June 3rd, 2015.
“The UFC today announced details of its new out-of-competition testing programme, set to take effect July 1, which include a minimum of 2,750 drug tests per year – or about 5 potential tests for each fighter – and substantial punishments for anti-doping violations.”
Source: MMA Junkie
It was a move to legitimise the highest calibre of MMA competition. Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta were slowly putting together a plan to turn the UFC in to a professional organisation. Tie this in with a Reebok uniform deal, and the UFC increased it’s buying power as it worked towards competing with the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.
It was a great move on paper, but not without it’s moments.
The programme has effectively ‘cleaned up the sport’, but appeared inconsistent in cases involving marijuana, tainted supplements and whereabouts tracking violations.
Nevertheless, fans have noticed some of the organisation’s top fighters suffer a sharp decline. The ‘Pre vs Post USADA’ debate.
In this list, I am going to look at fighters who fell from the top since USADA testing came in to practice. My list will only feature fighters that stood in the Top 15 of the UFC’s divisional rankings before July 1st, 2015.
I’ve decided to omit names like Jose Aldo, Ronda Rousey and Chris Weidman. These were champions who failed to evolve with the changing of the game, and ended up facing challengers that remain at the top – such as Max Holloway, Conor McGregor, Amanda Nunes and Yoel Romero.
So, let’s look at 10 fighters who showed an evident decline since the stricter testing came in to place.
*Disclaimer – No factual evidence suggests that USADA testing had a direct effect on these fighters performances. Results can be entirely coincidental.
10. Carlos Condit
IMAGE SOURCE – THE MAC LIFE
Post USADA record – 0-3
After wars with GSP and Nick Diaz, Condit was destined to be a top gatekeeper in the UFC’s welterweight division. There was a chance he could be a champion with the right matchup – and that opportunity came at UFC 195 against fellow brawler Robbie Lawler.
The fight could have gone either way. Both left it all in the Octagon that night, and many had it as their ‘Fight of the Year’ at the end of the year.
But since, Condit hasn’t lived up to the ‘Natural Born Killer’ moniker. He spent some time away from the sport after losing to a streaking Demian Maia in August of 2016. On return, he dropped a loss to Neil Magny.
It may not have anything to do with testing, as physically he hasn’t changed much. But there is no doubt that Condit is getting lost in a crop of fresh title challengers.
9. Rafael Cavalcante
IMAGE SOURCE – SHERDOG
Post USADA record – 0-2
Rafael ‘Feijao’ Cavalcante might not be the most well known on this list, but his sharp decline in MMA competition came just after testing began.
A TKO loss to Patrick Cummins and an abysmal decision loss to Ovince St Preux rounded out ‘Feijao’s UFC career between 2015-2016.
Cavalcante was a standout fighter that came with the UFC’s acquisition of Strikeforce. A former Strikeforce Light-Heavyweight Champion, ‘Feijao’ boasted a knockout of Yoel Romero on his resume before debuting with the UFC.
Unfortunately his UFC run was short-lived, and while two losses may have seemed harsh, his performances in both may have been to blame.
8. Anderson Silva
IMAGE SOURCE – TAROBA NEWS
Post USADA Record – 1-2
While ‘Father Time’ may have caught up with Anderson Silva as of late, there is no doubt that USADA hasn’t been kind to him.
Anderson is currently in USADA limbo facing a second suspension in three years. After clocking up fifteen wins as UFC Middleweight champion, Silva has since lost his dominance and air of greatness.
His lone win since USADA testing is a controversial split decision against Derek Brunson that many called a robbery. So, effectively, Anderson could be 0-3. It’s a huge fall from grace from whom many called the ‘Greatest of All Time’.
At 42, it is completely understandable that Anderson has shown signs of a sharp decline. But now facing a potential USADA violation, the damage to his reputation and legacy will be insurmountable.
7. Lyoto Machida
IMAGE SOURCE – FIGHT SPORTS
Post USADA record – 1-2
At 39, Machida may have seen better years inside the Octagon. But USADA’s strict testing procedure took two years from what was arguably the end of his prime.
Machida admitted to taking a banned substance in the buildup to a rematch with Dan Henderson in April of 2016. Honesty, in this case, was not the best policy, as it served him a two year suspension as a result.
On return, Machida lost at the hands of Derek Brunson via a first round KO. A recent split decision win against Eryk Anders has since boosted his stock, but no one is screaming contender at Machida’s current status.
Recent comments have highlighted Machida’s frustration with the UFC allegedly offering him ‘retirement matchups’. He said he is far from retirement, so you never know, he could still be capable of racking up some big wins in the UFC’s middleweight division.
