"If you're not cheating, you're not trying". Many times has this dubious quote been voiced in the history of the sport. It echoed through the MMA world a decade ago at UFC 73, when Tito Ortiz was interviewed after his bout with undefeated rising star Rashad Evans.
It was a fight The Huntington Beach Bad Boy took on 2 weeks' notice and would've still won if he hadn't grabbed the cage to stop a takedown in the second round. Ortiz, who was ahead on the scorecards, was docked a point and a 3rd round scramble from Evans would prove enough to eke out a draw.
None who follow the sport are strangers to seeing fighters grabbing the fence to avoid being taken down; it is out of pure instinct and to a certain extent, forgivable. It could be said that Tito Ortiz paid a price too high for his misstep, but what about others whose offences are more detestable? Those who took Ortiz's words to heart in a more twisted sense?
One of the biggest blights thriving in sport's underbelly is performance enhancing drugs. They are the inextricable and pernicious yin to sport's yang. In many instances, they both propel fighters to breathtaking heights and bring them down, flaming wrecks. Other than life-threatening injuries, there are very few things that can cripple a fighter's career like doping violations. Everything they've accomplished becomes smeared - wins are overturned, belts are stripped, their bank accounts lose a pound of flesh and their memory becomes disreputable.
But even when it comes to such grave offences, there exist provisions that grant fighters second chances. Here, we take a look at MMA's most infamous cases of fighters who repeatedly failed drug tests and stained their legacies:
#5. Chael Sonnen
One MMA website called Sonnen, arguably "the greatest trash-talker since Muhammad Ali", and it wasn't really an exaggeration. The standout college wrestler's first stint in the UFC (2005-06) was forgettable, but he really turned heads in his 2009 return, thanks mainly to his newfound dissing skills.
The American Gangster's hype train went steaming into his first Middleweight title bout with the legendary Anderson Silva. For four relentless rounds, Sonnen showed that he was more walk than talk as he hounded the hapless champion. Dispirited fans of The Spider thought they were witnessing the end of his reign - until he pulled off one the greatest comebacks in the history of the sport, submitting Sonnen with a triangle choke in the last round.
The epic battle, which earned FOTN and FOTY honours, was so close that a rematch was pencilled in, only to be cancelled because Sonnen failed the post-fight drug test. Urinalysis showed Sonnen had 16 times the normal amount of testosterone in a male and 4 times the upper limit stipulated by testing agencies. Sonnen was suspended for a year and fined $2500.
After his suspension ended, Sonnen beat Mark Munoz and Michael Bisping but came up short in back-to-back title shots against Anderson Silva and Jon Jones. His popularity was at an all-time high when he went into his bout with Jones and the UFC looked to ride that wave by pitting him opposite Wanderlei Silva as a coach on TUF: Brazil 3. The much-anticipated bout at UFC 175 with The Axe Murderer would never materialize, as Sonnen tested positive for 4 banned substances.
In the wake of the controversy, Sonnen would announce his retirement from MMA and have his services as an analyst for UFC and Fox Sports terminated. He would make a lukewarm return after a 2-year suspension against Tito Ortiz at Bellator 170, itself a freakshow fight that drew suspicions of being fixed. His long-overdue fight with Wanderlei Silva finally took place under the Bellator banner, which he won via UD. He is slated to face Rampage Jackson in the outfit's 2018 Heavyweight Grand Prix - if he doesn't test positive again.