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5 UFC fighters who tested positive for PEDs and came clean about it

Former UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw has never been afraid to discuss his use of EPO
Former UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw has never been afraid to discuss his use of EPO
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Scott Newman

Performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) have long been a problem in the UFC, with countless numbers of fighters, including UFC champions, testing positive for them over the years.

Usually, when a UFC fighter tests positive for performance enhancing drugs, they deny it and give a myriad of excuses. But a handful of fighters have instead come clean.

Telling the truth about their PED use often doesn’t mean that these fighters receive any more sympathy or respect from UFC fans, but it does give them slightly more credibility than those who choose to deny it.

So with this in mind, here are five UFC fighters who used performance enhancing drugs and came clean about it.


#5 T.J. Dillashaw (former UFC bantamweight champion)

T.J. Dillashaw was banned for two years following a positive drug test in 2019
T.J. Dillashaw was banned for two years following a positive drug test in 2019

One of the most infamous cases of a fighter testing positive for performance enhancing drugs in recent years was former UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw. He was suspended by USADA in early 2019 following a positive test for the banned substance EPO, and was subsequently stripped of his UFC bantamweight title.

Interestingly, Dillashaw was a fighter who’d been accused of PED usage on numerous occasions over the years leading up to his drug test failure, in particular by bitter rival Cody Garbrandt during their feud in 2017 and 2018.

Unlike other fighters who’d tested positive for drugs and denied it, Dillashaw was always open and honest about his use of EPO.

Following his suspension, the former UFC champ admitted that he’d used EPO to help with the grueling weight cut that he put his body through in order to make the 125-pound flyweight limit for his January 2019 clash with Henry Cejudo.

Dillashaw stated that he used the substance to combat the early signs of anemia that were beginning to show during his weight cut, stating that he probably couldn’t have taken the fight otherwise.

“I’m not mad I did it, because I don’t think I could have taken the fight. I’m obviously going to own up that I cheated and got caught. And it’s a rough one. It’s hard not to hate yourself a little bit. I don’t know.”

The former UFC champion is now set to return this weekend against Cory Sandhagen following his two-year absence, and given that USADA have been testing him stringently leading into the fight, it would appear that he’s now clean.

Dillashaw clearly made a major error in using EPO, but plenty of people, including former UFC middleweight champ Michael Bisping, have stated that they respect him more for coming clean on the issue.

#4 Tim Sylvia (former UFC heavyweight champion)

Tim Sylvia admitted that he used anabolic steroids to improve his physique in 2003
Tim Sylvia admitted that he used anabolic steroids to improve his physique in 2003

Back in the early 2000’s, performance enhancing drugs were supposedly rife in the world of MMA, but due to the limited testing system at the time, very few UFC fighters actually tested positive for them. However, a handful still fell foul and wound up in serious trouble.

One of the unlucky few to find himself in hot water for his PED usage was then-UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia. ‘The Maine-iac’ won his title from Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 41 in early 2003, and then defended it successfully against Gan McGee later that year.

However, Sylvia failed his post-fight drug test, testing positive for a banned anabolic steroid called stanozolol. It was the same drug that sprinter Ben Johnson had tested positive for at the 1988 Olympics.

Rather than deny it or attempt to blame a “contaminated supplement”, Sylvia instantly came clean about what he’d done. In an interview just weeks after the positive test was revealed, ‘The Maine-iac’ fronted up and explained why he’d used the substance.

"I decided to try some things and maybe change my physique a little bit and get in better shape. But whatever I used, it came back positive."

Sylvia was surprisingly candid, stating that he’d used the drug to improve his physique, and that he fully expected it to be out of his system by the time his fight with McGee came around.

But Sylvia’s honest nature couldn’t save him from being stripped of his UFC title and suspended. Incredibly, the substance hadn’t actually left Sylvia’s system by the time the suspension ended, resulting in the cancelation of his next fight as well.


#3 Kimo Leopoldo

UFC legend Kimo Leopoldo admitted to using performance enhancers for his 2004 clash with Ken Shamrock
UFC legend Kimo Leopoldo admitted to using performance enhancers for his 2004 clash with Ken Shamrock

One of the stars of the UFC’s early years, Kimo Leopoldo became as well-known for his imposing physique (he looked like a star villain from a 1980’s Jean-Claude van Damme flick) as he did for his fighting skills inside the octagon.

