The United States Anti-Doping Agency has suspended former UFC champion TJ Dillashaw for two years for testing positive for recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO) before a flyweight title fight against Henry Cejudo on Jan. 19 in New York.
USADA officials announced the suspension, which Dillashaw did not contest, on Tuesday. The news comes less than one month after Dillashaw willingly relinquished his bantamweight championship, of which the UFC almost certainly would have stripped him based on Tuesday's announcement.
"We all know the pressures to win at all levels of all sport are real and intense," USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart said in a statement. "It is exactly why strong anti-doping efforts are necessary to protect clean athletes' rights, health and safety and to ensure that those who do succumb to these pressures and decide to break the rules will be held accountable in a real and meaningful way, as in this case."
Dillashaw's nutritionist and strength and conditioning coach, Sam Calavitta, who operates The Treigning Lab in Southern California, said his team will "stand beside [Dillashaw] in his journey forward," while acknowledging the former champion's mistake.
"Although not right and inexcusable, TJ succumbed to the relentless pressure to win at any cost for the purposes of appeasing his employers, pleasing his fan base and providing for his family, a sentiment that we all can relate to," Calavitta said.
The two-year suspension is the maximum sanction for a nonspecified substance under the UFC's anti-doping program. It is dated retroactively to Jan. 18, 2019, the day the test was submitted. EPO is a peptide hormone used to stimulate red blood cell production. It is typically administered via intravenous injection.
According to USADA spokesperson Adam Woullard, the agency reviewed another sample submitted by Dillashaw on Dec. 28 and found that also to be positive for EPO. The adverse finding of that sample went undetected initially because a special test is required to reveal EPO, and that test is not always used for 100 percent of athlete samples.
"As a part of our investigation for all positives, we review an athlete's prior test history," Woullard told ESPN. "When it's potentially relevant, we may request special analysis for those samples. Here, following our review, we conducted further analysis on [Dillashaw's] sample collected on Dec. 28, 2018, and it also revealed the presence of EPO."
Dillashaw is the second UFC fighter to test positive for EPO since the UFC and USADA partnered in 2015. Lightweight Gleison Tibau also was suspended for two years for EPO.
"I'm quite familiar with EPO from my days investigating professional cycling teams," Jeff Novitzky, UFC vice president of athlete health and performance, told ESPN. "It's a very effective substance. It's not a substance you find in contaminated supplements; it's injectable only. You have to know what you're doing when it enters your system.
"On a scale of seriousness in anti-doping, it's up near the top."
Dillashaw suffered a first-round knockout loss to Cejudo in the flyweight title fight, which was historic in that Dillashaw was attempting to become the first active champion to drop down in weight to capture a second belt.
The New York State Athletic Commission issued Dillashaw its own one-year suspension for the failed drug test. Dillashaw will serve the suspensions concurrently, meaning he will be eligible to compete in January 2021.
Dillashaw, 33, is ranked the No. 10 pound-for-pound fighter in the world by ESPN. He is a two-time UFC bantamweight champion.
In 2017, Cody Garbrandt, one of Dillashaw's former teammates in Sacramento, California, accused Dillashaw of using performance-enhancing drugs in the buildup to a bantamweight title fight in New York. Dillashaw rebutted Garbrandt's claims and went on to knock him out twice, in November 2017 and August 2018.