T.J. Dillashaw faced a stiff penalty for his use of performance-enhancing drugs and he believes the punishment will leave a lasting legacy in MMA.
This Saturday at UFC Vegas 31, Dillashaw headlines opposite fellow bantamweight contender Cory Sandhagen. It will be the first fight since January 2019 for the two-time UFC champion, a result of Dillashaw receiving a two-year suspension from USADA after he tested positive for recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO).
Following his initial positive test, Dillashaw released a statement in April 2019 addressing his failed drug screening in which he stated simply, “I messed up.” This past weekend, in an interview on Brendan Schaub’s Food Truck Diaries, Dillashaw claimed that he has been the subject of extensive scrutiny from USADA ever since, including the retesting of all of his samples from fights dating as far back as a July 2016 encounter with Raphael Assuncao.
“People can go and say whatever they want and more power to them, that’s the decision I made, but USADA actually put me under a microscope after I got in trouble,” Dillashaw said. “They went back to all of my fights they’ve ever collected my samples and retested all of them, all the way back to my Assuncao fight after [Dominick] Cruz because they keep an A and B sample every time you get tested.
“No matter what, it’s going to be [that] I made the mistake,” Dillashaw continued. “That’s like USADA’s weapon, is using it against you, to really slander you so that no one else wants to do this sh*t. So those questions are valid because I f*cked up. I made the decision. But me being able to live with that, me owning up to it, has made it f*cking easy. If I would have been hiding from it, creating excuses, I’d be hiding some some sort of excuse, be hiding some sort of thing I did.”
Regarding Dillashaw’s claim that the USADA has retested his past samples, MMA Fighting reached out to the UFC’s official drug testing partner, but did not receive a response as of the time of this publication.
Back when Dillashaw’s positive drug test first came to light in April 2019, a USADA spokesperson had this to say about past samples being retested:
“As a part of our investigation for all positives, we review an athlete’s prior test history. When it’s potentially relevant, we may request special analysis for those samples. Here, following our review, we conducted further analysis on his sample collected on December 28, 2018 and it also revealed the presence of EPO.”
Dillashaw relinquished the UFC bantamweight title at the time of his suspension, following a failed attempt to drop down to 125 pounds and challenge flyweight champion Henry Cejudo. The positive drug test came from a sample from pre- and post-fight tests surrounding that fight.
Thirty months later, Dillashaw finds himself right back in the title picture as he takes on Sandhagen, who has lost just once in eight UFC appearances. Dillashaw thinks that no matter who wins on Saturday, they have a stronger claim to the UFC bantamweight title than current champion Aljamain Sterling following Sterling’s disqualification victory over Petr Yan at UFC 259.
“This is the real title fight. I think the fight between me and Cory is the real title fight,” Dillashaw said. “Watching Aljamain and Petr fight, I wasn’t very impressed. I know Aljamain beat Cory but I wasn’t impressed with his last performance.
“So I think this is the real title fight here, I get to come out and prove myself on it. There’s some pressure, for sure. I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself anyways no matter what fight it is. That’s kind of the way that I’ve gotten to the top, because if you ain’t scared going into a fight, you’re not ready.”
Dillashaw says he made the most of his time away from competition, becoming a franchise partner with the “Clean Juice” juice bar and spending more time with his young son. His work outside of the UFC has provided him with financial security that has made him less concerned about fighting from paycheck to paycheck.
“I’m coming back, I’m getting my belt back, I got goals and sh*t like that, but to be honest, life after fighting’s great if you do it the right way,” Dillashaw said. “Set myself up right, being smart about it.
“But I actually don’t have to fight for a paycheck now, which is nice,” he added. “I’m making more money outside the cage than I was getting paid while I was fighting. So it’s nice to not have that going into a fight, ‘You need to win, you’ve got to get to the next big fight, I gotta get that paycheck.’ … Now I just do it ‘cause I want to.”
Dillashaw reiterated that he is glad he released his statement when he did as he feels the consequences of his actions would have been even worse if he’d stayed silent about the failed drug test. And he’s definitely not buying into the idea that the use of PEDs are what made him a champion.
“If I thought I got somewhere because of PEDs, I wouldn’t be calling out Cory Sandhagen,” Dillashaw said. “I wouldn’t be asking for someone in the top 5. I wouldn’t be knowing that I’m getting my belt back. I’m going to be a f*cking animal when I get back in there. So I’m not worried about anything except for getting out there and having fun.”