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UFC claims defamation in ongoing USADA dispute

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UFC claims defamation in ongoing USADA dispute

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LAS VEGAS — The UFC has threatened legal action against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency following a statement USADA made Wednesday announcing an end to the partnership between the two organizations.

UFC chief business officer Hunter Campbell said at a news conference Thursday that he sent a legal letter to USADA on Wednesday night accusing it of defamation and demanding that it issue a retraction and apology by 5 p.m. Thursday.

Campbell and UFC executive Jeff Novitzky also announced Thursday that the UFC will use Drug Free Sport to collect drug-test samples beginning next year and the UFC’s anti-doping program will be led by former FBI agent George Piro as an independent administrator.

In USADA’s release Wednesday, CEO Travis Tygart issued a statement saying that the agency will cease being the UFC’s anti-doping partner beginning Jan. 1, 2024. Tygart wrote that the UFC did an “about-face” on their relationship Monday and it was due to USADA’s stance about the status of Conor McGregor.

USADA has maintained that McGregor should spend six months in the drug-testing pool before being able to compete again in the UFC. McGregor removed himself from the pool after breaking his leg in a July 2021 fight.

The UFC’s anti-doping policy says a fighter must spend six months in the pool and pass two drug tests before competing after re-entering the program. The UFC, though, can grant an exception to the six-month rule if the belief is it would be unfair to the athlete.

Tygart said in the statement that the relationship between the UFC and USADA became “untenable” due to the situation with McGregor, the UFC’s star.

In an interview with TSN in July, UFC president Dana White said “who cares what USADA says?” in reference to McGregor’s status.

“Fighters’ long-term health and safety — in addition to a fair and level playing field — are more important to USADA than short-term profits at the expense of clean athletes,” Tygart wrote in the statement.

In the news conference Thursday at the UFC Apex, Novitzky called Tygart’s statement and USADA’s narrative “bulls—.” Campbell said the statement was a “complete misrepresentation” and “couldn’t be farther from the truth.” Campbell said he maintained to Tygart for months that McGregor would spend six months in the drug-testing pool before competing again and he didn’t care if McGregor had to take “37 tests” to prove he was clean before stepping in the Octagon again. Campbell said what USADA did to McGregor was “disgusting” and there could be legal liability.

In a three-page letter sent to USADA on Thursday from UFC’s outside counsel, there was a claim of defamation and that the UFC has the right to assert such a claim “when the damaging comments negatively impact its reputation, integrity, and honesty, which is exactly what occurred here.”

“McGregor is 100% in the pool,” Campbell said. “He’s conducted himself with integrity and honesty. He’s done everything right. As you can imagine, he’s very upset at what they’ve done with him. They’ve done tremendous damage.”

In a statement to ESPN on Thursday following the news conference, Tygart wrote: “We stand by our statement and our credibility.”

Tygart told ESPN on Wednesday that McGregor was re-entered into the drug-testing pool Sunday and the call with the UFC, which ended the partnership, happened Monday.

“Our insistence, and public insistence, that the six-month rule apply to all athletes, including Conor McGregor, be in place — that clearly upset them and that’s what led to the about-face that they did from May,” Tygart said.

“They don’t like having someone else have influence, I guess, that the rules should apply to every athlete. No athlete is above the rules. Even if you’re a publicly traded company and you might stand to make $100 million at the end of the fiscal year, or something.”

Tygart said there was “never a negotiation on the finances” of the contract renewal. USADA requested $7 million from the UFC for next year, Tygart said, which was not much more than the UFC had been paying the agency for each of the last eight years.

USADA also does the drug-testing for Olympic athletes in the United States and recently signed a contract to run PFL’s anti-doping program.

“All we have is our integrity, and everything else is secondary,” Tygart said. “Whether it’s Lance Armstrong, whether it was [the] BALCO [scandal], we’re gonna do the right things for the right reasons. They’re not always popular. And certainly, we’ve seen sports organizations over the years that don’t like the stands that we take. And here we go again.”

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