily, the promotion has come around and has now opened up a flyweight platform for the best female fighters around. Eye wasted little escaping the bigger bodies at bantamweight and is ready to contend for a UFC title as soon as possible.
“If I focus on me and what my skill set it, there is no 125er in the world that can outclass me, at all,” Eye said. “And I believe that.”
Unfortunately for her competition, including Faria this weekend at UFC Fight Night 124, Eye is feeling better than ever after dropping some unnecessary weight and getting back to her comfort zone.
“Have you ever run a mile before and you ran it normally, your normal weight – then put a 10-pound vest on and then run that mile?” Eye asked. “Then tell me how much slower you are. Tell me how much it changes the ability. Or how you have to be able to run that mile. You have to change the game plan and everything. It’s a little bit harder.
“I think that, now, I am allowed to be at my normal weight class. I’m able to change some things in my training. I just – I feel more like me. I feel like I’m in the right skin, if that makes sense.”
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 124 fight card, starting with the UFC Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the FOX Sports 1 “Prelims” bouts at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET, also on FOX Sports 1.
When Mike Perry steps inside of the Octagon at UFC on FOX 26 on Dec. 16 live on FOX from inside Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Canada, he’ll have the opportunity to overthrow rising welterweight contender Santiago Ponzinibbio.
The main card tilt is undoubtedly Perry’s biggest test to date and a challenge he’s been waiting to conquer for a long time. In fact, the idea of defeating Ponzinibbio, who is coming off a scintillating knockout win over Icelandic contender Gunnar Nelson, offers a sense of redemption for “Platinum.”
“I seen that fight with Gunnar Nelson and it’s just another blessing, man,” Perry said during a Facebook Live interview with Dan Hardy ahead of UFC Fight Night 118 in Gdansk, Poland. “I guess I love that word, huh? It’s just a true thing that so many good things happen to me. It’s the fight I want. I got a game opponent that steps forward. We all know I come forward. I come to fight. I’m down to take one or two just to land one good one. Santiago [Ponzinibbio] is going to move forward and I’m going to hit him and we’ll see what happens when that happens. It’s kind of redemption for me to beat the guy, who beat the guy, who beat the guy.”
Perry, 26, has quickly ascended the UFC’s 170-pound ladder with four crushing knockout victories, including a Performance of the Night finish over veteran Jake Ellenberger. The hard-hitting gunslinger was scheduled to step up in competition and fight former title challenger Thiago Alves at UFC Fight Night 116 this past September, but “Pitbull” pulled out and Perry was left to quickly dispose of Octagon newcomer Alex Reyes.
With Ponzinibbio on deck, “Platinum” again has an opportunity to defeat a contender higher than him in the pecking order. And considering Ponzinibbio locked down the biggest win of his career when he flattened “Gunni” back in July, Perry finds himself in a good position entering UFC on FOX 26.
“People thought Gunnar Nelson was definitely the next champ,” Perry explained. “For sure. His ability in the Octagon, ground game, striking, trains with Conor McGregor — the super notorious biggest fighter in MMA, the biggest draw, the money man — and he’s right there with him. Calm and relaxed. That’s a weird thing that he has, how clam and relaxed he is that people fear. And here comes this Argentinian and he knocked him out in the first round and I’m going to do the same to him. It’s funny how the world turns.”
If “Platinum” is able to continue winning fights in devastating fashion and puts the Argentinian to sleep this December, he’ll put himself on a growing list of exciting title contenders entering 2018. But Ponzinibbio is an extremely dangerous opponent who packs a similar punch, so Perry must proceed with caution.
UFC on FOX 26 will be headlined by a welterweight clash between former divisional king Robbie Lawler and former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos.
For more UFC on FOX 26 fight card news click here.
Mixed martial arts (MMA) veteran Jesse Taylor captured ultimate redemption last night (Fri., July 7, 2017) at TUF 25 Finale live on FOX Sports 1 from inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, when he submitted Dhiego Lima via rear-naked choke to claim Ultimate Fighter rights. The 34-year-old journeyman looked absolutely dominant as he controlled the Brazilian from the opening bell before finding his opening for a finish early into the second round.
Taylor’s efforts were admirable, especially considering he was facing a guy in Lima who has already fought under the bright lights of the Octagon. Still, “JT Money” was not surprised by the outcome of his suffocating efforts.
