15 MMA Fighters Who've Hurt Their Careers with Failed Drug Tests
In the world of mixed martial arts, there is always hushed talk of fighters who are getting a little additional strength from the end of a needle.
With everyone from reigning champions to undercard fighters testing positive for banned substances these days, it is clearly time for something to change.
The pugilists who agree to take steroids are usually looking at the benefits of cheating. They tend to ignore what sits in front of them in the event that they are caught.
To any professional fighter out there, think of this article as your version of Scared Straight, because here is a look at some of the horror stories of MMA stars who have ruined their careers by using drugs.
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Fans will never know for sure what Thiago Silva was trying to hide heading into a UFC 125 bout with Brandon Vera.
That's because the Blackzilian fighter was able to avoid being tested by providing a false urine sample.
The NSAC reported that Silva's sample was "inconsistent with human urine" and suggested that the fighter “submitted an adulterated and/or substituted specimen for testing for the urinalysis.”
Silva admitted in a hearing that he was injecting steroids 30-45 days out from the Vera fight in order to recover from a back injury. It ended up costing him $33,750 in fines, as well as a one-year suspension.
On top of that, his victory over Vera was changed to a no-contest.
In late 2012, Silva tested positive for marijuana metabolites after a fight with Stanislav Nedkov. Once again, a failed drug test cost the Brazilian a win and also handed him a six-month suspension from the UFC.
What is ultimately hurting Silva's career is the fact that he is only testing positive for banned substances in fights that he wins. Due to the overturned victories, Silva's official record beginning in September 2009 sits at 0-2 (2).
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Lavar Johnson is one of those heavyweights who has a popular style of bomb-throwing that gives little consideration towards the health of his opponent—or even himself.
For that reason, it was pretty clear that Johnson was going to be cut some slack after consecutive losses to Stefan Struve and Brendan Schaub.
However, with Johnson coming up on the wrong end of a failed drug test at UFC 157, that leeway was quickly taken away, and "Big" was quickly handed a pink slip.
This summer, Johnson turns 36 years old. Considering that there are very few opportunities for heavyweight fighters outside of the Zuffa umbrella, things look pretty bleak for a man who started 2012 so strong.
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Were it not for a pair of failed drug tests, Ultimate Fighter alum Matthew Riddle would be in the middle of a four-fight winning streak that included victories against highly touted prospects Che Mills and John Maguire.
Riddle has a license to use medical marijuana and refuses to stop using his medication, despite being aware that it is a banned substance when competing in the UFC.
After 12 fights inside the Octagon, "Deep Waters" was given his pink slip due to a second failed test in a seven-month stretch.
All that over a drug that doesn't give you any sort of edge in the cage.
What a waste.
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Although Chael Sonnen failed a drug test due to much higher numbers, it was Nate Marquardt who was ultimately made an example of for having elevated levels of testosterone.
Marquardt, a longtime middleweight, was using testosterone replacement therapy in preparation for his welterweight debut against Rick Story in 2010. However, on the day of the weigh-in, Marquardt's levels were not within the acceptable range, and he was not allowed to compete.
"The Great" was out of action for 16 months before finally competing again under the Strikeforce banner, where he won the promotion's welterweight title.
Since the time of his UFC release, this longtime title contender has a 1-2 record and has dropped far from title contention.
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In 2006, UFC Hall of Famer Royce Gracie returned to the Octagon for the first time in 11 years for a bout against Matt Hughes.
In a fight that is considered the low-light of his career, Gracie was thoroughly dominated by the then-welterweight champion en route to a first-round TKO loss.
So what does the golden boy of jiu-jitsu do to help save his image? Book a rematch of his epic fight from 2000 against Kazushi Sakuraba.
Gracie vs. Sakuraba I was the first loss of his career, and it came in a 90-minute affair that ended only due to exhaustion on the part of Royce.
For the rematch, Gracie would look to anabolic steroid Nandrolone for some assistance.
This time around, Gracie won a unanimous decision after three rounds of action. The victory was never overturned, despite the positive drug test.
To see the pioneer test positive for steroids ultimately hurts his legacy. However, when you consider his history of defeating enormous opponents, it's peculiar to imagine him looking for strength in a needle.
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"The Crippler" is an appropriate nickname for Chris Leben—as well as for the drugs that have have stifled his budding career.