6. Chad Mendes
Post USADA record – 0-2
As is the trend with the last two fighters, USADA’s strict testing has led to years being taken away from their careers.
Chad Mendes was a perennial top contender in the UFC’s Featherweight division. In July of 2016 he was handed a two year suspension due to a violation of USADA’s anti-doping policies.
But since testing began, Mendes had only lost to Jose Aldo throughout his professional career. Since testing, he suffered two knockout losses – albeit at the hands of two of MMA’s elite in Conor McGregor and Frankie Edgar.
It has been a huge fall from grace for Mendes, who has went from top contender to a forgotten man. We may see him return to the Octagon this year after his suspension is up, but it remains to be seen if he will return to being one of the top fighters in the UFC’s Featherweight division.
5. Vitor Belfort
IMAGE CREDIT – BLEACHER REPORT
Post USADA record – 2-2-1
Physically, there hasn’t been as visible of a change to any fighter as Vitor Belfort.
Many fighters pre-USADA testing were given a TRT exemption. This, in effect, was to aid fighters that clocked lower testosterone levels, but ended up becoming a dangerous abuse that visibly improved a fighters performance.
Since coming off TRT, and arguably whatever else was acceptable before stricter drug testing came in to play, Belfort has looked completely different.
Before July of 2015, he had just fought for the title, suffering a disappointing early loss to Chris Weidman. While he still has shown that dangerous explosiveness he possesses early in to fights – his ability to maintain a threat has diminished completely.
Belfort has more accurately assumed the role of a journeyman in the UFC’s middleweight division since. His two wins post USADA have come against father time himself Dan Henderson and a controversial split decision against Nate Marqaurdt.
4. Travis Browne
IMAGE CREDIT – LOWKICK MMA
Post USADA record – 1-4
There’s decline and then there’s outright tanking. Unfortunately for Travis Browne, he falls in the latter category.
In fairness, ‘Hapa’ has fought a killers row of Heavyweights over a three year span, but he was touted as a borderline title contender beforehand and now has become a bust.
His current four fight losing streak features two knockout losses, a submission loss and a decision loss. So at least it’s well rounded.
But overcoming a four fight losing streak is as tough as it gets. If he gets a favourable matchup next time round, he may be back to winning ways. But a part of me thinks we might see him join his newly wed Ronda Rousey in a WWE ring before we see him back in the Octagon.
3. Renan Barao
IMAGE CREDIT – SUPER ESPORTES
Post USADA record – 1-4
Pre USADA testing, Barao had lost his Bantamweight strap and was in the midst of building himself back up to title contention.
Then he went 1-4 which featured an uneventful move to 145.
It hasn’t been the best of times for a former undefeated, pound for pound champion. However he’s only lost two on the bounce – so things could be worse for the Brazillian.
But with a division filled with TJ Dillashaw, Cody Garbrandt, Marlon Moraes and Jimmie Riveira just to name a few – it’s a long shot to think Barao could ever return to former glory.
2. Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva
Post USADA record – 1-3
‘Bigfoot’ has a rather unique case when it comes to USADA testing.
He suffers from a rare condition known as ‘acromegaly’ – a form of gigantism that occurs when the pituitary gland produces excess growth hormone (Source – MMA Junkie). Removing himself from Testosterone Replacement Therapy was tough as a result, and Silva even discussed the possibility of having surgery on his head.
A huge change in his game since USADA, aside from physicality, has been his ability to take a punch. His last three losses in the Octagon were all by knockout.
He has since been cut by the promotion, but hasn’t fared too well outside of the UFC. Recently he lost a bloody war to Ivan Shtyrkov and then got knocked out by Vitaly Minakov, both in Russian promotions. His current losing streak tally is now at five.
1. Johny Hendricks
IMAGE SOURCE – MMA MANIA
Post USADA record – 1-5
Oh god. Where do we start?
Well, a good place might be Johny Hendricks’ weight issues. Since USADA testing, he missed weight twice at Welterweight. Weight issues forced a move up to 185 pounds for ‘Bigg Rigg’, but it wouldn’t be Johny if he didn’t miss weight once there too.
The former Welterweight Champion had just come off a cllose decision loss to Robbie Lawler and a bounce back win over Matt Brown before USADA testing.
Since then he has gone 1-4 including two knockout losses at Middleweight in his last two fights. It seems he is out-sized for Middleweight, but doesn’t like making Welterweight. Not a good mix.
Hendricks remains in limbo, not only in terms of weight class but in terms of his career. A one big-hitting champion, who ran GSP as close as he could, is now a journeyman that can’t decide what weight to fight at. It’s a sad story that’s come all too coincidental with the implementation of USADA testing.
As always, thank you for reading this article. Thanks to Darren Farrelly for the article suggestion.