“I think it was a pretty perfect fight,” Taylor said during a backstage interview with UFC’s Megan Olivi (shown above). “I do what I always do. But I think it goes to say that I keep going, I’m a grinder. I’m not going to stop. Again, it’s still kind of surreal to me. Kind of feels like a dream. Maybe it’s the punch to the head that makes it feel like a dream.
“There’s nothing that could stop me. Dhiego would have had to kill me or severely knock me out to stop me.”
Remember, Taylor punched his ticket to compete in the finale of The Ultimate Fighter Season 7 before drunkenly kicking the window out of a limousine door and getting booted from the reality show entirely. The submission expert was not going to let another opportunity slip through his hands when he found out about Ultimate Fighter: Redemption.
“Once I found out about the show it was my show to win,” Taylor said. “The story was mine and I lived up to it, thank God. I wanted this more than anything in the world. I truly did.”
With his first UFC victory officially in the books, Taylor is hoping to take a little break to spend some time with his family. But once that mini hiatus is over, the newly-crowned TUF winner is aiming to quickly climb the welterweight ladder towards UFC gold.
“I do want a little time off,” Taylor explained. “Saying that, I called this the end of one journey and the beginning of a next. I want to make a run for it. I think 170 has a lot of sharks, but at the same time I think there’s no star power. I think it could be open for the taking if I have a couple of more good performances. I could very well get the belt. That’s my goal; to take it for the full ride and go for that belt.”
For more TUF 25 Finale results and coverage click here.
LAS VEGAS — It has been nearly two years since the UFC hired Jeff Novitzky, mostly for his expertise and involvement in high-profile anti-doping cases involving famous athletes like Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong.
In the last 22 months, though, Novitzky has taken on numerous roles as the UFC’s vice president of athlete health and performance, most notably becoming a major proponent of earlier weigh-ins and weight-cutting reform. In May, the UFC will open a Performance Institute for fighters and Novitzky has played a key role in its development.
In this wide-ranging Q&A, Novitzky, a former U.S. federal agent for the FDA and IRS, discusses the UFC’s anti-doping program with USADA, the promotion’s commitment to weight-cutting guidelines, brain-health studies and much more.
(Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before the USADA decision came down in Cris Cyborg’s doping case. The interview has also been edited for brevity.)
Marc Raimondi: Is there anything about working here that coming into it you didn’t know you would be doing or things that are different than what you expected? Or just the sport itself, anything that you’ve learned about it?
Jeff Novitzky: If you look at it, my role has expanded exponentially. I initially came in and the anti-doping program was my focus. Since then, I’ve inherited a whole department: athlete health and performance, which includes the post-fight medical department, pre-fight medicals to insure these fighters are clear to fight. Obviously, the whole weight management thing came under my umbrella. I’ve been working now with brain-health issues. So really, it’s an encouraging and a positive development, because I think from a fighter perspective, the more they can see that, ‘Hey look, Jeff is here not just as the anti-doping police, he’s looking out for your complete picture of health and safety of all areas.’ I think it helps build trust and I think, in my opinion, trust is the most important thing with my position. If the fighters don’t trust me as kind of the face of this anti-doping program, then it’s not gonna be successful. You need to have that trust and openness and the ability for them to ask you questions, to make suggestions about how things can get better and more fairer, and I’ve seen that happen definitely over the second year, is that trust has been developed.
MR: I didn’t know you were working on brain health. I know that the UFC has donated millions to the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health at the Cleveland Clinic. Is there anything else that you guys are doing in that area?
JN: Yes, I have a role in that. In Sacramento, most recently, our event there in December, I worked with the state athletic commission there and [CSAC executive officer] Andy Foster on the neuro-cognitive testing, which Nevada has adopted as well. So we’re soon to see all fighters who fight in Nevada have to go through that testing. I’ve been interacting with a company that has that test and reaching out to other state commissions and encouraging them to get the testing and encouraging them to do what California and Nevada are doing now.
MR: All of the things that you’re working on — anti-doping, weight management, brain health. This is still a very new sport. When you compare it to other major sports, which you know every well, this is still in its infant stages. Is MMA in a constant evolution, do you think?
JN: It definitely is. I’m most encouraged by the leadership of this company and their acknowledgement that they want to get ahead of the curve on these issues versus 30, 40 years down the line, having ignored issues and being behind the curve. The sport has grown super fast and because of those reasons, the leadership here [is] projecting what these issues are and dealing with them up front versus further on down the line.
MR: Speaking of changes, last year you guys instituted the early weigh-ins starting in June. And that was a really significant change, because the sport across the board did weigh-ins at a certain time for the last 20 years or so, really from the very start. You guys kind of committed to it for every event and others have followed the UFC. What have you learned from the early weigh-in? Has it been a success? What has been your assessment of it?
JN: The feedback is universally positive from the athlete. To me, there’s so many benefits from it. You have the back side where you have more time to insure proper hydration and nutrition stores built up before the event. I think maybe as important is the time that the fighters are on weight is lessened. When you had it later in the afternoon, a lot of these fighters get anxious, they get on weight earlier in the morning and the whole day, you’re depleting, limiting food intake, limiting liquid intake. Now you’re seeing that over a much shorter period of time. So that’s positive.
The one perception of a negative, which I don’t think is, is the amount of fighters we’ve seen missing weight since we instituted it. My view on that is, well that sucks for the fighter who missed. It’s a positive, because it’s identifying to those fighters that they’re a) doing it wrong and waiting until the last minute or b) maybe fighting at too low of a weight class. Because there’s less of a window on weigh-in day to lose weight. Most fighters are still sleeping — maybe not the best sleep — but they’re sleeping overnight. So you’re talking a three- or four-hour window in the morning to get to that weight and frankly if you can’t get to a weight in three or four hours in the morning, you’re probably not at the right weight class or you probably came in too heavy and weren’t disciplined when you weren’t fighting or in your training camp.
While short term there are some pains there, I think in the long term it’s positive, because it’s further identification, further education for these athletes about, ‘Hey, here’s why you need to have this weight cut be gradual and moderate and not severe.’
MR: How are you guys attacking that? Because, like you said, it could be a good thing in identifying and educating those fighters, but at the same time it’s bad press. Fans really dislike when fighters miss weight. Even though missing weight does not mean there’s a weight-cutting problem — there’s already a weight-cutting problem — how do you guys attack fixing that? Because you don’t want fighters getting fined, you don’t want fights dropping out, of course.
JN: It’s really on the education front and that’s why we’re so excited about in a couple months the Performance Institute opening up, because it’s gonna have a nutrition element. It’s gonna have a lead nutritionist and a junior nutritionist and, I mean, that’s gonna be a game-changer in my opinion, that every athlete would have the ability to get, to the meal, for their training camp and offseason planned out of everything they’re gonna eat. I think things like that and just awareness to the problem. Yeah, it is a negative short term, but the more people talk about it, the more media talk about it, the more fighters pay attention to it, that there is an issue. And any time people are talking about it and thinking about it, that’s a positive — the realization that this is a topic about their health, both short and long term health and safety. And if they’re not achieving their contracted weight, they need to change things.
MR: Another odd side effect of early weigh-ins is that fighters are missing weight and some of them are missing by a lot. Some are missing by five pounds or more. Is there anything you’ve seen in the data that has shown why that is happening?
JN: Absolutely. What you’re seeing there is more attention being paid by the UFC to those fighters and in most of those situations it is me, the medical team or a doctor aware the fighter has come into fight week heavier and have a very close eye on that fighter. So we are often in rooms the morning of, we’ll see a fighter that maybe gets into a struggling area and then call it off right there. Say, ‘You’re not cutting any more, go downstairs and weigh in. Basically we’ve seen enough, we feel like you’re getting into an area that wouldn’t be safe for you.’ So we’re stopping that.
MR: Do you learn that from the weight guidelines? Because now you guys check to see how much they weigh coming into fight week.
JN: That 8 percent is huge, and those that come in heavy for the week, we’ve instructed the people on the ground to keep a closer eye on those people. It’s definitely more awareness on our behalf as well.
MR: In doing those checks and compiling that kind of data during fight week, is there anything you’ve learned? Because this is stuff that never gets studied. There aren’t many studies out there about weight-cutting in fighters.
JN: What we’ve learned is the things that we’ve put in place. It wasn’t for the purpose of weight management, but the IV ban and then the education and the guidelines have had a positive effect. We’ve seen the numbers of weight loss in that last week drop and we continue to see it dropping in a positive direction. What we’re working on now is, is it enough? Are we stopping here? I don’t think so. I think we always need to keep evaluating and figuring out what else we need to do and we will do that. What it’s showing us that it’s going in a positive direction.
MR: That’s actually what I wanted to ask you. What is the next step? There are still a lot of fighters cutting too much weight. I think everyone can agree with that. It seems to be steeped in the culture of the sport. What is the evolution? What is the next thing?
JN: I don’t know what it is. I can tell you things that are talked about constantly and on the table is more of a financial disincentive, so maybe more of a financial penalty for missing weight. There’s also some talk on the table about scientific measurements, body-composition analysis to determine, ‘Hey, what is a healthy minimum weight for a fighter?’ There’s concerns on that end in that, can that be manipulated by a fighter? That’s definitely my communication with fighters and camps. If you have a period in time when a fighter is not fighting, you’re gonna get a measurement from them, how would you prevent the athlete from cutting weight or manipulating their body composition for that measurement so that they can get down further? So there’s a lot of variables in there. We’re definitely talking with medical experts and science experts to determine if there is something out there.
My preference would be what we’re doing now, a measured approach and education heavy. Again, we’re constantly evaluating that. If that’s not enough, then we’ll ramp that up and we’ll go to something more extreme.
MR: Especially when it comes to performance, there are tangible examples now of fighters moving up in weight and having more success than they’ve had previously in their careers, like a Jorge Masvidal or a Donald Cerrone. Is that part of the process, too? Because what I’ve heard from many fighters and regulators is that health is not as much of a concern to fighters as the actual performance in the fight.
JN: You know, these guys and girls are some of the toughest individuals on the planet. They think they’re bulletproof and sometimes talking about short- and long-term health side effects goes in one ear and out the other. But almost across the board, 100 percent, if you start talking about effects on performance, they listen. And that’s been very positive in a couple areas. First, starting with the IV ban. At first, there was a lot of concern. ‘I’ve always rehydrated that way.’ All the experts we went to said, ‘Well, given it is more difficult to orally rehydrate, being that you have that time, 24 to 30 hours, if your weight cut is not too severe, you can do that and the studies have shown your performance, your endurance has a positive from going that route.’ I saw that early on, the feedback I was getting from the fighters who have IV’d were like, ‘Holy smokes, you were right. It was more difficult, but I felt so much better the next day.’
MR: That kind of goes hand in hand with the performance center, right? There will be a weight-management element to that. There will be some education and things like that.
JN: I think that’s part of the idea, is new fighters as part of their on-boarding process will talk to sports scientists and nutritionists — let’s figure out, ‘What is an optimal weight class for you to be at? What should you be walking around at if you’re gonna be fighting at that weight class?’ That’s gonna be a big element of the Performance Institute.
MR: I just wanted to go back to weight management for a second. There has been talk in regulatory circles about the addition of more weight classes. Now, I know that is not something the UFC is necessarily in favor of and hasn’t been in the past. But is that something that could be brought up or brought back to the table? If we’re talking about fighting at a more natural weight, some fighters just don’t fit into all of those current weight classes naturally.
JN: There’s talk about it. I think you’ve seen on the women’s side some experimentation with 125 and 145. I don’t think anything is off the table, but we need to be able to support it with fighters. Those types of things don’t happen overnight. I think with the data collection we’re doing now, the education, kind of seeing how that plays out. A moderate approach is the right first step, but potentially down the line it takes more than that and potentially there would be more classes.
MR: Outside of weight management, what else will be involved with the Performance Institute and what should people know about it?
JN: I think the big one is training with measurable statistics for these fighters. Right now, a lot of MMA training is by feel. I think what this is gonna bring is science and technology into the fold. Where it’s more than feel. They can see real results in terms of positioning and punching power, kicking power and how to improve that. I think the technology aspect of the sport, the hope is it will increase exponentially. They will learn things at the center and dispense them at gyms across the world. Not just in UFC, but in all of MMA.
I think also training smarter and injury prevention. Injury rehabilitation. We talked earlier about this sport still being in its infancy and I definitely think smart training and rehabilitation are in its infancy. I think it’s going to improve tremendously with the Performance Institute in the first year or two.
MR: This is all kind of an investment in the future of the sport, is it not?
JN: This is obviously not a cheap project, but I think what it’s gonna do in the long run is gonna have returns tenfold.
