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T.J. Dillashaw seemed headed for greatness. Turns out, he was too good to be true.

UFC Fight Night Cejudo v Dillashaw Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

It took barely over three weeks from the time T.J. Dillashaw revealed he’d failed a post-fight drug test to his acceptance of the penalty, a two-year ban from competition. In the end, there was really nothing to contest, even after he initially told his fans in an Instagram post that “I’m working with my team to understand what has occurred.”

The thing is, the evidence shows that Dillashaw knew all along what had occurred: he was blatantly cheating. Not only did Dillashaw test positive for recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEPO) in a urine sample he provided on Jan. 18, 2019; USADA went back and retested a Dec. 28 sample. That, too, came back positive for the same substance. With that, it was checkmate.

EPO stimulates the production of red blood cells, which improves oxygen delivery from the lungs to working muscles, which allows you to work your body past normal points of stamina. It is a huge competitive advantage, one that could, say, allow you to keep blasting powerful combinations as your opponent begins to wilt from exhaustion. For Dillashaw, that was a specialty. He was a volume fighter who could crack all night.

Turns out, he was assisted for at least one night, maybe more. The EPO that Dillashaw tested positive for is synthetic; it’s injectable only. There is no chance it was mistakenly included in some store-bought supplement or gas-station pill. It was taken with purpose. It was taken to cheat.

Some fighters have tested positive but walk through the sport under a haze of confusion regarding their guilt, which cannot be totally, conclusively determined. Dillashaw will not be one of those. He is now and forever tainted.

It is a long fall from grace for a fighter who had unexpectedly surged from modest success as a collegiate wrestler at Cal State Fullerton to consideration as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on earth.

Heading into January’s UFC Brooklyn event, Dillashaw seemed poised to add a second UFC divisional championship to his already considerable resume. All he had to do was defeat the smaller Henry Cejudo to capture the flyweight championship and reach rarefied air.

He lost in stunningly swift fashion, and whatever aura remained is now washed away completely with the latest revelations. In one fell swoop, he went from potential double champion to knock-out victim, drug-test flunker, belt-relinquisher, and suspended fighter. He got hit with a three-piece and USADA. It is a devastating period that will define his legacy as much as the two title reigns.

Dillashaw had been accused of using PEDs before, including by former Team Alpha Male teammates Cody Garbrandt and Chris Holdsworth. Such accusations are not unusual, particularly from rivals, but these arrived with more bite given the past relationships in play. In one instance, Garbrandt specifically accused Dillashaw of taking EPO. Time after time, Dillashaw shrugged them off as the baseless allegations of haters.

Dillashaw has yet to publicly comment since accepting his two-year ban, but there is nothing much he can say to dig himself out of this one. His reputational damage is sealed. Still to be determined, though, is his athletic future. When his punishment is up, he will be just three weeks shy of his 35th birthday, an age at which few lighter weight fighters continue to excel. (For comparison, the average age of the bantamweight division’s top 15 fighters is 29.8 years old.) So this may well be more than just a temporary ban; it may be the end of Dillashaw as a divisional force.

That’s little solace to Garbrandt, who lost to DIllashaw twice in a nine-month stretch. On Tuesday, he suggested that USADA retest Dillashaw’s samples from those fights to ensure he was not using EPO at either time. It remains to be seen if USADA will take him up on the proposal, but you can see why he would want it. Without such retests, the black cloud will hang above all of Dillashaw’s accomplishments.

It has been alarming to see so many former greats get busted toward the end. Anderson Silva, Mirko Cro Cop, Wanderlei Silva, Royce Gracie — all of them have been in Dillashaw’s shoes after lighting up a drug test. And it often leaves the sport’s observers wondering if they should have been trusting their eyes when they were watching the greatness they seemed to produce.

Dillashaw was never that kind of celebrated legend, but after two bantamweight title reigns, his resume was growing to those kinds of heights.

That’s all over now. No one can erase the moments he created, from dismantling Renan Barao to stopping Garbrandt, but neither can he erase the huge asterisk that blots his record now and forever.

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