T.J. Dillashaw explains why he used EPO; Chael Sonnen admits he took same drug

Former UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw said an extreme weight cut prompted him to use the banned performance-enhancer erythropoietin (EPO) prior to UFC on ESPN+ 1.

In his first interview since he gave up the belt and accepted a two-year suspension, Dillashaw said he began to “crash” as he attempted to move from his usual weight division down to the flyweight class for a title fight with champ Henry Cejudo.

Six weeks before the Jan. 19 fight, Dillashaw said he used the drug Procrit to counteract his lethargy. Procrit, which is used for chemotherapy patients, is the trade name for the compound epoetin alfa, a “man-made version” of human EPO, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Dillashaw said he’d tested his blood and discovered levels of hematocrit – the volume percentage of red blood cells in blood – in the high 30s, which is on the low end for males and indicates approaching anemia.

“I decided to take something I knew I wasn’t allowed to take,” Dillashaw said on the “You’re Welcome” podcast with Bellator fighter and UFC analyst Chael Sonnen. “It is an anemia medication that would help me not only make the weight, but be myself.

“I’m not mad I did it, because I don’t think I could have taken the fight. I’m obviously going to own up that I cheated and got caught. And it’s a rough one. It’s hard not to hate yourself a little bit. I don’t know.”

Dillashaw, whose attempt to capture Cejudo’s title ultimately ended in a first-round knockout, said the desire to become a two-division champion and move down in weight pushed him to skirt the rules.

“I’m a lean 135-er, I wanted to drop to 125, and I played it off on how easy it was going to be,” he said. “‘I can do it. No problem. I’ve always cut weight.’ And I pushed my body to the extreme.”

Sonnen, who Friday faces Lyoto Machida at Bellator 222, said he believed Dillshaw’s explanation and admitted to using the same EPO drug during his career. In 2014, prior to a scheduled fight against Wanderlei Silva at UFC 175, he tested positive for the banned substances and three others including human-growth hormone.

“We always know our own,” Sonnen said. “Maybe we don’t say it, but we know. We can look at somebody. I came through the testosterone era, which you did not. But testosterone would specifically do two things to you, that I could recognize. I just knew, because it happened to me. So I could always spot my own.

“And when I would hear them do interviews and put guys down, or sometimes, it was to me directly – dude, I know your secret. I know your secret. I would never say. I would take it right on the chin and look at them and say, ‘You son of a gun.’ But I’d never say it.”

Dillashaw accepted responsibility for his decision while expressing regret at the repercussions it brought to those closest to him. He said his teammate, Bellator featherweight Juan Archuleta, had his blood tested and was ordered to undergo drug testing by officials in connection with a fight Friday at Bellator 22 against ex-champ Eduardo Dantas at Madison Square Garden.

Dillashaw said he’s hidden out amid a wave of criticism from observers and colleagues. Even attending the press conference as a spectator was a painful experience.

“I think what hurts even more is my wife having to deal with it,” he said. “My coaches that had no idea. Sam Calavitta, I wasn’t going to bring this to him. This was something I decided to do on my own. I trusted in the wrong people.

“I wanted something so bad … and the real (expletive) part, and again, I’m not creating an excuse – I (expletive) up, I did it – is the fact that I never took my body to anything that was un-normal. I walk around about 45. The highest I ever got my hematocrit back to was 46. It wasn’t like I was above natural levels. The highest a human body can even go naturally is 50.”

Extreme weight cuts have been cited by MMA regulators as one of the sport’s most dangerous problems. The California State Athletic Commission has led the way in attempting to curb the practice, passing comprehensive legislation to ensure fighters don’t lose too much weight prior to a bout.

Dillashaw’s move to flyweight was extensively documented in the weeks leading up to UFC on ESPN+ 1. Dillashaw coach Calavitta touted a statistics-driven program to allow him to lose weight and optimize performance. Calavitta stood by Dillashaw after the positive test, calling him “a fallen soldier on the battlefield of public expectation and demand for perfection.”

Dillashaw, though, stressed the choice to take EPO was his alone. He cited clean re-tests of previous urine samples he gave to UFC anti-doping partner U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) as evidence of a single lapse in judgement.

“I cheated,” he said. “I’ve got to get past it. I understand people are going to ridicule me, thinking that I did it in the past, all this stuff, but I deserve that for taking that on. I just want to let everyone know that this is a one-fight thing.”

And Dillashaw promised to rebound from the entire episode. With two years to rehabilitate surgically repaired shoulders, he said he’d come back stronger than ever.

“I believe you,” Sonnen assured him. “I can tell you’re telling the truth right now. And I know what you’re trying to process, as well, because sometimes the truth doesn’t make me this evil scumbag that everybody really wants me to be, so if I tell the truth and I don’t look like an evil scumbag, then they’re going to say I’m lying. It’s a no-win. I get it.

“From a PR standpoint, from two dudes who can trust each other with each other’s checkbooks, that’s it right there. I believe you, and you did make a mistake. I’ve been there, and there’s plenty of other people making that same mistake right now and not being caught, and some of them are even pointing fingers at you. That’s the way it goes. It’s going to blow over fast.”

“I know it’s going to last,” Dillashaw replied. “But guess what, I made the decision. There’s no going back from it. I’ve got thick skin. I’ve learned to have even thicker skin throughout my fighting career now, and I will come back and I will be champion again. I will make you that promise. Not because of the fact that I need to prove myself to everyone else, but because I want to do it for me and my family.

“That’s probably the hardest thing is, that my family has had to deal with this, and my coaches have had to deal with this, and I want to do this for them, as well.”

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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie

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