But after losses to the likes of Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock, Kimo departed the UFC in 1996. And so when he suddenly returned in 2003 and defeated Tank Abbott, he took plenty of UFC fans by surprise.

Perhaps most surprising was the fact that despite being 36 years old, Leopoldo still had his trademark intimidating physique. Plenty of fans smelt a rat, and so when Kimo then fought Ken Shamrock and tested positive for a banned anabolic steroid after his loss, few eyebrows were raised.

For his part, Kimo was quite happy to come clean about his use of performance enhancing drugs after he’d been suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

The Hawaiian stated that he used the steroid stanozolol to attempt to gain extra strength for the fight, and didn’t realize he’d actually be tested.

"I did do some Winstrol in that fight, but at that time it was so early that I didn’t know I was going to be tested."

Unfortunately, the incident wasn’t Kimo’s last brush with PEDs. Despite being fined $5k and being suspended for six months, the Hawaiian failed another drug test for the same substance prior to a planned fight in the WFA promotion in 2006, and was promptly pulled from the event.

#2 Stephan Bonnar

Stephan Bonnar stated he only used steroids when he didn't expect to be fighting in the UFC again
Stephan Bonnar stated he only used steroids when he didn't expect to be fighting in the UFC again

Despite never holding a UFC title, Stephan Bonnar will forever be seen as a UFC legend thanks to his epic 2005 clash with Forrest Griffin at the TUF 1 finale. Sadly, ‘The American Psycho’ saw his UFC career end under difficult circumstances in 2012.

Offered a late-notice fight with then-UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva in the main event of UFC 153, Bonnar accepted the booking, seeing it as a huge opportunity.

Unfortunately, in Bonnar’s own words, the whole thing “completely blew up in his face” when not only did he suffer a loss via TKO, but he also tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid drostanolone in the post-fight drug test.

Following the incident, which effectively ended his UFC career as he never fought in the octagon again, Bonnar was open about the circumstances that led to him using the banned substance.

" I'm going to do a cycle of steroids. My goal, to get big and strong. Don't have to worry about my cardio, don't have to worry about making weight, don't have to worry about getting drug tested. So that's what I did. I never thought I had to fight again."

The former TUF star explained that he decided to complete a cycle of steroids to help him build back up following a string of injuries, and never expected to fight at that point anyway, as he’d been on the shelf for a year at that stage.

The explanation did make sense, and it was also impressive to see a fighter confess to his error so candidly, when others would’ve flat out denied the offense.


#1 Chael Sonnen

Chael Sonnen was never anything but open and honest about his use of performance enhancing drugs
Chael Sonnen was never anything but open and honest about his use of performance enhancing drugs

Former UFC middleweight title challenger Chael Sonnen is arguably the most infamous user of performance enhancing drugs in the history of the promotion. ‘The American Gangster’ failed two drug tests during his time with the UFC, once in 2010 and once in 2014.

On both occasions, Sonnen was more than happy to frankly confess to his wrongdoing, although he always steadfastly refused to call himself an outright cheat.

Sonnen was initially flagged for abnormal testosterone to epitestosterone levels in 2010 following his loss to Anderson Silva in an epic UFC middleweight title fight at UFC 117.

And while he freely admitted to using synthetic testosterone, he also claimed that he’d done so due to a prescription for testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) that he simply hadn’t informed the California State Athletic Commission about.

In Sonnen’s words, he “took testosterone that was perfectly legal,” and claimed he’d “followed all the rules as (he) understood them.”

‘The American Gangster’ was hit with a one-year suspension for the infraction, but that didn’t stop him from once again testing positive for PEDs in 2014. This time, he was flagged for using a cocktail of substances that included human growth hormone (HGH) and EPO.

Once again, Sonnen was happy to hold his hands up to his mistake. Again, he claimed that the substances he’d used weren’t illegal and weren’t steroids – but stated that he understood that they were banned and thus he shouldn’t have touched them.

“First off, none of them were illegal, and none of them were steroids, but I've never offered a defense. I turned in my prescriptions. I got this from the doctor, this is valid stuff, but these are still against the rules. I knew it. I didn't think I'd be tested for another 44 days. I tried to game the system.”

However, Sonnen’s candor was not enough to rescue him from a lengthy two-year suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission, and it couldn’t rescue his UFC career either, as the promotion terminated his contract shortly after.

Edited by Harvey Leonard
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