Twitter Mailbag: What does a doping suspension do to T.J. Dillashaw's legacy as UFC champ?
What do we make of T.J. Dillashaw’s legacy now that he’s been busted for EPO? And is this the last best chance for the underdogs in UFC 236’s interim title bouts to make their way into the big time?
That and other pressing questions in this week’s Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.
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Isn’t it interesting how weird that is for us, to get a drug test failure without the usual attempts at deflecting blame?
This one seems pretty clear cut. T.J. Dillashaw got popped for EPO, which isn’t something that could’ve been hiding out in his protein powder unbeknownst to him. It’s also pretty much exactly what you’d want to use if you were a high-paced fighter looking to keep your output high while keeping your weight low.
The fact that Dillashaw vacated the UFC bantamweight title right away and then quickly accepted a two-year suspension tells us that he knew he was caught. What’s less clear is just how far back we should go in revising our opinion of him.
Former teammate Cody Garbrandt accused Dillashaw specifically of EPO use just last year, and that seemed to be stemming from their time together at Team Alpha Male, where Dillashaw hasn’t trained for several years.
So what do we do, just wipe out all his accomplishments? Do we tell ourselves that his entire reign as champ is tainted? And if you’re someone like Renan Barao, whose losses to Dillashaw were major career turning points, how do you not feel especially cheated right now?
I don’t have any great answers, but I hope it reminds us that there is a value to having a real drug testing program in this sport. You’re not going to catch many EPO users without some fairly sophisticated anti-doping efforts.
It’s easy to get dissatisfied with how the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency operates and its lack of transparency at times, but EPO would amount to a huge advantage for a fighter who’s using it. And if you’re a fighter who’s not, wouldn’t you want to know that someone out there stands a chance of catching the cheaters who are looking to beat you up and take your money?
You’re not wrong. Dustin Poirier’s been trying hard to get people to take him seriously as a title contender in a stacked lightweight division. And Kelvin Gastelum was mostly a choice of convenience as a challenger at middleweight. Now they both get their shots at interim belts, and oddsmakers have them both pegged as slight underdogs.
I suspect the stakes might be highest here for Poirier. If Gastelum loses to Israel Adesanya, who knows, the middleweight lottery could pluck him out again at some future date. Or maybe he’d get his wish of returning to welterweight, assuming he can drop the necessary poundage.
But Poirier? If he loses to featherweight champion Max Holloway he’s got nowhere to turn. His path will be blocked at 145 pounds, and at lightweight he could easily get lost in the crowd of competent contenders. This could easily be his last chance to fight his way into that elite tier.
All he has to do is beat one of the all-around best champions in the UFC today. That shouldn’t be so hard, right?
Mostly what it will tell us is who Luke Rockhold isn’t. So far, Jan Blachowicz is the guy who beats the lower tier fighters in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. No one he’s beaten has gone on to challenge for the 205-pound belt. On the flip side, two of the last three people to beat him already have or are scheduled to fight for the title.
In other words, if you want to have any future at all at light heavyweight, Blachowicz is someone you need to be able to beat. But just beating him doesn’t necessarily anoint you as the heir apparent. If Rockhold loses here, maybe it will tell us that light heavyweight isn’t going to be the revitalizing clean slate he thought it would be. And if he wins? Well, he’s officially in the conversation.
I can’t call it especially wise, especially since I’m not sure Jack Hermansson matches up all that well against actual jiu-jitsu wizard Ronaldo Souza. If there’s anyone who’s going to be able to figure out how to stop that weird guillotine of his, yeah, it’s probably the Gator Man.
But if you’re Hermansson, why not shoot your shot here? This is a fight that, if he wins, could instantly change how fans and even the UFC brass see him. You beat “Jacare,” you are instantly a legit title contender. Maybe that’s a chance Hermansson doesn’t feel he can pass up. I can’t say I blame him, even if I also can’t say I like his chances.
First of all, being paid in travel and promo events is a little like being paid in “exposure.” That is to say, it’s like not being paid at all. I sincerely hope there are no fighters out there telling themselves that it’s OK if they don’t make much money from their cage fights, since that expensive training center is there for their benefit instead.
You know what eats into fighter pay? The UFC’s mega-wealthy owners taking a large split of the revenue. If fighters had a guaranteed revenue split in line with what NBA or NFL players get, they’d all be making far more money. But in order to get that split, they’d probably also need what NBA and NFL players have – an association to bargain on their behalf.
But it’s worth noting that while someone like Artem Lobov might very well be making good money now in Bare Knuckle FC, he’s doing so mostly because of the name he built for himself both as Conor McGregor’s buddy but also as a fighter in the UFC. He leveraged that fame for a nice payday elsewhere, and good for him, but it didn’t materialize out of thin air.
The best point he made in his various statements after the fight, which left him with two swollen slits for eyes? Fighters need to stop agreeing to contracts that pay them on a show-win basis. As Lobov astutely pointed out, the promoter has already sold the tickets and the pay-per-views by the time the result of his fight is announced. He shouldn’t have half his pay depend on some judges at ringside. Not when he’s going home with his face looking like that either way.
Ben Fowlkes is MMA Junkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA. Twitter Mailbag appears every Thursday on MMA Junkie.