Testing positive for EPO has forever tarnished T.J. Dillashaw’s legacy

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
T.J. Dillashaw reacts after losing in 32 seconds to Henry Cejudo in their UFC flyweight title fight on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
T.J. Dillashaw reacts after losing in 32 seconds to Henry Cejudo in their UFC flyweight title fight on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

If a fighter was going to cheat and knew he could get away with it, EPO would have to be among the choices he’d have to strongly consider taking.

It is a powerful drug that increases red blood cell production. That then increases the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen, which makes it so beneficial for athletes in an endurance-based sport. It’s why it turned out to be no shock when the disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah Winfrey in 2013 that he had taken EPO prior to each of his seven Tour de France victories.

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Conditioning is crucial in mixed martial arts, and a fighter who takes EPO is at a significant advantage over opponents who aren’t cheating.

In addition, researchers in a 2012 study done by the University of Zurich discovered it has a performance-enhancing impact on the brain, as well, improving motivation.

Knowing all that, and knowing that former UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw was found by USADA to have used EPO prior to his Jan. 19 loss against Henry Cejudo at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, one must question the veracity of everything Dillashaw has accomplished to this point.

Dillashaw relinquished his bantamweight belt and did not contest the finding, which earned him a two-year suspension.

Dillashaw may have used EPO for the first time when he fought Cejudo in a bout for the flyweight title, but you have to ask yourself why. His career was going along great and he’d turned himself into one of a handful of elite fighters in the world.

If we assume for the sake of argument that he was clean in every fight prior to facing Cejudo, his confidence should have been at an all-time high. Instead, though, he chose to seek the help of an insidious banned substance.

He still deserves the presumption of innocence in regard to whether he used before, but the court of public opinion is not a court of law. And while a lot of times, the court of public opinion adds two and two and gets five, there are times the wisdom of a crowd is on the money. Regardless, Dillashaw’s choice to use EPO going into the Cejudo bout means he is going to have to live with that assumption.

Plus, USADA has improved the sensitivity of testing for EPO within the last year or so, meaning someone using it is more likely to get caught than in the past.

Even more compelling, Cody Garbrandt, Dillashaw’s archrival, accused him a year ago this month of using EPO. At the time, Garbrandt’s words sounded like those of a bitter former teammate looking for reasons to explain away his loss. Perhaps now, though, they should be viewed in a different light.

At the 2015 news conference to announced the UFC had hired USADA to implement its anti-doping program, former UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta noted that things would probably get worse before they got better.

This is the kind of thing he had to have been thinking about that day four years ago.

After all of the suspensions handed down and all the money that fighters lost, both in legal fees and lost purses and sponsorships as a result of failing a drug test, it’s almost mind-boggling that someone the stature of a Dillashaw would choose in 2019 to use a performance-enhancing drug knowing what he knew and having had all the education he’d gotten on the topic.

Henry Cejudo finished T.J. Dillashaw in the first round of their flyweight championship bout on Jan. 20, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Henry Cejudo finished T.J. Dillashaw in the first round of their flyweight championship bout on Jan. 20, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Dillashaw hasn’t spoken and unless he does, no one will know for sure what happened and why he chose to use EPO for this fight.

The obvious answer is that in facing Cejudo, he was meeting an Olympic gold-medal-winning wrestler and thought he might need an extra advantage.

But Dillashaw is a smart guy, and unless he was cheating all along and just was fortunate not to have been caught, he had to have believed he was capable of winning the fight on his own merits.

If you’ve beaten Renan Barao and Garbrandt twice apiece, and also beaten John Lineker and Raphael Assuncao and come within a whisker of beating Dominick Cruz, you shouldn’t be fearful of fighting Cejudo.

What we don’t know is what Dillashaw did in the past.

Because we don’t know, his legacy is forever tarnished and his earlier accomplishments are all suspect as a result of this one very poor and unwise decision.

It’s unfortunate if he were clean the entire time, and only cheated against Cejudo, because he made himself into a remarkable fighter and that will be overlooked.

That’s the danger of messing with PEDs, though. They impact you in ways you can’t always expect.

He’ll return in two years and perhaps address his situation much the way that former teammate Chad Mendes dealt with his when coming off suspension.

No matter what Dillashaw says, though, doubts will linger forever in the minds of more than a few of his one-time fans. That’s the hard part, particularly given he lost the fight in which he cheated in less than a minute.

He forever ruined a reputation he’d taken years and thousands of hours of toil to build. That’s ignoring the fact that misusing EPO can lead to harmful long-term consequences.

It’s not worth it. It’s never worth it. But fighters continue to do it.

Even the ones who, like Dillashaw, seemed to be doing everything correctly.

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