LAS VEGAS — Curtis Blaydes should be 2-1 in the UFC, at least according to USADA guidelines.
In a division badly lacking new blood, the 26-year-old heavyweight established himself as a prospect to watch earlier this year when he scored two brutal victories over Cody East and Adam Milstead over a four-month span. The victory over Milstead, in particular, was vicious — Blaydes, a former collegiate wrestler, rag-dolled Milstead around the canvas at UFC Fight Night 104 in Houston before badly injuring Milstead’s right leg to earn a second-round TKO.
But less than two months later, that performance vanished into thin air.
Due to drug testing standards deemed outdated by nearly every major state commission except Texas, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) ruled that Blaydes, along with Niko Price and Abel Trujillo, tested positive for marijuana in-competition at the event. The TDLR fined the trio $1,000 each and overturned the wins of both Blaydes and Price into no contests, despite the fact that all three fighters did not actually violate any rules or regulations of USADA’s, the UFC’s official anti-doping partner.
“I was shocked,” Blaydes told MMA Fighting on Thursday at UFC 213 media day.
“I made a mistake, but in my eyes, I feel like USADA is the only commission I should have to honor, and that’s the one I did honor. I didn’t fail their test. I feel like that’s the only thing that should count, but it is what it is. I did fail the Texas commission test, so I will take whatever the punishment is, even though I don’t agree with the punishment. But that’s what it is, they’re going to take away the win. I still know I won the fight. There’s video. Everyone else knows I won the fight. It’s not controversial, like the Kevin Lee and Chiesa fight. It’s nothing like that, so I’m over it.”
The situation was the latest example of the varying rules that fighters must navigate depending on what state or jurisdiction they compete within.
USADA punishes fighters only for marijuana if their drug test comes back higher than 150 ng/ml of the substance’s metabolites. That rule is lifted straight from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code, a set of global guidelines used by nearly every major drug testing entity, including the International Olympic Committee. In 2013, the Nevada Athletic Commission raised its marijuana thresholds from 50 ng/mL to 150 ng/mL to match WADA code. A majority of states have since followed suit, and earlier this year, Nevada discussed removing marijuana from its banned substance list altogether.
The rules in Texas, however, are much murkier — and the thresholds are much, much lower. The TDLR flags a sample higher than 15 ng/mL as a positive test, a standard 10 times more restrictive than WADA code, leading to positive in-competition marijuana tests that would be nothing in most other major jurisdictions.
“I think it’s a bunch of old, mean guys at the top,” Blaydes said.” “Like with baseball, how they don’t want to get rid of a lot of their traditions, like the designated hitter and all of that stuff, I feel like it’s like that. They’re just holding on to it for dear life, but eventually you have to get with the movement, so they will.
“It’s an old rule. It’s archaic. It’s just not very smart. I live in Denver, so things are different in Denver, and things are different here now (in Las Vegas). I just found out that they legalized marijuana here, I didn’t even know that. I just found out, so everyone else, it feels like they’re more forward thinking, they’re changing and evolving their rules, and I feel like Texas isn’t. They’re probably the last ones to get with it. They’ll get with it eventually, so it’s not a big deal to me. It won’t happen again, I promise you that.”
Because the ruling came from the TDLR itself, and not USADA, Blaydes said he found out about his situation at the same time the rest of the world did, through social media, which only further frustrated the heavyweight prospect.
Considering the recent controversy over the TLDR’s bungling of UFC strawweight Cortney Casey’s case, and the two different versions of the Unified Rules of MMA that now exist between states, commission issues seem to be popping up with increasing regularity in 2017. And Blaydes isn’t alone in thinking things would be a lot less confusing if there were simply one uniform set of standards held throughout the country, rather than shifting rules that change depending on where you fight.
“Yeah, right?” Blaydes said. “But those are the rules. Every state is different. So it’s up to me to take the time and do my due diligence and research, like, what are the rules here? What are the rules here? That’s up to me. I didn’t do that last time, I got bit in the butt for it. So that’s a painful reminder, but it is a reminder and it won’t happen again.”
Luckily for Blaydes, the UFC doesn’t seem to be worrying about what the TLDR thinks.
Once Blaydes’ 90-day suspension expired, the promotion instantly booked the young prospect in a match-up against top-15 ranked heavyweight Daniel Omielanczuk that landed on UFC 213’s pay-per-view main card, almost as if the Milstead win counted after all.
“That’s how it feels and I’m happy,” Blaydes said. “I’m happy they didn’t hold it against me and in a negative light, because I feel like I’m not a bad person. If you ask anybody, I’m not a drug addict, I’m not anything. I go to practice every day, three times a day. I’m pretty healthy. So I’m happy they gave me another opportunity to perform under the biggest lights yet.”
The fight is a big one for Blaydes, whose lone career loss came at the hands of blue-chip prospect-turned-contender Francis Ngannou in his UFC debut. And considering his youth compared to the rest of his heavyweight division-mates, Blaydes knows there is opportunity aplenty in the lands of the giants.
“In five years, I’m going to be real good,” Blaydes said. “And who’s going to be around in five years? Probably not a lot of these guys. That’s just what it is. No one defeats Father Time, he always wins. Werdum, he’s 39. Hunt, Barnett, Arlovski. Even Cain, he’s not old, but he has an older body. I feel like he’s been in a lot of wars. He is a warrior and he’s been through a lot of wars, so he’s up there also like a lot of these guys.
“Five years from now, when I’m hitting my physical prime — I call it grown man strength — when I get my grown man strength, a lot of these guys are going to be retired and who’s going to be around? I don’t know, but I will be. I feel like when I’m at my peak, I should be at the top.”
As for the TLDR, given what happened to Casey and his own case, Blaydes admitted that Texas will likely be a destination he avoids in the future unless an opportunity is too good to pass up.
“It depends,” Blaydes said. “If it was like this, main card of UFC 213, yeah, I’m not going to say no to that. But if it was like a Fight Night or something, probably not.”