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After being cleared by USADA, Cris Cyborg talks lingering perceptions and dealing with ‘haters’

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UFC 198 Weigh-ins Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Just two days after Germaine de Randamie’s unanimous decision victory over Holly Holm to win the inaugural 145-pound title at UFC 208, Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino — the juggernaut of the weight class in every promotion she’s been in — had her provisional suspension lifted by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for testing positive to a banned substance back in December.

After a two-month investigation, Justino was granted a retroactive therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for Spironolactone, a physician-prescribed diuretic. Though the drug is commonly taken to mask the use of steroids, it was determined that Justino was treating a “common endocrine disorder” by USADA, and was therefore granted the retroactive TUE.

Still, perception is everything in the fight game. And “Cyborg” had to endure a lot of presumptions and judgment while the investigation was being conducted.

For the last couple of months, Justino has seen her name smeared in the media and among fans for popping hot a second time to a banned substance. The first time she tested positive was in 2011, when she popped for stanozolol after a 16-second destruction of Hiroko Yamanaka in Strikeforce. That time she served a year suspension, but carried an asterisk with her from that moment forward.

Among the most vocal about her steroid associations was Ronda Rousey, the former bantamweight champion who was — for years — the dream fight for Cyborg in women’s MMA.

“Ronda before, she speaked so much about me, and she tried to ruin my name and speak a lot of things,” Cyborg said during an interview on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “And I think five years she was doing this, because she wanted to avoid fighting me. And she tried make bad my name and that there was no need to fight me. But everybody can now see the reality. She lost her two fights, and didn’t come back until after one year after the loss to Holly Holm.

“Obviously I’m going to have haters. Man, I got to say I love my haters because they challenge myself…it challenges me. It challenges me to be better. It challenges me to show who I am, and that I deserve to be who I am.”

Cyborg was cageside for de Randamie’s victory over Holm in Brooklyn, and even posed for a picture with the new featherweight champion afterwards. If the UFC was flying her out to watch the fight, there was reason to believe that she would soon be absolved of her predicament with the UFC’s third-party arbiters.

Throughout the USADA investigation, Cyborg said she remained confident that she would be cleared in the latest incident, as she knew her case was explicable. Still, she lost endorsement money and other opportunities.

“It was a tough time, but I knew I did nothing wrong, I had not cheated,” she told Ariel Helwani.

“I lost a lot of public appearances, I lost sponsors, during the two-month investigation. But I’m happy, everything’s great now, and I have to say thank you to my team, to my lawyer, thank you to Jeff Novitzy who works for UFC who helped me and my team go through everything in the process.”

Cyborg said that part of the problem with USADA’s process of dealing with a potential banned substance offender is that the red flag shows are flown before the public ahead of any actual investigation. In that way, a lot of people presume guilt over innocence, which then becomes injurious to the brand.

“People judge before,” Cyborg said. “The problem is that some media, they don’t know what’s going on. And a guy like Joe Rogan, who has six million followers [on Twitter], and these guys say I cheated and that I’m going to be banned for life, and then people believe that. People don’t wait to see the results, they judge.”

Asked what it felt like to get the call last Monday, telling her she’d been granted a TUE and was clear to fight again, she said it was relieving.

“I was really stressed about everything, because I did a mistake one time in my life, and then I learned a lot of things about this mistake,” she said. “And the one thing I learned the first time, just some people stay with you. This time, same thing. These are the people I really trust, who stay with me, and I appreciate everyone.”