“It’s kind of the elephant in the room,” said TJ Dillashaw almost sheepishly, shifting his position in the guest chair of Chael Sonnen’s online “talk” show. “First and foremost: I cheated.”
Dillashaw has had a brutal 2019. The former UFC champion was forced to vacate his bantamweight title back in April after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. The USADA drug test which felled the fight star and new father came in January immediately after his high profile loss to Henry Cejudo, Dillashaw’s failed attempted to become a double division champ which ultimately cost him both belts and, now that his mandated ban is in effect, two years of competition. Dillashaw calls it “a tough go,” one that’s made him want to disappear.
“I’ve hidden out. I haven’t done any interviews,” he explained to Sonnen. “There’s things that I’ve wanted to say but didn’t, because I don’t want to make excuses.”
And he doesn’t. Dillashaw is, if anything, refreshingly candid about his situation at a time when the current media strategy for the widespread steroid use in combat sports (and competitive sports in general, if you’re familiar with what award-winning documentary Icarus revealed back in 2017) is “deny, feign outrage, deny some more.” But he did open up to Sonnen about the very human reasons why he chose to use EPO in the first place.
“I was so into doing something that has never been done before. I wanted to prove I’m the best in the world. I wanted to drop that weight class. I played off how ‘easy’ it was going to be. But I pushed by body to the extreme,” he admitted. “Six weeks out my body started to break down. My hematocrit was crashing. I was on the verge of becoming anemic. So I took something I knew I wasn’t supposed to take, an anemia medication called Procrit that would help me not only make the weight but be myself.”
Dillashaw says he doesn’t regret taking the performance enhancer, because he doesn’t believe he’d have been able to take the fight at all given how poorly he was feeling in the crucial weeks leading to fight night. But he doesn’t feel good about any of it either.
“It’s hard not to hate yourself a little bit,” he said.
Sonnen, who has eaten family-sized portions of crap over a long fight career for everything from PEDs to his “likability” factor, is uniquely qualified to be the sympathetic ear for young fighters in turmoil like Dillashaw. He was quick to point out just how many members of the fight community pushed back against outrage over Dillashaw’s scandal.
“I get it. I’ve been there. And there’s plenty of other people making that mistake right now and not being caught. And some of them are even pointing fingers at you!” replied Sonnen. He then goes into some of his own experience with PED hypocrisy, like being called out for using testosterone by other fighters who were visibly on testosterone.
Given how few people make the adult life choice of holding themselves accountable for their own mistakes in the world anymore, it’s pretty refreshing to see two grown men sitting down sharing real talk, some compassion, and a little wizened perspective.
The entire 12-minute interview is here, and covers the topic in more detail: