- Josh Barnett
- Ken Shamrock
- Lyoto Machida
- Mirko Cro Cop
- Royce Gracie
- Sean Sherk
- Tim Sylvia
- TJ Dillashaw
- Vitor Belfort
Josh Barnett may be known as the youngest ever UFC heavyweight champion. With him having competed in almost every major promotion you can think of, The Warmaster has a fighting career that dates back almost twenty years.
But outside of his successes, Josh is also well known for his repeated doping-related offences. Which through the years have seen him receive several warnings and suspensions.
In 2001 Barnett tested positive for a banned substance, but at the time only received a warning from the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Just six months later he would fight Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight title, a fight he won. Only to once again test positive and to be stripped of his championship.
Then in 2009, Josh would once again test positive for steroids. With a result which would have huge implications for fledgeling MMA promotion Affliction, where his next fight was scheduled to take place.
The fight cancellation against opponent Fedor Emelianenko had a lasting negative impact, seeing the promotion go to the wall soon after.
Then once again in 2016, Barnett would fall foul of USADA testing with yet another failed test. But this time, after a year of deliberation, it turned out that the heavyweight fighter was in fact correct.
And a supplement he had been taking at the time had led to his positive test result. It was an incident which if not for his tenacity and willingness to fight. Barnett would have been branded a steroid cheat for the fourth time.
One of the sports living legends, Ken Shamrock paved the way for so many up and coming fighters. Founder of the infamous Lions Den gym, Ken was one of the original hard asses in the sport. With a no nonsense, who is the toughest guy approach to training, which produced multiple champions along the way.
During his early career, Ken had the appearance of a bodybuilder. And while he was never caught cheating during those early years.
His adoptive brother Frank Shamrock did throw out an unsubstantiated accusation that Ken used steroids throughout this period. The result of which gave him a false send of security during competition.
It wouldn’t be until many years later and in the twilight of his career, that Ken would fall foul of improved testing.
When following Bellator 149, where Shamrock lost his bout to Royce Gracie. Both he and former opponent Kimbo Slice, who also fought on the card. Would both test positive for a performance-enhancing drug called Nandrolone.
The positive test resulted in Shamrock being handed a year long suspension and $5000 fine. But at fifty two years of age and now well past his fighting prime. A forced suspension may have been the best outcome for a fighter who had already given so much of his life to the sport.
“Welcome to the Machida era.” Those emphatic words were spoken by UFC colour commentator Joe Rogan when Lyoto Machida knocked out light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans at UFC 98. But the era was to be short-lived, as twelve months later he would lose he championship in his second defence.
And apart from him being one of the most exciting fighters to watch in the sport. Lyoto was well known for one other rather strange ritual, which he had learned from his father.
That being him drinking his own urine to cleanse his body of toxins. So an athlete who is well aware of what exactly he is putting inside of his body.
But following his loss to Yoel Romero in 2015, Machida would receive an 18-month suspension for admitting the use of 7-keto-DHEA.
Not to be confused with the anabolic steroid DHEA, 7-keto is a metabolite or by-product of its cousin DHEA. Which is used to aid weight loss and not as a performance-enhancing drug.
It should be noted that when filling out a USADA declaration form, it was Lyoto himself who openly admitted using the substance. But none the less, the substance was banned and so Lyoto was handed down a hefty 18-month suspension from the sport.
The term MMA legend is often thrown around quite casually. Yet there are certain fighters who have rightly earner the title and the legacy it brings. And one of those is none other than Croatian superstar Mirko Cro Cop.
Known for his highlight reel head kick knockouts, Cro Cop is one of the best heavyweight fighters of a generation. Never quite managing to solve the puzzle that was Pride FC champion Fedor Emelianenko.
The 2006 Pride open weight Grand Prix champion would make his jump to the Ultimate fighting championships. But his success was short-lived, going 1 – 2 before exiting the promotion to once again fight in Japan.
This back and forth between promotions continued for many years. When in 2015 he made a successful return to the UFC, defeating the man who had previously knocked him out most spectacularly in Gabriel Gonzaga.
But as Mirko prepared for his next fight against Anthony Hamilton at UFC Fight Night 79. Without warning, he abruptly retired from the sport.
A subsequent report from USADA would show that in the lead up to the fight he had failed a test. Having been found to be using HGH or Human growth hormone.
Cro cop tried to clear the air by admitting to using the banned substance. But saying it was to aid with his recovery for a shoulder injury he had suffered.
Mirko admitted taking the substance before being tested, but it did not appear in the tests themselves. But regardless of that fact, USADA slapped him with a two-year suspension. Along with the UFC releasing him from his contracted fights.
When we talk about pioneers in the sport, perhaps one more than any other has the right to be called number one. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and MMA legend Royce Gracie is one of the very first people to ever step inside the UFC octagon. A relatively slight man, lean with no discerning physique.
Royce would go on to be crowned the first-ever champion in the UFC. At the time people wondered why exactly Royce had been chosen to represent the art of Jiu-jitsu and the Gracie family. With him being a rather slight figure when compared to some of the hulking fighters in the open weight category. But it was exactly for this reason that Royce became the number one pick.
Royce would go seven years and thirteen fights without a loss. Until he met the man who would become a consistent thorn in the Gracie families side.
Kazushi Sakuraba beat Royce in 2000 and would go on to beat a number of other Gracie family members, giving him the nickname of The Gracie hunter.
Royce faced him again in 2007 and this time he would win. But, his in fight tests both came back with levels for an anabolic steroid which were so high, they would not register on the laboratory equipment.
