Dillashaw banned: Ex-UFC bantamweight champion handed 2-year USADA suspension
A USADA statement formally announced the sanction, saying "USADA announced today that TJ Dillashaw, of Yorba, Linda, California, has accepted a two-year sanction for a violation of the UFC AAnti-Doping Policy after testing positive for a prohibited substance."
Dillashaw tested positive for recombinant human erythropoietin, more commonly known as EPO, during a drug test conducted on January 18 this year, one day before his UFC flyweight title challenge against Henry Cejudo in Brooklyn.
Breaking: TJ Dillashaw has been suspended two years by USADA. Tested positive for EPO prior to Jan. 19 title fight against Henry Cejudo. Dillashaw did not contest the suspension. pic.twitter.com/R8zYWJinxN— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) April 9, 2019
The statement explained that EPO is "a synthetic hormone used to stimulate the body's production of red blood cells, thereby increasing oxygen transport and aerobic power, and is a prohibited substance in the class of Peptide Hormones, Growth Factors, Related Substances, and Mimetics under the UFC Anti-Doping Policy, which has adopted the World Anti-Doping Agency Prohibited List."
Dillashaw pre-empted the announcement by releasing a statement via his social media channels, announcing his failed test ahead of the official announcement, but stopped short of revealing the banned substance he had tested positive for.
"To all my fans, I wanted to be the first one to let you know that USADA and the NYSAC have informed me of an adverse finding in a test taken for my last fight.
"While words can't even begin to express how disappointed I am at this time, please know that I'm working with my team to understand what has occurred and how to resolve this situation as quickly as possible.
"Out of fairness and respect to the rest of my division, I've informed the UFC that I'll be voluntarily relinquishing my title while I deal with this matter. I want to thank all of you in advance for the support."
Prior to his failed drug test, Dillashaw was generally regarded as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the UFC. He captured the UFC bantamweight title in spectacular fashion with a superb stoppage win over Renan Barao, then cemented his position at the top of the 135lb division with back-to-back stoppage wins against Joe Soto and Barao in a rematch.
He lost his belt to Dominick Cruz in January 2016, but rebounded to reclaim the title a year later with a knockout win over former Team Alpha Male teammate Cody Garbrandt.
Interestingly, before that fight Garbrandt suggested that Dillashaw was taking performance-enhancing drugs, and had even shown his former teammates at Team Alpha Male how to escape the testers.
Now Dillashaw faces a lengthy spell away from the sport having relinquished his world title and been slapped with a two-year USADA suspension.
"We all know the pressures to win at all levels of all sport are real and intense," said USADA CEO Travis Tygart.
"It is exactly why strong anti-doping efforts are necessary to protect clean athletes’ rights, health, and safety, and to ensure that those who do succumb to these pressures and decide to break the rules will be held accountable in a real and meaningful way, as in this case."
"YOU HAVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING"
One man who knows all about EPO and its application in sports doping is the UFC's vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky, who was one of the central figures who uncovered Lance Armstrong's anti-doping programme during his cycling heyday.
Speaking to ESPN, Novitzky explained why Dillashaw's failed test for EPO was particularly damning for the fighter.
"I'm quite familiar with EPO from my days investigating professional cycling teams," he explained.
"It's a very effective substance. It's not a substance you find in contaminated supplements, it's injectable only. You have to know what you're doing when it enters your system.
"On a scale of seriousness in anti-doping, it's up near the top."