Bleacher Report's Matthew Roth wrote a stellar piece that addresses the personal demons and substance-abuse issues that crushed Leben's career.
It's one of my favorites, and definitely something you should check out.
In 2004, the physically imposing Kimo Leopoldo was in the midst of a UFC return and looking to avenge a loss to the legendary Ken Shamrock.
Admittedly, Leopoldo used performance enhancing drugs in the buildup to this fight, in hopes of having an advantage over the Hall of Famer:
I wasn’t quite on par for that fight, and yeah, I did use some substances, and 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. That doesn’t justify it, but I wasn’t using it as a performance enhancer to be strong or whatever. It was just something… an extra little kick
The failure cost Kimo $5,000 and a six-month suspension from the NSAC, but that apparently wasn't enough to get the message across, as he again failed in 2006. This time around, the test came prior to a WFA main event bout against Bas Rutten.
The second time around, Kimo wasn't handed a suspension; however, he was pulled from the bout and never had another high-profile matchup before hanging up his gloves for good.
In 2003, Tim Sylvia was an undefeated heavyweight who held the UFC championship on his shoulder.
However, after his first title defense against Gan McGee, "The Maine-iac" tested positive for Stanozolol.
The champion admitted to using the drug as a way to improve his physique, but felt that he stopped using long enough before the fight that it would be out of his system.
Sylvia was handed a $10,000 fine from the NSAC as well as a six-month suspension. However, in a true show of class, Sylvia volunteered to give up his championship as a way to show his remorse.
Although Tim would later reclaim his heavyweight title and defend it twice more, there is no question that his failed drug test hurt his career.
Being in the notorious "I got stripped of my world title" club doesn't have all the perks you might imagine.
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Speaking of the "I got stripped of my world title" club: Ladies and gentlemen, help me welcome to our list Sean "The Muscle Shark" Sherk.
Unlike Tim Sylvia, Sherk adamantly denies ever using any illegal substances, and even went as far as to take a trio of polygraph tests in an effort to convince people of his innocence:
I didn’t know you could go into a store like a GNC and buy something that would have illegal stuff in it, but I guess you can. I was stunned. I didn’t know that. I’ve also started doing my own pre-testing, which I’ll do before every fight now just to be sure…
I took the polygraph test three times to try and prove that I was telling the truth. I know they say polygraphs aren’t 100% reliable, but after three tests you’d think that if I was lying it would have shown up in at least one of them. I’ve got nothing to hide. I’ve always said that and tried to prove that. I have absolutely nothing to hide.
I’ve done everything I can do to clear my name. It’s up to each individual to look at the facts and decide for themselves whether they believe me or not. The problem is that a lot of people don’t bother to look at the facts first. They just hear "positive test" and they look at me and what I’ve done and think, "Oh, he’s got to be on something."
The champ was stripped of his title and given a $2,500 fine, as well as a one-year suspension from the CSAC. However, after a compelling appeal process heard Sherk argue that the testing facility used dirty vials and had botched the chain of custody, his sentence was reduced to six months on the sidelines.
Sherk never reclaimed his title, and despite an outstanding record of 34-2-1 prior to his drug failure, the chiseled lightweight has put together a paltry 2-2 after the fact.
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You mean the jacked-up chick who we all suspected was on steroids ended up testing positive for steroids? Get out of town!
Cyborg's defense claims that she was having trouble cutting weight for her matchup and used a dietary supplement to help shed the extra poundage.
Yes, but the only problem with that argument is that she tested positive for Stanozolol, an anabolic steroid that would never be found in any dietary supplement:
My only mistake is not verifying the diet aid with my doctor beforehand, and understanding that it was not approved for use in the ring.
No, Mrs. Santos. Your only mistake was using steroids and assuming that you wouldn't get caught.
Santos also took a one-year suspension from the CSAC and took a $2,500 fine. In addition, her win over Hiroko Yamanaka was overturned to a no-contest.
Cyborg was stripped of her women's featherweight championship, which assuredly was the reason for the closing of the entire Strikeforce division.
This led to her not having a job in the UFC after Strikeforce closed its doors, which is more than enough reason to say that she ruined her entire stunning career with a single failed drug test.
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Heading into the cage for his 10th professional bout, King Mo was a heavy favorite over Lorenz Larkin in the Strikeforce promotion.
