For much of his career, former UFC champion B.J. Penn (16-8-2 MMA, 12-7-2 UFC) has been an outspoken opponent of performance-enhancing drug use in the sport of mixed martial arts.
And so when the non-profit Voluntary Anti-Doping Association volunteered to sponsor pre-fight testing for Penn and his UFC 152 opponent, Rory MacDonald (13-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC), "The Prodigy" immediately agreed to take part.
Penn has since been forced to withdraw his support of the program due to VADA's insistence the results of the testing be released prior to the matchup. However, the Hawaiian scrapper doesn't want to nix the plan all together. Instead, he said he's willing to foot the bill for the procedures if the organization can wait to make the results public.
"VADA contacted me to talk about doing their testing," Penn said at a recent media session, which MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) attended. "Right away, I was for it. But I was talking to them, and we were talking about the process.
"This isn't an amateur sport. What I expressed to VADA was that results need to be released after the fight, but VADA wants to do it before the fight, and I said, 'I'm not trying to put the UFC's fight in danger by doing that.' I said, 'What's the problem? Let's do the results after the fight.'"
The Las Vegas-based VADA, according to the independent organization's website, was "founded to offer and promote effective anti-doping programs in boxing and mixed martial arts." Former Nevada State Athletic Commission chief ringside physician Margaret Goodman serves as president.
According to VADA's bylaws, "Professional athletes will volunteer to be subject to unannounced testing at any time during the eight weeks prior to a scheduled fight. As in the Olympic program, an agreement to participate will require fighters to officially inform us of their daily whereabouts, so that they can be tested per the program. Athletes will agree that all results are immediately released to the appropriate adjudicating commission overseeing their upcoming contest."
Penn first discussed VADA's offer in June, accepting the deal and challenging MacDonald to do the same. However, Penn assumed the results of the test would be held private until after the Sept. 22 matchup, which takes place at Toronto's Air Canada Centre. While some pundits have openly questioned why Penn expected such confidentiality prior to the fight, Penn said the reasoning is simple: It's not his place to potentially endanger a bout he isn't personally promoting.
"It doesn't do me any good to train for three months, and I don't get to fight," Penn said. "It doesn't do MacDonald any good, and it doesn't do any good for (UFC co-owners) Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta to put millions of dollars into marketing a fight that could get canceled.
"I'm not trying to put any pressure on Dana White. He has nothing to do with this. When the anti-doping agency can come on friendly terms and be more welcome with a company like the UFC, I think that's what they should do, and I don't know why they're waiting and pushing this to take longer."
While VADA has yet to make any serious in-roads into MMA, the organization has recently made waves in the boxing community, as a number of notable names have agreed to subject themselves to the additional drug screens, which supplement the requirements of any governing athletic commission. In fact, a pair of high-profile boxing contests were recently canceled following failed VADA screens as Lamont Peterson was forced out of a planned May bout with Amir Khan and Andre Berto was pulled from a planned June matchup with Victor Ortiz.
With those cancellations in mind, Penn said it simply doesn't make sense to participate in the program – at least not at this time. The 33-year-old Hawaiian is confident his tests would not create any problems, and while he isn't trying to cast any doubt on MacDonald, he also knows it isn't his place to risk the matchup. Instead, Penn suggests he could cover VADA's costs if the company could release the results post-UFC 152.
"Everything can be negotiated," Penn said. "I would even suggest to VADA if you want me to pay for it – because they're doing the sponsorship thing – if I pay for it, can we release the results after the fight? I've expressed this many times to Victor Conte, who is one of the people who is heavily involved with VADA.
"My hands are tied. I'm not trying to put any pressure on the people who are trying to make me money, but if Dana White doesn't get paid, B.J. Penn doesn't get paid."
Anti-doping supporters, including MMAjunkie.com's own Dr. Johnny Benjamin, contend that manipulating VADA's process essentially undermines the integrity of the entire program.
"If every time a fight comes up it becomes 'Let's Make a Deal,' the process becomes tainted very quickly and not worth the time or effort," Benjamin recently wrote in his "Ask the Fight Doc" column. "How will your opponent or regulating bodies know you didn't cut some sort of preferential deal?"
Penn realizes his offer isn't the ultimate finish line for drug-testing in the sport, but he also believes it could be an important step in the right direction, leading the UFC and VADA to develop a mutually beneficial relationship. In short, testing results would not jeopardize the UFC 152 matchup, but Penn and MacDonald could provide high-profile guinea pigs for both VADA and the UFC to familiarize themselves with each other.
As such, Penn hopes VADA will at least consider his idea in hopes that it could someday result in a more in-depth testing procedure for all MMA fighters, especially in markets like Toronto where the Ontario Athletic Commission has previously passed the responsibility on to promoters.
"As of now, with the VADA thing, we're just kind of at a little bit of a standstill because I know this is a professional sport," Penn said. "From what I understand, Toronto doesn't even have a policy if you test positive for steroids. I doubt there will even be a steroid test when we get there. So as far as I know, who knows what's going to be standing across the ring from you? Is it going to be a regular man or Superman? You don't know."