On Tuesday, USADA announced that T.J. Dillashaw was suspended for two years for using EPO prior to his UFC Fight Night 143 bout against Henry Cejudo. Dillashaw, who had already been suspended one year by the New York State Athletic Commission, previously relinquished the UFC bantamweight title upon news of his initial drug test failure. It’s clear now that the UFC would have stripped him anyways after USADA’s ruling, which proved that Dillashaw did indeed cheat, and was caught red-handed. The fact Dillashaw chose to accept his sanction and not try to appeal it is telling.
It was upsetting and disappointing when we first heard Dillashaw tested positive, but we had to at least wait and find out the full story before casting judgement. Now that it’s been proven Dillashaw did get caught, it starts to put into question his previous career accomplishments. No doubt on paper Dillashaw is on the short-list for the top bantamweights of all time — and I personally believed for the longest time that he was at the top of that list — but after hearing he was using EPO, it makes you wonder how long he’s been using this stuff for, and it makes you tempted to put an asterisk next to everything he’s accomplished inside the Octagon.
In many ways, this positive drug test tarnishes Dillashaw’s legacy as a mixed martial artist. We all wanted to believe he was just a natural talent who improved from TUF Finale loser into UFC world champion, but now you have to wonder if he’s had some help this whole time. At age 33 it’s hard to see him rebounding from this, as he’ll be 35 when he returns to action. Dillashaw will fight again, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s hard to see him ever getting back to the top of the bantamweight food chain, not when you have younger fighters like Cejudo, Marlon Moraes, Pedro Munhoz, Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan in the division. Dillashaw’s reign as a champion is over, and so is his status as the bantamweight division’s GOAT.
With two knockout wins over Cody Garbrandt and Renan Barao a piece, I had Dillashaw as my personal No. 1 bantamweight over Dominick Cruz. Even though they had fought head-to-head and Cruz edged out a split decision, I felt like Dillashaw’s dominance in his title reign was second to none, and should be ranked slightly above Cruz’ run, which was marred by injuries and decision wins. But with the news that Dillashaw tested positive, I think you have to edge Cruz past him just a bit. I’d still have Dillashaw in my top-three of all-time at bantamweight even with this positive drug test, but I think what Cruz did as a clean fighter his whole career is a bit more impressive.
We’ll see if Dillashaw can recover from this. Other fighters have tested positive and have come back and recovered to have great careers. I just feel like Dillashaw is different. It’s rare to see a UFC champion actually lose their belt due to a positive drug test, putting Dillashaw in a class of his own when it comes to MMA failures.
In a division that’s full of young, fast fighters, a guy like Dillashaw who will be 35 when he is allowed to fight again — and who is coming off of a brutal knockout loss to Cejudo at a weight class where he didn’t belong — probably won’t have too much success going forward. On paper, he’s had a great career, and his list of victories is impressive, but with this bad news it really has to make you question how long this has been going on for without anyone knowing. To me, that’s enough to push a clean Cruz past Dillashaw for the top spot as a bantamweight GOAT, though there are plenty of up-and-comers ready to claim that mantle for their own.