The reason for that became evident once the fight started, as Lawal viciously knocked out his foe in a bout that is still criticized for its late stoppage.
The victory was the second incredible KO on the road back to the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship, which Mo lost 16 months prior to Rafael Cavalcante.
After such a rousing performance, it would have been hard to deny Lawal of a crack at the belt—except for the fact that he tested positive for Drostanalone after the contest.
Lawal had his win overturned to a no-contest, was fined $39,000 and slapped with a one-year suspension.
In the NSAC hearing for his failed test, Lawal felt insulted by a line of questioning from commission member Pat Lundvall in which he was asked if he knew how to read and write. Later that evening Lawal turned to Twitter and called Lundvall a racist b***h.
And that, kids, is the story of how King Mo got fired from Strikeforce.
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Looks like we have entered the Strikeforce portion of our list.
Rafael Cavalcante is undoubtedly one of the most gifted strikers in the light heavyweight division. However, for the rest of his career, he will be thought of as a drug cheat, thanks to a positive test for Stanozolol last May.
Cavalcante needed only 33 seconds to defeat Mike Kyle. However, that win was overturned to a no-contest, and the Brazilian took a one-year suspension from the CSAC in addition to his $2,500 fine.
The Black House fighter makes his UFC debut in June, and Zuffa paired him up against fellow suspendee Thiago Silva at UFC on FUEL 10.
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The tale of Alistair Overeem is an interesting one.
Most guys who get caught with drugs at least get the opportunity to fight with their medical enhancement before being found out.
However, due to a random pre-fight screening, Overeem was caught red-handed and removed from a UFC 146 bout with Junior dos Santos that would have been for the UFC heavyweight championship.
Overeem was not stripped of a license, if only because he did not have an active license at the time of the screening. However, he was prohibited from obtaining a license for nine months.
Missing out on a guaranteed title shot is one thing, but Overeem took his woes one step further in his return bout by acting like a fool in a fight with Bigfoot Silva.
Competing largely with his hands down and not properly defending himself, Overeem thought he would run through his opponent en route to a quick and easy victory.
Instead, he found himself horribly knocked out with a screaming monster standing above him.
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Here's a fighter who arguably suffered more for his failed drug tests than any other pugilist in history.
Josh "The Babyfaced Assassin" Barnett won the UFC Heavyweight Championship by defeating Randy Couture at UFC 36. However, a post-fight drug test came back positive for Boldenone, Nandrolone and Fluoxymesterone.
Barnett was stripped of his UFC championship for the infraction, as well as handed a six-month suspension from the NSAC.
In 2009, Barnett single-handedly brought down the Affliction organization by testing positive for Drostanolone only 11 days before a highly anticipated bout with Fedor Emelianenko. When the promotion couldn't find a suitable replacement on short notice, the event (and shortly afterwards the promotion) folded.
Off the record, Barnett actually failed his first drug test following UFC 34 in 2001 (thanks to CagePotato for information surrounding this failure):
Barnett actually tested positive once before, for two different anabolic steroids, following his submission via strikes victory over Bobby Hoffman at UFC 34 in November 2001. Josh was let off with a warning (which went unheeded, apparently) and the incident was never officially reported — but according to Sherdog’s Mike Sloan, Barnett’s first positive steroid test is what inspired Nevada to begin regularly testing UFC fighters for performance enhancing drugs.
To this day, Barnett remains the only ranked heavyweight who does not have a contract with the UFC.
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At UFC 153, Stephan Bonnar was a fighter who had absolutely nothing to lose when taking on Anderson Silva on short notice. Everyone expected him to lose, so in a worst-case scenario, he would lose to the best fighter on the planet.
However, Bonnar found a way to make the worst of a great opportunity. Not only did he get knocked out in the first round, but he used steroids in the buildup to the contest and will forever be branded a cheater.
Bonnar retired from the sport before the drug tests came back; however, he was handed a one-year suspension from the UFC, just in case he changed his mind.
If only this was the first time that Bonnar had delivered tainted pee.
In a 2006 rematch against Forrest Griffin, Bonnar tested positive for Boldenone and admitted using the steroid to help get over an elbow injury.
He was planning to take time off and rehab the elbow, but when a rematch with Forrest was put on the table, he couldn't turn it down.