MR: Anti-doping, that’s kind of your wheelhouse. That’s the background you come from. We’re not quite two years into your tenure and the anti-doping policy with USADA. Is it where you want it to be? As far as the state of the anti-doping policy and the program, is it where you want to be? Are there improvements needed?
JN: First off, I’m really pleased with what we’ve done here in the last year and half in the program. It’s difficult to measure success with a program. How do you prove a negative that no one is using anything performance-enhancing? The way I do that is I go to events and I’m usually there the entire week and I rely on those short, five-to-10-minute conversations in the lobby, in the elevator, fighters and camps approaching me, and try to get feedback there. The feedback that I’ve gotten is that it’s having a huge impact and difference, in a positive manner in the sport. It’s been positive.
Now, this program is unique in a couple ways. Number one, it’s by far — and I don’t say this as opinion, it’s fact — the most comprehensive in pro sports. There’s no other program that compares to it. Number two, it’s a very, very unique sport, the business model here where you have independent-contractor athletes fighting three or four times a year is really unique to any sport. So when you combine those things, despite our month and a half, two months of trying to put this program together and trying to think of every potential scenario, it’s to be fully expected that as the program is ongoing there would be fine-tuning and tweaks to that. We’ve actually just done that.
Almost all of [the changes] are athlete-driven changes. You need to have a balance between comprehensiveness, strength of the program and fairness to the athlete. Now we can say, ‘Hey, you need to let USADA know where you are 24 hours a day, we’re gonna test you three or four times a week.’ That would be the strongest, most comprehensive program. Is it fair to the athlete? No. So there’s a balance of that. So we’ve identified that we thought could make the program even better, some instances that will make it more fair to the athlete.
MR: On the anti-doping policy, the goal is obviously to deter and catch those who are cheating. Do you feel that has been successful? There have been some cases where there has been dissatisfaction and questioning if USADA is really catching the people who intend to cheat. There have been people popping for tainted supplements or diuretics. There has also been criticism about things like sanction length, like why did Lyoto Machida get an 18-month suspension when someone else got another sanction?
JN: The beauty and arguably the number one pillar of strength of this program is that it’s not the UFC implementing it, adjudicating it — it’s USADA, who has more experience in anti-doping than any entity in the world. Every single case that I’ve seen here, they’re looking at each individual case on its own merits and deciding what the punishments might be based on the facts of that case. Really — you’re right — every case we’ve seen come down the pipe has had differences in it, some subtle, some major. But looking at all the decisions that USADA has made, I know every single one of them was reasoned and fair. So I fully expect that to happen.
You get both sides of the argument here. You get fighters that say they took a contaminated supplement or unknowingly did something. The argument there is that there should be leniency here. I get just as much feedback on the other end, from other fighters saying, ‘Hey, that’s bullshit. How do I know the fighter isn’t just using this as an excuse and didn’t identify there was a contaminated supplement and said, I’m gonna use this drug, and then blame it on the supplement?’ So there’s both sides of that argument.
Again, seeing the adjudication process play itself out, USADA has been 100 percent fair and reasonable in every single decision I’ve seen come down the pipe.
MR: It is more independent than other professional sports, but the UFC still does pay USADA to run its anti-doping program. So there is some of a conflict there, is there not?
JN: That’s unavoidable, but USADA has to adhere to WADA guidelines and WADA protocol. So despite the fact that we’re paying them, we could never call them up and say, ‘Hey, can you do it this way? Can you deviate from what you’re supposed to be doing?’ They are basically audited by an authority above them to make sure they’re following these rules and adhering to the international standards.
So yeah, it’s unavoidable that we’re paying them, but in terms of them doing us favors in return or manipulating from the policy or from the WADA guidelines, that doesn’t happen. It can’t happen.
MR: Some of the things I’ve seen from fighters is that USADA is showing up at 6 a.m., waking them up for their tests. It messes up the fighters’ schedules. Following fighters into the bathroom. There have been a handful of times where I’ve heard of some displeasure among fighters. Is that something that you guys might want to address?
JN: I’ll address it by saying it is a burden. And the public and fans should realize and appreciate what these athletes have to go through to get into the Octagon. Not only is this sport just incredibly complex and comprehensive, what they have to do on the anti-doping side is — no doubt about it — it’s a burden. Keeping track and reporting to USADA where they’re at every day, being woken up at five, six in the morning, being followed into the bathroom, I don’t argue that that is not a burden.
