The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (#USADA) era has been a mixed bag since the Ultimate Fighting Championship commissioned it to oversee the drug testing of its fighters in July 2015. The world's premiere MMA promotion voluntarily incurred the great cost involved in vigorous testing, both in and out of competition. And they did so knowing that they would lose out on fights when some athletes inevitably failed tests. Cleaning up the sport is an admirable undertaking by the #UFC, even if the anti-doping agency has invasive and draconian methods, the fighters had no say in its deployment or consequences, and the UFC did not engage USADA for purely altruistic reasons.
Just as annoying (not really, but almost) as these unfortunate side effects is how some fans and media outlets have reacted to the implementation of USADA drug-testing. Little to no actual evidence is required to convince some people to assume misconduct. The concept of "innocent until proven guilty" has ceased to exist. And what's most frustrating is that basically anything can trigger the "USADA!" battlecry.
The best (read: worst) is when someone posts weigh-in pictures from fights before and after the implementation of USADA. Apparently, one picture is proof positive that an athlete has taken steroids in the past. Having slightly more defined abs at one weigh-in clearly means he was taking steroids at the time.
When sites post articles like "Five Pictures Of UFC Fighters Before & After USADA Drug Testing", I know I'm not dealing with a reputable or worthwhile site, but one that traffics in clickbait. Recklessly calling fighters' reputations into question without a modicum of factual evidence is unconscionable. If even one person sees that and believes a fighter is cheating, that is too many. This is the most egregious offense - forming an opinion based on a single picture - but it is not the only one when it comes to the UFC's relationship with USADA.
A poor performance or two is something else that is frustratingly attributed to increased drug-testing that can easily be explained in other ways. "So-and-so got USADA'ed!" is the common refrain. What people don't seem (or want) to understand is the impossibly small sample size involved in fighting in the UFC, or prizefighting in general.
Top-level athletes fight twice a year, three or four times if they are extremely lucky. Fighters commonly enter their bouts with nagging injuries, or they may have an unfavorable stylistic matchup. They might be aging and declining naturally, or they may be going through an adjustment period at a new camp. The very nature of fighting, the reason most fans tune in in the first place, is that old adage, "anything can happen". It often does, leaving more talented fighters to pick up the pieces after an unexpected loss. There are innumerable reasons for a fighter having a poor performance (two more examples: financial or personal troubles), but USADA is the one many seem to jump to first. "Clearly they were juicing, and now they can't!"
Don't get me wrong, I'm not naive. I know that a great number of fighters use or have used PEDs. I understand that USADA is not an ironclad deterrent; some fighters are going to get smarter about cheating and not everyone is going to get caught. But at least wait for proof before casting stones.
The concept of "proof" brings us to the infamous "potential" anti-doping violations that USADA is in the habit of notifying the public of. When such a statement is released, people again point fingers and assume blame. This even if the substance in question has not been released and the fighter has not had an opportunity to defend him or herself. Can we at least get all the facts before exclaiming "Cheat!"? Can USADA stop with these "potential" violations? Just release all the details when they are available.
Maybe I'm expecting too much. There will always be reactionary, uninformed doofuses on Twitter, and clickbait isn't going anywhere, unfortunately. But MMA fans as a whole are a passionate, thoughtful bunch, and for that I am thankful. I would encourage you to merely watch out for these pitfalls and not allow yourself to be ensnared by them. Let's get that "USADA'ed" cry all the fucking way out of here.