On Tuesday, #AngelaHill announced that she was ineligible to compete in a planned December bout against Jessica Andrade at #UFC207. Originally scheduled to face Maryna Moroz, Andrade was left without an opponent when Moroz was forced to pull out of the bout.
Hill was the number sixteen seed in The Ultimate Fighter season 20 tournament, which crowned the inaugural UFC strawweight champion. With just one professional fight prior to entering TUF, Hill was a newcomer to the sport, and after a victorious UFC debut against Emily Kagan, dropped two consecutive fights to #TeciaTorres and #RoseNamajunas before being released from the promotion.
Hill joined #Invicta FC, and quickly grew as a technician, showcasing notable improvement in a four-fight run which would see her win and defend the Invicta strawweight championship.
Primed for a UFC return, Hill stepped in to replace Moroz against Andrade. In a video published on her Twitter account, a distraught and visibly shaken Hill explained the circumstances which led to the proposed bout being scrapped.
“Apparently there’s this weird loophole in USADA, where if you’re an ex-UFC fighter, if you used to be signed with the UFC, you need like a three-month enrollment in USADA first before you can come back. But, if I was never in the UFC before then, like, I would be able to fight on short notice, no problem.”
Hill struggled to hold back tears as she detailed her frustrations at being unable to accept the fight with Andrade, a highly-ranked strawweight contender and one of the division’s most fearsome finishers.
The pursuit of a clean sport requires a certain amount of invasion into the lives of athletes. The more vigilant the desire to rid the sport of performance-enhancing drugs, the more liberties must be stripped from the fighters they are attempting to protect. As these liberties are stripped further and further, we must have a very honest conversation about at what point a more stringent testing regime is approaching a point of diminishing returns.
On the extreme end, there is the PRIDE-style approach to performance-enhancing drugs, in which tests are not administered, and usage is even encouraged. The opposite extreme is a dystopian scenario in which fighters are constantly monitored twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, in order to ensure their compliance with USADA’s standards.
While the latter example may seem far-fetched, it is the only real way to definitively ensure that athletes are not cheating. Neither extreme is desirable, and thus a balancing act must be struck between diligent testing and fairness to the fighters.
The point at which we are willing to draw that line will be deeply subjective. Some will find simple fight-night blood and urine testing to be adequate, while some will be understanding of a USADA inspector watching #TimKennedy shower as a result of mandatory monitoring for the purposes of a random drug test.
While the degree of USADA’s duty to its athletes can be debated, what cannot be argued is that, if a fighter’s life is going to be negatively impacted, there must be a reasonable expectation of improving the testing process, and maximizing their ability to detect foul play. The rules which USADA-tested athletes are forced to abide by must be based on the available body of scientific evidence, along with logical expectations of catching PED abusers.
The rule which is preventing Hill from accepting a potentially career-changing bout seems both arbitrary and unfairly applied.
A provision which requires only former UFC fighters to enter the testing pool three months before competition would seem to offer no more benefit than a rule which requires any debuting fighter to enter the testing pool prior to competing. This provision would appear to imply that former UFC athletes are more likely to be drug abusers, which is a bizarre assumption.
Even in the case of a blanket testing period, covering all debuting UFC athletes, would the detriment to the lives of the fighters be worth the expected payoff?
MMA is not a lucrative sport at the regional level. A fighter with no other income who is making their UFC debut is likely unable to comfortably sit on the shelf for three months until their initial enrollment period is over. This sort of provision puts further fiscal strain on a group of athletes who already struggle financially.
What does such a rule accomplish? The benefits of performance-enhancing drugs are experienced for many years after usage, and a doping athlete could simply cease usage prior to entering the testing pool. Or, USADA could simply make exemptions, allowing them to fight without requiring an initial testing period. Such was the case for #BrockLesnar.
Per USADA's testing policy:
“UFC may grant an exemption to the four-month written notice rule in exceptional circumstances or where the strict application of that rule would be manifestly unfair to an Athlete”
Strict application of this provision seems no more manifestly unfair to Lesnar than to Hill, and the only exceptional circumstances are the hundreds of thousands of pay-per-view buys added to any card Lesnar competes on.
By comparison, Hill’s bout with Andrade is far more exceptional. While Lesnar’s UFC 200 victory was a potential one-off for an aging box office draw, a win for Hill could secure her spot in the UFC for years to come. It is a far more divisionally relevant bout, and provisions which allow marketable fighters to evade the eyes of random drug testing where exceptional fighters cannot, are a clear snub to the majority of the UFC’s roster.
USADA holds a moral duty to be consistent and reasonable with its athletes. Stripping them of the opportunities which they have spent their lives preparing for is no small thing, and the benefit to drug-prevention efforts must be similarly exceptional.
Rules which are applied arbitrarily, and with the infringement of liberties far exceeding the potential benefits, serve only to create unnecessary casualties in USADA's war on doping.