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5 fighters who were expected to be clean but weren't

Scott Newman
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The fight against PED use in MMA has always been a long and tricky one, and ever since the UFC introduced their USADA-driven anti-doping programme, it’s always hard to tell whether the athletes we’re watching are really competing drug-free.

The so-called ‘eye test’ is never the best way of working out whether a fighter is on PEDs, although in the past, we’ve seen fighters with highly suspicious physiques – naming no names – unsurprisingly test positive. But on other occasions, the guilty parties have been a major shock – sometimes that’s because they don’t look like they’re on PEDs, and other times it’s because as fans, we expected better of them.

Here are five fighters who everyone thought were clean, but turned out not to be.

#5 Tim Sylvia

Despite not looking like a steroid user, Tim Sylvia tested positive in 2003
Despite not looking like a steroid user, Tim Sylvia tested positive in 2003

When you think of anabolic steroids, you think of an inflated physique that would more likely be seen inside the rings of WWE or on the unregulated bodybuilding circuit. You know the stereotype – ripped abs on a bulging stomach, veins protruding everywhere, a seemingly non-existent neck, and so on.

There have been fighters who looked that way – some of whom were indeed on steroids – but in 2003, Tim Sylvia wasn’t one of them.

Standing at 6’8” and tipping the scales just under the 265lbs limit for the UFC’s Heavyweight division, Sylvia looked more awkward than anything else, but his slightly flabby physique masked a remarkably powerful punch, and he used that to win the Heavyweight title from Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 41.

A title defense came at UFC 44 with a knockout of Gan McGee, but following the fight, Sylvia tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol, commonly known as Winstrol.

Everyone was surprised, largely because visually at least, Sylvia just didn’t look like he’d ever touched a weight in his life, let alone taken steroids. ‘The Maine-iac’ had a logical – and frank – explanation, however.


He admitted to using the drug and said he hadn’t taken it to improve his fighting skills, but to improve his physique to make him more marketable. The Nevada State Athletic Commission wasn’t impressed with his candidness though and slapped him with a six-month suspension.

While he never managed to gain the ripped abs he was looking for, upon his return, he never tested positive again at least.

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