Winners don’t take drugs! Anybody who visited a video game arcade in the 1990s will be familiar with this saying. It was created by the Federal Investigation Bureau director William S. Sessions in order to crack down and discourage drug use in the youths who plunked down quarter after quarter for games like Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Perhaps the Mixed Martial Arts world would be a different place if those pesky fighters just listened to that message.
Yahoo Sports’ Kevin Iole reported on January 6th that UFC Light Heavweight Champion and pound-for-pound kingpin Jon Jones had entered a Drug Rehab facility. The reason? Jones failed a drug test on December 4th due to testing positive for benzoylegonine, the main metabolite in cocaine. Yup, the same Jon Jones who fought on January 3rd against Daniel Cormier got caught with the white stuff Rick James loved oh so much. Due to the Nevada Athletic Commission not considering cocaine a banned substance out of competition (active competition is considered 12 hours before a fight and for any post fight drug tests) in accordance to the World Anti Doping Agency’s code. Due to this, Jon Jones cannot be punished by the Nevada Athletic Commission.
While this test failure might lead to nothing for Jones, other fighters have failed drug tests and their careers took much different turns because of them. Some had their reputations destroyed and some lost their championships but all of them had their careers and wallets harmed by a bad decision(s). This list will rank the 10 drug test failures in MMA that hit the sport the hardest and had the most profound impact.
11. Chris Leben, UFC 138
The original bad boy of the Ultimate Fighter, Chris “The Crippler” Leben is one of those fighters whose main advantage was to take a licking and keep on ticking, more than 99% of the roster. It was public knowledge though that Leben had substance abuse problems throughout his entire career. Whether it was being found drunk in a Las Vegas nightclub, or heavily drinking in The Ultimate Fighter house, it seemed Leben’s career was riddled with what ifs.
It seems to be a damn miracle that Leben has only failed two drug tests in his career, the second of which came after his loss to Mark Munoz at UFC 138. Leben tested positive for two painkillers, Oxymorphone and Oxycodone in his post-fight drug test. This failure stings more than his UFC 89 failure because at this time Leben was in the middle of a career renaissance, notching victories over Yoshihiro Akiyama and Wanderlei Silva which put him in striking distance of a title shot. A victory over Munoz would have probably placed him in a number one contender’s fight versus Chael Sonnen, but Leben’s failure robbed him of that chance.
10. Royce Gracie, Dynamite!! USA
Royce Gracie is simply one of the reasons why MMA exists at all. Gracie’s performances in the early days of the UFC versus men twice his size like Dan Severn, Ken Shamrock and Kimo Lepauldo influenced an entire generation of fighters and proved to the world that size isn’t everything. Gracie seemed to possess an air of invincibility about him until he ran into “The Gracie Killer” Kazushi Sakuraba in the 2000 PRIDE Grand Prix. Sakuraba clowned Gracie around by pulling him around by his pants, hitting him with pro wrestling Mongolian chops and leg kicking him until Gracie’s corner threw in the towel.
Seven years later, Gracie would get his redemption by defeating Sakuraba via unanimous decision. It appeared to be a perfect ending for the career of Gracie, until he failed his post fight drug test by testing positive for the steroid Nandrolone. MMA’s original folklore hero had tainted his career finale with steroids and his reputation took a hit as a result.
9. Tim Sylvia, UFC 44
In the midst of all the UFC 182 hoopla, former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia had announced his retirement from MMA. After a career spanning 12 years and 42 fights, retirement seemed like the right call after his attempts at re-entering the UFC failed to make too much noise. In the early 2000s though, “The Maine-iac” was one of the UFC’s best heavyweights. He won the heavyweight championship at UFC 41 by knocking out Ricco Rodriquez and completed his first title defense with a knockout of Gan McGee at UFC 44.
Everything seemed rosy for the 6-foot-8 giant until after the fight, where Sylvia tested positive for Stanozolol, a common anabolic steroid. Sylvia was stripped of his championship, suspended for six months and would need three years to win his title back. The history of the UFC heavyweight division would have played out differently if not for Sylvia’s drug test failure.
8. Thiago Silva, UFC 125
If looks could kill, Thiago Silva would be the undisputed king of MMA forever. Silva has a killer stare and a stoicism that would freeze a cheetah in his tracks. Unfortunately for the 32-year-old he could not translate this into championship success. In his early UFC career Silva floated around the division’s elite, losing only to former champions Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans.
After his loss to Evans, Silva came roaring back at UFC 125 by utterly crushing Brandon Vera over three rounds. Following the victory, things got bizarre. In a pre-fight drug test, the Nevada Athletic Commission found that Mr. Silva’s urine wasn’t consistent with human urine. Yup, so either Thiago Silva is a demonic, soul draining entity from the Netherrealm or he falsified his urine test. As cool as the first option sounds, the latter is the actual truth.
7. Nick Diaz, UFC 143
One of the most controversial figures in MMA, Nick Diaz is either a beloved cult hero or a disrespectful punk but either way he is a respected competitor. When Georges St-Pierre was dealt his devastating ACL injury in December 2011, Nick Diaz would get his chance at a UFC championship in a interim championship fight vs Carlos Condit. Condit won the fight in an incredibly controversial decision and talk of a rematch started. Diaz though, would “retire” from the sport but not only that, he would fail his post-fight drug test for marijuana metabolites. While he already failed a drug test years before for the same thing, this one stung much worse because it kept Diaz out of action for a year right in the prime of his career.
