IMMAF meets with UFC anti-doping expert Jeff Novitzky

During the recent UFC Fight Week in Dublin, Ireland, IMMAF and UFC heads met to discuss the development and implementation of anti-doping procedures in professional and amateur MMA.

Those in attendance included UFC Vice-president of EMEA James Elliot, UFC Vice-president of Athlete Health and Performance Jeff Novitzky, IMMAF’s anti-doping consultant Michele Verroken of Sporting Integrity, IMMAF President Kerrith Brown and IMMAF CEO Densign White.

The meeting covered a plethora of anti-doping topics, including the importance of right conduct in Mixed Martial Arts at the professional level, and how to translate this into the sport at amateur and grass roots levels.

As an internationally renowned agent in food and drug administration, Novitzky shared insight into his wealth of history and knowledge alongside Verroken, a former Director of Ethics and Anti-Doping at UK Sport and current secretary of the Commonwealth Games Federation Medical Commission

IMMAF In and Out-Of-Competition Testing

First discussions took place regarding IMMAF’s aim to implement its own out-of-competition drug testing program, having completed in-competition drug screening at the 2015 IMMAF World Championships of Amateur MMA in July. In-competition testing will be implemented again at the upcoming IMMAF European Open Championships in November, under the supervision of Verroken.

The need for further out-of-competition testing was emphasised, partly due to the benefits of certain performance enhancing drugs remaining active even after the offending athletes’ body has become clear of detectable traces.

Athlete Education and UFC IV Ban

Athlete education was covered as a most effective tactic in reducing the amount of positive drug tests in MMA and increasing understanding around anti-doping as a whole. The recent IV ban, which came into effect in the UFC on October 3, was used as a positive example since several UFC athletes have notably accepted, adapted to and since given positive reflection on the move. Credit was given to the educational message and approachability that Novitzky implements.

Weight-Cutting

The well documented weight cutting difficulties of former UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks were highlighted, among others. It is hoped that as more fighters dedicate themselves to amateur careers from an early stage, they will grow accustomed to the notion of comfortable weight cuts as a result of same-day weigh-ins over the course of IMMAF Amateur Championship events. This unified understanding will hopefully adjust the culture of professional weight cutting in future generations.

Responsibility of Anti-doping Agents

A positive relationship between athletes and anti-doping officials is greatly aided by clear and open communication, while there is potential for distrust. The well documented NSAC sanction against Nick Diaz for use of Marijuana is something that Novitzky has previously criticized due to the controversial testing procedure where the sample that Diaz was sanctioned for was tested at a different laboratory with alternative criteria to the other two samples of which were deemed acceptable.

The need for clarity and consistency of testing procedures was unanimously agreed upon. Drug testing at IMMAF events will continue to be carried out by a single testing body with a single set of standards.

Sample collectors should also be held accountable to high standards of professional conduct, in addition to persistence when collecting out-of-competition samples. The concept of a phone App for professional fighters was outlined by Novitzky, where athletes on the move can highlight their location to help aid the collection process, should sample collectors be assigned to locate them.

Supplements and Education

Supplement education is an ongoing mission with many seemingly innocent products being taken with good intentions that contain hidden banned substances. Novitzky explained that all UFC newcomers are required to list their supplements upon signing with the promotion, and detailed the surprizing number of horror stories that arise as a result of products with unlisted ingredients.

IMMAF and UFC

The UFC heads recognise IMMAF as a feeder platform for future generations of leading professionals. As a young aspect of the sport, the increased development and governance of Amateur MMA is at a point where the doping/anti-doping culture can be shaped to avoid the negative habits that a number of other sports have developed over several decades of neglect in certain areas when it comes to young, impressionable athletes. It is imperative that a positive culture and unified standard is developed in all areas, from the grass roots level up.

Novitzky detailed his passion for seeking educational access to a high volume of athletes wherever possible, and recently addressed all trailists that showed up prior to the selection process of the UFC’s Ultimate Fighter series.

Novitzky’s relationship with IMMAF is just at its beginning, and early signs of an ongoing legacy are already visible and strengthened by a mutual passion for education. Novitzky was greatly excited by the opportunity of working with grassroots amateurs whom he can reach at the earliest stage of development to impart best knowledge and guidance.

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