However, I think they deserve even more credit as the unique athletes that they are to be under this program. It’s a pain in the ass to be woken up in the morning. There can be some chirping about that happening. But I think long term, I think everybody realizes that it’s a burden that’s worth it, because it’s making the sport safer, it’s making the sport mainstream and that’s going to be better for everyone in the end.
MR: There was an article on CNN.com recently. They spoke to someone from the NFL Players Association and that person said the NFL players would never agree to that kind of burden, as you put it, on them. Is that something that can be loosened up a little bit as it goes on?
JN: No. These things are in place for a reason. USADA is the most experienced anti-doping entity in the world. The 5 a.m., 6 a.m. wakeup calls, the observation of the sample provision are done for a reason and done based on experience from what they’ve seen and how athletes have manipulated anti-doping programs in the past. Everything is there for a reason. It’s not done just for the hell of it. It’s done for a reason.
What I said in that article is it doesn’t matter how strong an anti-doping program is, if you have small loopholes in that program, the smallest of loopholes could mean the failure of the program. It has to be lock solid tight from top to bottom and if you said, ‘Hey, we’re not gonna get there as early in the morning, we’re gonna let these fighters sleep in a little more,’ I’ve seen in my past that some of these drugs have clearance times in a matter of hours. An athlete can manipulate that if they know there’s a certain time of the day that a tester will be coming. If the tester didn’t closely observe the athletes in the bathroom as they provide that sample, there have been many instances in anti-doping where athletes have substituted clean urine for their urine.
So it is an inconvenience, it is a burden, but it’s necessary, I think. Our athletes should be given a hell of a lot of credit for putting up with these inconveniences and burdens, because it makes them even more of a special athlete, in my opinion.
MR: In the time the program has been rolling, have there been any surprises or anything that has popped up that you didn’t expect? And coming into the UFC, coming into MMA, you weren’t completely familiar with it. Was there a reputation that maybe the sport had? I know other people in that field who have said this is a sport that was just rife with doping before recently.
JN: I’ve had in my experience in working investigations in this case, I’ve seen doping pervasive in any sport you can think of. Everything. Sports that you’d have no idea. Coming here, I wasn’t naive to think that it wasn’t here. But again, the difference between this sport and others is the importance of it. This isn’t hitting balls over fences or riding bikes up mountains. This is a whole other level of importance, so I knew that coming in.
In terms of surprises, in the two years that I’ve been here — and it wasn’t a pleasant surprise — but the whole Jon Jones UFC 200 [incident]. I got that call Wednesday night [before UFC 200] and I tell you, that was the lowest of the low that I’ve been here, because the massiveness of the event, three days before this happening. When these come down the pipe, I look internally and feel like, What could I have done different to ensure this didn’t happen? I didn’t get that message out and that education out enough for this person. So I was bummed. The effects that it had on UFC employees, the amount of work that went into that fight, the work that had to be done to change that in the last two or three days. Arguably the landmark event in UFC history. I was just completely bummed.
Starting really the next day and through that weekend, the amount of fighters and camps that came up to me saying, ‘Hey man, this is real, keep your head up, we all see now those arguments of favoritism or conflicts of interest between the UFC and USADA, put that to rest. This is about as real as it gets.’ I was really uplifted over those next few days from the feedback I got from other athletes and camps. That was really a surprise to me.
MR: Right after that, the whole Lesnar situation happened. Now, Mark Hunt is suing the UFC. Are there are any regrets about that situation? I know there is probably stuff you guys wish you did differently. But looking back at it, are there regrets?
JN: That’s obviously a subject of litigation right now, so I don’t want to get too much into that. But I will say this: If you look at the facts about Lesnar and people paid a lot of attention to this exception that he got. He was tested several times and came back negative before that positive test. So it would not have mattered even if he had been in the program six weeks, four months, a year. The prohibited substance entered his system while he was part of the program, not before he got into that.
That being said, I think that perception is just important as reality in a program. So when people perceive that, ‘Oh, he wasn’t being tested’ when that isn’t the case in reality, I think that’s just as important. Some of the tweaks that we’ve made to the policy, I think address that a little bit.
MR: There are still people who ask me and speculate, ‘Was the UFC in on that? Did they know he was taking something? The results must have come back before UFC 200?’ Does that bother you, that those things are still out there?
