UPDATE: On July 24, The Body Lock exclusively confirmed that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has denied any involvement with ONE Championship.
ONE Championship, one of Asia’s largest martial arts organizations, has long maintained an environment free of drug testing.
In fact, ONE Championship’s founder and CEO, Chatri Sityodong, provided The Straits Times with an illuminating perspective to that effect in September 2016:
“Chatri said ONE does not carry out doping controls, but he insisted the culture of respect in martial arts – and the poor economic backgrounds of many fighters – meant drug-cheating was unlikely.”
Recently, however, a report by Asian MMA’s James Goyder surfaced that ONE Championship would be implementing World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) standard drug testing in 2019, though there was no specification as to what that would mean in practice.
It is unknown if the ONE Championship drug testing was to be done through WADA, in adherence to their guidelines, or conducted at WADA labs.
The World Anti-Doping Agency is a globally recognized authority on anti-doping in sports, having been founded in 1999 by the International Olympic Commission. Per WADA’s website, its key tenets are [World Anti-Doping] code compliance monitoring, anti-doping coordination, global anti-doping development, and athlete outreach, along with providing educational, scientific, and medical information.
Sityodtong spoke about the relationship between ONE and WADA at a recent press conference.
“It is true that we began doing WADA testing actually last year,” Sityodong told those in attendance, promising that more details were coming soon in the form of future announcements.
However, two high-profile ONE Championship stars seem to have no knowledge of any testing to have happened in the past, with one still unaware of any plans for WADA testing in 2019.
ONE featherweight champion and former lightweight champion, Martin Nguyen, told The Body Lock, “I always thought it was mandatory to at least test for any anabolics, testosterone, TRT – just standard testing – in ONE Championship, until I found out that they really don’t test at all.”
Jiu-jitsu star and undefeated ONE MMA prospect, Garry Tonon, didn’t even think to believe the initial ONE/WADA report. In an interview with The Body Lock on January 15, Tonon said, “First of all, I don’t think it’s true.”
Despite Sityodtong’s announcement, Tonon still has yet to hear anything from the promotion. Tonon recently confirmed that he ‘still hasn’t seen anything’ other than the aforementioned tweet by Goyder and several forum posts based on that tweet.
Although it is possible that ONE Championship is planning to implement WADA standard drug testing in the near future, Nguyen and Tonon have yet to be informed of any changes.
Nguyen is in favor of the testing, saying, “I think it’s a good thing. I think this is where ONE Championship is evolving. It’s one step onto the next.”
Tonon, however, isn’t as enthusiastic. “If they implement [WADA standard testing], will it help to some degree? Yes? No? But here’s my general stance on it: I don’t care one way or the other, ’cause I haven’t been using PEDs – ever – in my entire career… There are plenty of people beating these drug tests. So, ultimately, what it comes down to is; the way that it will really impact the sport is: the guys that can’t afford to pay for a doctor that knows how to beat the drug test, those guys will no longer be able to use PEDs or will get caught.”
Nguyen shares Tonon’s sentiment as to the likelihood of seeing people fail drug tests. “We’ll see who busts. I’m sure we’ll see a lot of bodies change now that ONE Championship has announced that. Everyone is probably still going to be on it and hoping that they don’t get tested,” he said.
Both Nguyen’s and Tonon’s suspicions were realized, according to Sityodtong.
At the aforementioned press conference, Sityodtong also touted what he claimed to be “good news” about the early results.
“Good news is: last year we did a lot of tests, and 95-97% of our athletes came out clean,” he said. Of course, that would mean between three and five percent of sampled ONE Championship athletes failed the WADA testing. It is unknown what, if anything, ONE Championship decided to do regarding the 3-5% of fighters who tested positive for PEDs.
At this point, it seems as though little is known about the nature of the relationship between ONE Championship and WADA, and little is known about what ONE Championship’s drug testing policy will be.
Hopefully, Sityodtong and ONE Championship follow through with their promise to provide more details regarding drug testing in the coming days and weeks.
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.