Where a normal high amount would be 6ng/ml (nanograms per millilitre). The sample Royce gave registered 50ng/ml. He was fined $2500 and had his license to compete in California suspended.
Sean Sherk is the former UFC lightweight champion who went by the nickname “The Muscle Shark”. So already our interest should be peaked by a fighter who was known specifically for the amount of muscle he carried on his small frame.
Winning the title from Kenny Florian at UFC 64, Sherk would go onto defend it one time against Hermes Franca at UFC 73. The one issue was that both fighters tested positive for different steroids.
Franca for drostanolone, which he said he used to aid the healing process for his injured knee. While the champion testing positive for the steroid Nandrolone Metabolite.
Sherk received a twelve-month suspension, which he vehemently contested. Bringing more evidence in front of the commission than any fighter had previously done.
Including having his supplements tested by an independent laboratory. Which founds traces of Nandrolone Metabolite in the product. He did manage to get his suspension dropped from twelve to six months. But was stripped of his lightweight title in the process.
The two-time UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia was one of the more imposing fighters in the sport. Standing at 6 feet 10 inches, he won the UFC title by beating Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 41. Sylvia was a student of Pat Militech and started fighting professionally in 2001.
Amassing a total of sixteen fights over a period of two years and nine months. Which it has to be said is a lot of fights by today’s standards.
He would go on to defend his title against Gan McGee at UFC 44, winning the bout by TKO in the first round. But a post-fight urine test came back positive for the banned anabolic steroid Stanozolol.
It was an accusation the champion did not even contest. Saying that he took the substance in order to improve his physical appearance.
Regardless of his reasoning, Sylvia willingly forfeited his title and was suspended for six months and $10,000 fine. He would go on to have a mixed bag of results in the UFC, but would never again claim the title. He did, however, win the PWP Powerhouse World Promotions inaugural heavyweight title. Which he never got to defend as the promotion folded some months later.
The bantamweight standout was a product of Team Alpha Male in Sacramento in California. Brought in to the team directly from college by team captain Urijah Faber. In the UFC he would have some inconsistent results going 5 – 2, before being handed the opportunity to fight for the bantamweight title.
Facing the champion Renan Barao, a fighter who had not lost in nine years and thirty-three straight fights. Most people did not give Dillashaw much of a chance against such a dominant champion.
But in the upset of the year, Dillashaw knocked out the champion with a head kick, followed by a flurry of punches. Winning him the 135 lb title as well as Performance of the Night. Fight of the Night. Upset of the Year (2014).
Dillashaw would go on to lose his title to former champion Dominick Cruz. Only to win it back for a second time against former teammate Cody Garbrandt following a much-publicised feud.
Not content with one, he wanted a second title and so challenged Henry Cejudo for the flyweight crown. A fighting weight he needed to cut a further 10 pounds to reach.
He lost the bout in just 32 seconds and even worse, post-fight tested positive for the banned performance-enhancing substance called recombinant human erythropoietin, or rHuEPO.
One of the strongest anabolic steroids on the market which was made famous by renowned cheating cyclist Lance Armstrong. Resulting in him being stripped of his title, a two-year suspension and a fine of $10,000.
One of the true legends of the sport, Vitor Belfort has been fighting professionally since 1996. Bursting on to the scene as a young hungry nineteen-year-old. Belfort was knocking out men who outweighed him by half his body weight.
Winning the UFC Heavyweight Tournament and light heavyweight title, as well as the Cage Rage Light Heavyweight Championship.
Having fought as low as middleweight, his career has crossed multiple divisions and generations in the sport. Known for his fast hands and willingness to face anyone. As his career progressed, Vitor also became known for something else. Namely his ever-evolving physical appearance.
As depending on the year and the weight class, The Phenom became synonymous for drastic changes in this muscle mass and aggressiveness inside the cage.
The general rule of thumb for his opponents was that if they could avoid being knocked out in the first two rounds, the fight was usually theirs to take. As Belfort was known for fading as the bout progressed.
The First Controversy
His first steroid controversy took place following Pride 32, where is defeated Dan Henderson. Testing positive for banned anabolic steroids.
Vitor argued he had been given injections by his physician to aid his rehabilitation. Regardless, he was suspended for nine months and fined $10,000.
Then following his loss to light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Belfort went on a tear knocking out Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson is devastating fashion. And as he was set to face the middleweight champion Chris Weidman, the news broke that he had failed a drugs test due to elevated levels of testosterone.
Accusations of him cheating have been rife in the sport for many years, with accusers often been proven right. The damage it did to his legacy is for others to assess. But there can be little denying his place as one of the pioneers in the early years, which helped push the sport to new heights.
There can be no doubting the history of mixed martial arts is littered with shady goings-on. Dramatic changes in the physical appearance of fighters and increased knockout and stoppage ratios in some of their fights. With accusations flying left right and centre, fighters running from random tests, even spilling their sample (by accident). You name it, it has happened.
But with today’s in and out of competition testing, coupled with the improvements in science. And the ability of the governing bodies to go back up to 10 years and retest previous samples. Maybe discovering a fighter was up to no good, then retroactively penalise them! They really are risking so much by now even considering cheating, no matter how much it is worth!
At the end of the day, we all want to see great fights in a clean and safe sport. And if we can do that without some fighter juicing and putting others lives and careers at risk, all the better. With improved training techniques and nutrition, we have come such a long way. So let’s hope we can stay on this trajectory for many years to come.
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