JN: Bother me, no. I think there’s just a burden on us to do things that educate that that was not the case and over time I think they’ll realize that’s not the case. That was to be expected, again, because this program is so unique and so comprehensive that we expected bumps and bruises as we call them, little things that come up over time and we’ll deal with them as they do.
Several MMA fighters’ associations were created in the United States recently, and longtime veteran Vitor Belfort feels that a fighter’s union could be the answer for the athletes’ problems.
Associations like MMAFA, MMAAA and PFA have different ideas and focuses, and Belfort, while admitting he doesn’t know what any of them is specifically fighting for, points to a union as the solution.
“I’m a smart guy, and the smartest thing in the world is to not side (with something) if you don’t know who’s the leader and what are his motivations,” Belfort, who is pointed constantly by fellow Brazilian fighters as one of the best men to lead an entity, told MMA Fighting of the existing associations.
“I’m glad that fighters that are part of the history of the sport see me this way, but it’s important for fighters to realize that it’s time to have a fighters’ union. There’s unions for everything, there’s an union even for prostitutes, and we won’t have one for fighters? It’s time for the athlete to have his union.”
Belfort says that MMAFA, MMAAA and PFA haven’t reached out to him to share their ideas or invite to be part of the entity, and says that the main goal should be to fight for fighters’ rights, not to start a war against the UFC.
“For me to be part of something, I have to be in the leadership. If you just want to use my image, I won’t let anyone do that,” Belfort said. “I don’t think we have to go against the UFC. We have to be together and work together. You have to remember that the same way we want to fight for our rights, we have to understand their rights, too. You need to know that.”
“And it’s not only the UFC,” he continued. “There are several promotions. People talk about the UFC, but it’s wonderful for the sport. We are grateful, but there should be a law that benefits every combat sports athlete.”
With the UFC recently sold to WME-IMG for more than four billion dollars, “The Phenom” suggests a few changes in the organization under the new ownership.
“I think there should be a health insurance for fighters, they should allow sponsors like the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) does, and they should create a league of legends, to bring back fighters fans love. Those would be my three changes,” Belfort said. “And get rid of elbows so there would be no blood. Big companies want to be associated with fights if there are no bloody fights.”
The relationship between Conor McGregor and John Kavanagh went through a rough patch earlier this year
Kavanagh, the UFC’s phenom’s longtime coach, told Ariel Helwani on this week’s edition of The MMA Hour that he and his prized pupil drifted apart somewhat after UFC 194 when McGregor beat Jose Aldo via 13-second knockout.
There were even times when Kavanagh would be leaving his SBG Ireland gym, McGregor would be coming in, and the two would only exchange a nod.
The issue stemmed from McGregor changing his training schedule to later at night, Kavanagh said. The coach would be in the gym first thing in the morning at 9 a.m., while McGregor, a late riser, wouldn’t get his workouts in until 10 or 11 p.m.
“No tension,” Kavanagh said. “No bad feelings or anything like that. It’s just like, ‘Oh, I guess that’s how he’s doing it now.’ He’s the champion of the world. He just beat who some say is the best ever in 13 seconds. What am I gonna say?”
That all changed quickly, but it took an event to be the catalyst. McGregor fought Nate Diaz at UFC 196 in March and lost by second-round submission. At the club later that night, McGregor and Kavanagh had a bit of a heart to heart over some whiskey, the coach said. McGregor was actually the one who broached the topic.
“That doesn’t seem to be working,” Kavanagh said. “I’m not gonna repeat a process that doesn’t work and expect a different outcome. And we went back to scheduled sessions, routine, and look what happened a short period [after].”
McGregor got his rematch against Diaz at UFC 202 back in August and attained his revenge, beating the durable Stockton native by majority decision in a second straight welterweight bout. He has kept the current situation with Kavanagh intact heading into a fight with lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 on Saturday in New York.
One of the keys, Kavanagh said, was going back to the way things were when McGregor first got into the UFC three years ago. The coach said he played every role for McGregor before his first UFC bout against Marcus Brimage in Sweden in 2013. Now McGregor, the biggest star in MMA, has an entire team for all of those roles.
“Conor’s life has obviously gotten pretty wild over the last couple of years,” Kavanagh said. “Not that it was by design, but we did kind of drift a little bit. And we realized that and we spoke about it after the contest and we just kind of made a pact to go back to how it was when we went to Sweden for the first time.”
It worked then and has been inarguably effective ever since.
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