Tom Lawlor is someone who likes to talk and make people laugh, even if it's often joking about his own misfortune.
But his last four months have been no laughing matter. He tested positive for a low level of ostarine, a banned performance-enhancing substance that is part of the SARMs family (selective androgen receptor modulator). He said he had only heard of ostarine because he was aware of the Tim Means case. Means had tested positive, but after he was able to provide evidence of a tainted supplement, his suspension was cut to six months.
Officially, it was announced on Friday that Lawlor had agreed to a two-year suspension, through Oct. 9, 2018. It was a finality he'd been expecting for four months. He also feels there's a good chance his career as a fighter may be over due to the suspension.
The frustration was such that when he had his B sample tested in November, he drove from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, a four-hour trip, to watch every step of the process. He described it as slowly watching his career fade away.
In a sense the result, if you believe him, was the absolute cruelest irony.
Lawlor had long been, and still is, very outspoken in favor of drug testing and a zero-tolerance policy in the sport. He knew full well about issues with tainted supplements, to the point he had stopped taking all supplements about 18 months ago.
Even now, while he believes announcements of fighters being suspended should at least wait for the "B" sample results to come in, he said what he's going through is necessary in the big picture for the good of the sport.
"I have creatine at my house that I haven't used in a year-and-a-half," he said. "I last used it before the Gian Villante fight (on July 25, 2015) and it's WADA approved."
He was tested out-of-competition on Oct. 10, and thought nothing of it until on Nov. 3 he got word he had tested positive for ostarine. He noted that it couldn't be a tainted supplement since he wasn't taking any supplements.
"I've been outspoken against PEDs and I still will be," he said.
"I spent some nights in the backyard, in the dark, crying, sitting there with my head in my hand staring off into space thinking about the entire thing," Lawlor said. "All the work I'd put in was gone, in my mind. I'd been so vocal about the whole thing in the past."
But the worst came a few weeks later.
USADA scientists and UFC officials told him it was likely something in the seven days before the test that he ingested that had that contained the ostarine.
"USADA scientists told me to focus on the week before October 10th," he said to Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour this week. "The day before (the test), I remember, it was my son's first birthday. I could retrace the entire day. There wasn't one thing abnormal that I consumed, unless you consider a birthday cake, that I don't normally eat."
The only other things he could think of were a sip of a coffee supplement that he took at the gym, and remembered going to a Jamba Juice and a Tropical Smoothie Cafe as well as drinking a Monster Energy drink. He was told that the coffee was a possibility, and it was tested for him. He was told the others probably weren't the culprit.
He was able to get two batches of Angry Joe Cold Brew supplement infused coffee. In talking with Jeff Novitzky, the UFC's vice president of athlete health and performance, the guy hired to clean up the PED issues in the company, Novitzky told him that may have been the answer to the question.
He said Novitzky, who one would think would be his adversary, was actually the single most helpful person to him, saying Novitzky told him outright that he will believe him and work with him as long as he didn't lie to him.
But Novitzky's thinking that the coffee drink could be the answer proved not to be the case. The test on both batches came back negative for any contaminants on Nov. 21.
Without any evidence of what triggered the positive test, he was resigned that the only outcome was going to be a two-year suspension.
"The worst part was getting the B sample tested knowing it's more than likely coming back the same,” Lawlor said. “Right before I was going to leave to go to Los Angeles (where he was headed to oversee the entire process of his sample being tested), I'd been waiting on the results on the Angry Joe Coffee and the results were negative. The nice four-hour drive to Los Angeles felt like I was driving to my own funeral."
Lawlor drove there and found out almost nobody actually goes to the lab and watches their sample being tested. He said those involved with the test came back sympathizing with him, but the result was what he expected, knowing how rare it is when the B sample results are different from the original results.
"The scientists take the urine out of the freezer, defrost it for 45 minutes, come back and put it in a machine that spins it through,” Lawlor said. “The liquid turns into a dust. They put it through another machine, and extract something from that. I sat there for six or seven hours that day watching the whole thing. There was a check-in sheet and looking at the date in the head, I was the second or third guest that year, maybe even the first."
