MCGRATH: You can’t spell ‘dope’ without EPO

By David McGrath, MMATORCH contributor

T.J. Dillashaw (photo credit Bob DeChiara © USA Today Sports)

I caught myself dreaming on it a little bit too. Max Holloway was ringside in Brooklyn. It was the debut of the UFC on ESPN. The once niche sport had gone Broadway, literally. Holloway was interested in the main event. T.J. Dillashaw was dropping down to 125 pounds to face flyweight king and former Olympian Henry Cejudo. The smart money was on the virtuous Dillashaw to become a two weight division champion. Dillashaw was coming off two impressive victories over his arch nemesis and former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt.

Cejudo was coming off a razor-thin contested decision over Demetrious Johnson and had never once defended his crown. Holloway was ringside for one reason, to meet his next challenger in the octagon and get the promotion started. The newly crowned champ-champ was gonna call out the incredible Holloway and set up a featherweight title match-up that would give Dillashaw a chance to be the first ever three-division champion.

Cejudo killed those plans fast. As fast as say 30 seconds. Cejudo knocked Dillashaw out and Holloway stayed glued to his seat. Cejudo celebrated and the rest is history. This story is important today for one reason: Dillashaw,  just four months removed from possibly meeting Holloway with the shot to be the first triple champion was banned from the sport today for two years. The fall from grace is really astounding. Dillashaw was a respected, perennial top 5 mixed martial artist. Now, he is a dirty cheater banished from the sport until January 2021.

The collective MMA world probably almost crashed Google today when the news dropped that Dillashaw popped hot for EPO. I know I had to run to Google myself to brush up on it. EPO, in a nutshell, does not help recovery or make you muscular. Most like myself, assumed that Dillashaw who had to cut down to 125 pounds most likely failed for a diarrhetic. EPO is so tricky it actually takes a special test to catch it. The function of EPO is all about stamina and endurance. It stimulates your red blood cells. It is the same drug that cyclists failed for in the big scandal that brought down Lance Armstrong in the biggest anti-doping case in history.


Dillashaw failed a post-fight test and according to Brett Okamoto of ESPN, the United States Anti Doping Agency went back and analyzed a sample submitted on Dec. 28, 2018. That sample too came back positive for EPO. Dillashaw was dirty before and after his fight with Henry Cejudo. What a fall from grace. Just four months ago Dillashaw was tapped as the headliner of the first ever main event on the UFC’s debut on ESPN. He was a consensus top 5 pound-for-pound fighter and was staring down the barrel of a mega-money fight that would have put him in a club of one had he been able to pull off the win. Now, all we have is a very complicated legacy and a failure for the dirtiest type of doping an athlete can do. Dillashaw is now in a club of two, he now joins Jon Jones in the club of elite level champions who have the most complicated and sordid pasts with drug failures. Jones is a good comparison, sure many fighters have failed drug tests and gotten long bans but none with the resume of Jones and Dillashaw. Now like Jones, we have to question everything that Dillashaw has ever done, it’s a natural and reasonable question. Welcome to the club T.J. We will see you in 2021.

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