6. Anderson Silva & Nick Diaz, UFC 183
Not just one, but two failures in the same fight! This was supposed to be Anderson Silva’s triumphant return to the UFC after suffering a badly broken leg. It appeared to be just that with a unanimous decision victory over Nick Diaz at UFC 183. Now, news has broken that Silva failed his pre-fight test on January 9. He tested positive for drostanolone metabolites, found in anabolic steroids. He also tested positive for androsterone, a form of an endogenous testosterone.
As for Diaz, he has tested positive for marijuana metabolites, over the allowable limit of 150 nanograms in his post-fight test. That’s a third time in his career that Diaz has tested positive for marijuana. Silva and Diaz will both likely receive suspensions. The result of their UFC 183 fight will be changed to a no-contest.
5. Chael Sonnen, UFC 117
The man who would have been champion. If not for a hail mary triangle choke from a certain spider, Chael Sonnen would have been UFC Middleweight champion at UFC 117. He pummelled Anderson Silva for 90% of their championship fight but couldn’t quite close the deal. Even if Sonnen did in fact pull off one of the greatest upsets in UFC history, there would be a little problem.
The problem being that Sonnen’s post-fight drug test revealed that his testosterone to epitestosterone (T:E) was 16.9:1. To put this in perspective, the maximum allowed range for athletes in California is 4:1. So yeah, Sonnen was busted and subsequently suspended for a year by the California State Athletic Commission. This failure halted the greatest run of Sonnen’s career and shelved the planned rematch between Silva and Sonnen which was scheduled for UFC 125 prior to the drug test failure. Even the gangster from the mean streets of West Linn, Oregon couldn’t talk his way out of this one.
4. Alistair Overeem, Pre-UFC 146
Unlike a lot of fighters on this list, Alistair Overeem seems like a prime target for steroids if you were to put all these men in a mugshot lineup. Overeem went from gangly light-heavyweight to an absolute heavyweight conquerer, such a terror that he won the K1 Kickboxing 2010 World Grand Prix, defeating kickboxing monsters like Gokhan Saki and Tyrone Sprong to do it.
When Overeem finally entered the UFC and smashed Brock Lesnar into retirement, fans were salivating to see what he could do against fellow knockout artist and UFC Heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos. Overeem’s post fight drug test confirmed what fans suspected for a long time; something wasn’t right with Overeem’s new physique. Overeem’s T:E ratio was 14:1, above the 6:1 limit of Nevada. This failure cost Overeem a year of his career and a UFC title shot. His career has never been the same since, as he has dropped three of his past five fights, losing loads of momentum gained from his K1 conquests.
3. Josh Barnett, UFC 36
“The Warmaster” is as much of a professional wrestler as he is a mixed martial artist. From his throat slash taunt to his entertaining trash talk, Barnett is a throwback to the 1980s era of WWE with its colorful characters. Like many other professional wrestlers too, Barnett’s career is dogged with steroid use. Before he grew an epic beard years later, Barnett was the “Baby-faced Assassin’, a pudgy young catch wrestler who defeated Randy Couture at UFC 36 via TKO to capture the UFC heavyweight championship at 24 years old. Post-fight, like many of the wrestlers he idolized, Barnett was popped for steroids. While Barnett would claim innocence, he was still stripped of his title and would not fight again in the UFC for over 10 years.
2. Sean Sherk, UFC 73
If you can slap as much muscle onto a 5-foot-6 body as possible, you would probably end up with Sean “The Muscle Shark” Sherk. An impossibly cut wrestler who could stifle the life out of a ghost, Sherk become the UFC’s first lightweight champion since they reinstated the championship in 2006 by defeating Kenny Florian in a five round decision. In his first defence, Sherk smothered the horribly purple/white haired Brazilian Hermes Franca at UFC 73 to retain his title.
After the fight, those muscles on the Muscle Shark turned out to be artificial as he tested positive for Nandrolone, an anabolic steroid. Sherk was stripped of the title and suspended for six months. In his return fight, he lost to the man who won the title in his absence, B.J. Penn. Sherk would never get another shot at UFC gold.
1. Josh Barnett, Affliction: Trilogy
When Josh Barnett fails a drug test, he does it at the absolute worst of times. Not only did Barnett fail his UFC 33 drug test which stripped him of his UFC Heavyweight championship, he would do it again seven years later in 2009. Barnett, who was the no.2 ranked heavyweight in the world, was scheduled to face the greatest heavyweight of all time Fedor Emelianenko, a man who had eluded him in his PRIDE run.
The fight was poised to put the Affliction promotion on the map but as plans are made they will go awry. In a pre fight drug test, Barnett tested positive for steroids 10 days before the fight and as a result, the Affliction promotion cancelled the event and went belly up. Not only did the failure prevent an incredible match up from taking place, but it also played a part in putting an entire promotion out of business. The Baby Faced Assassin had effectively killed an entire MMA promotion.
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