While he realizes there will be some people who will back him because they are fans, and some who will believe he's guilty because he failed a test, he insists he didn't knowingly ingest anything, and it would be stupid to do so.
"It's crazy," he said. "Why would you risk a suspension for such a small amount of anything? It doesn't make sense if you logically think about the situation from my standpoint. I still don't take supplements. The most frustrating thing is I'm not against the drug-testing policy. I'm for it. It's the best thing for the sport. If you want to have a major league sport, you have to have drug testing."
Lawlor had missed 27 months from 2013 to 2015 due to knee surgery and more recently had issues with a concussion. At 33, he already thought he wasn't going to fight much longer, and with two years out, considers it unlikely he'll fight again.
On the flip side, he lost a close fight to Corey Anderson after beating Villante. Anderson has gone on to a high-profile fight with Shogun Rua and next faces Jimi Manuwa in a main event in England. With a little bit of luck in the judging department, that could have been him.
"I doubt I'll come back," he said. "What's the point? If you look at it logically, realistically, I'll be 35 years old. That doesn't sound old, but I've put a lot of miles on my body. My first fight was in 2003. I did pro wrestling. I did amateur wrestling. It's been 20 years of my body going through combat sports. Some days I feel great at almost 34, but some days I don't feel great. What's the point of me training for two years if it's not going to result in a fight. I've got two kids, and I'm planning a wedding. I've got a life to live."
Lawlor's girlfriend actually proposed to him on a sign a few weeks ago when they were at a WWE event in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena.
There is the possibility of asking for his release and fighting in Japan, where MMA isn't regulated, for Rizin. Both Mirko Cro Cop and Wanderlei Silva were suspended. Cro Cop for admitting use of human growth hormone right before he was being tested, and Silva for running away from a test, released by UFC and was then signed by Rizin. Cro Cop fought and won Rizin’s 2016 tournament in December. Silva was supposed to face Cro Cop, but he pulled out due to an injury and hasn't fought since leaving UFC.
But both of those fighters were major superstars during the Pride era, and Lawlor is not a name star at anywhere near that level in Japan.
His suspension is not just from fighting, but he's also not allowed to corner fighters, which he had been doing regularly, which cuts off another income source.
If he's not released and can't fight for two years, he's considered pro wrestling as an option. When he was in high school, his goal wasn't the UFC or for that matter, the WWE. He was looking at going to Japan, fighting in Pride while also doing pro wrestling in Japan at the same time.
He had done pro wrestling in the past. He had a WWE tryout at one point, but wasn't signed, and ended up doing MMA, being cast on the winter 2008 season of The Ultimate Fighter. He was signed after that season and has been with the promotion ever since.
He said another option would be to follow in the footsteps of former UFC fighters Matt Riddle and Shayna Baszler, who are now pro wrestlers doing independent shows. Riddle has become one of the most talked about pro wrestlers on the independent circuit and was pro wrestling's 2016 rookie of the year. Baszler has also done well, and this past week headlined at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo against Io Shirai for the championship of the Stardom promotion. Shirai is considered by many as the top woman pro wrestler in the world right now.
Lawlor did his first pro wrestling match in nine years this past Saturday night for the Future Stars of Wrestling promotion, that runs in Las Vegas.
"I don't know that WWE is the end goal," he said. "I don't think that was ever my end goal. The UFC schedule is great. The WWE schedule doesn't sound good. The NXT (WWE developmental program) schedule sounds great, but that's a $50,000-a-year job. I've been taking it one day at a time. The goal is to follow the path that Matt Riddle has walked with no shoes. I'm looking to blaze through that path right past him."
"I've spoken to a number of organizations," he said. "Ring of Honor (a promotion he had a brief involvement with before UFC told him not to continue based on his UFC contract banning participating in pro wrestling) hasn't shown much if any interest. The same with TNA. I assume a lot of people are waiting to see how serious I would be in this situation."