MMA's 8 Most Disappointing Drug Test Failures
For years, mixed martial arts was the wild west. With no sanctioning or legitimate government body of any kind, it was a free for all, at least chemically speaking.
Steroid use among some of the sport's muscle-bound elite was assumed—likely for good reason. Those athletes had to clean up their acts when state regulators took over in places like Nevada and New Jersey.
Today, almost every athletic commission tests for a variety of drugs. In places where there is no commission, the UFC conducts their own internal testing. Fighters know the tests are coming—but some still risk months on the sidelines and thousands out of their purses to try to get an edge.
What follows isn't a list of all the drug test failures in MMA history. That slideshow would break even a web behemoth like Bleacher Report. For your consideration, instead of a comprehensive list, I present eight of the most disappointing drug test failures in MMA history.
Josh Barnett: A History of Failure Begins
Josh Barnett is such a charming guy. He's got a wicked sense of humor and really seems to enjoy life. On top of that, he's an amazing fighter. An expert grappler, he's not afraid to stand and trade with his opponent, to prove something to himself and his fans.
It's really a shame that Josh Barnett is the biggest cheat in the sport's history. We'll get to some of his other epic failures. The first, however, may have been worst.
At UFC 36 in 2002, Barnett took the world heavyweight title from Randy Couture. Unfortunately, he achieved his dream on a cocktail of three steroids. He was stripped of his title and left the UFC after denying all charges and even suggesting he was being set up.
Hidden from fans was an earlier, anonymous, test failure at UFC 34. Barnett's insistence on his own innocence, when he, the UFC and the commission all knew he had failed this previous private test, was the final insult. UFC President Dana White vowed never to use Barnett again in the UFC and has so far stuck to his word.
Kimo was the UFC's first outright homage to professional wrestling. A musclebound street fighter who came to the cage carrying a giant wooden cross? It was straight out of central casting—assuming you were casting a C movie starring Don "The Dragon" Wilson.
Kimo, in truth, didn't have much of an MMA career. He got a lot of mileage out of a close loss to Royce Gracie back at UFC 3. Beyond that? Well, he had a good look.
In 2004, it became clear how he achieved that look. Stanozolol, a steroid often associated with horse racing, pumped in his veins like a wildfire. He was suspended for six months by the Nevada commission.
Lessons, however, apparently went unlearned. Two years later, he was popped again. For the same drug. Oh, Kimo! You may be bad at timing your steroid cycles, but we still love you. At least you aren't really dead.
Whammy Times Two: The Nate Marquardt Story
Nate Marquardt hit the UFC with a double whammy at the first ever Ultimate Fight Night in 2005. This show was Dana White's dream come true. A regular showcase for his fighters on cable television? Just like the Friday Night Fights he had grown up with as a boxing fan?
White was in heaven. Until the main event. Nate Marquardt and Ivan Salaverry, specially selected to put on a great bout, stunk the joint up. Then Marquardt took the failure to a new level by failing a steroid test after the bout.
Maybe that's why, when he smelled smoke a second time, White was all too happy to cut Marquardt loose. Today, the fighter searches for a new fight promotion to call home.
Bas Rutten: King of Pain
When Kimo Leopoldo failed his second test for steroids, it was on the eve of what might have been an epic match with the returning Bas Rutten. A pioneer of the sport and former UFC champion, Rutten was making a comeback after more than seven years on the shelf. Kimo's steroid test threatened that and Rutten responded in a rage:
Every guy who uses steroids to fight is a f*cking p*ssy. For him to do this sh*t after all the promotion he did, all the sh*t he talked about me — taking me out in minutes and all that bullsh*t — apparently that was the steroids talking, right?
Rutten may have felt a little foolish after his fight, which ended up being against a warm body named Ruben "Warpath" Villareal, when he failed his own drug test for painkillers. Rutten has not fought again since.
Nick Diaz in a Fight He Coudn't Win
Nick Diaz versus Takanori Gomi. A win for the ages for Mr. Diaz.
Nick Diaz and Weed versus the Nevada State Athletic Commission and a Urinalysis. A loss even Diaz couldn't explain away.
No one will ever forget this amazing fight. But will it end up being relegated to the shadows, just another example of Diaz's instability? I don't actually think so. The surrounding turmoil only adds to its legend.
Royce Gracie: The Lost Failure
Royce Gracie is an enduring icon. Bigger than mixed martial arts, he's one of the most important martial artists of the last 200 years, a staggering achievement, but one he's earned in the field of combat.
Gracie's legacy is fueled by his underdog status. He was almost always the smaller man, winning because of his family's amazing martial arts system, not because of his own limited physical gifts.
So, what to make of Gracie's end of career steroid failure in California? It seems, after the initial shock had worn off, we all collectively decided to pretend it never happened. And you know what? I can live with that.
Two for the Price of One
UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk was stripped of his title, suspended and fined, after testing positive for Nandrolone in the immediate aftermath of his unanimous decision win over Hermes Franca at UFC 73.
But it was no moral victory for Franca. He failed too, earning a one-year suspension for Drostanolone. It was the ugliest night in UFC drug testing history.
Josh Barnett: The Sequel
This was MMA's most devastating and destructive drug test fiasco. Josh Barnett didn't just hurt himself when he failed a drug screening less than two weeks before his long awaited fight with the great Fedor Emelianenko. He hurt his opponent, the fans, the 22 other fighters on the card and the entire Affliction promotion.
Barnett's positive test for Drostanolone cost the promotion its main event. Days later, Affliction cancelled the entire show and pulled out of the MMA business as anything more than a clothing supplier.
“Finding an opponent for the number one-ranked MMA heavyweight champion in such a short period of time was a huge endeavor, and I’m thrilled at the amount of fighters willing to take on this challenge,” Affliction Entertainment Vice President Tom Atencio said in a news release. “But in the end, we just didn’t have enough time to promote a new fight to our standards.”