Former UFC champion TJ Dillashaw ready for return after doping scandal

When he was knocked out by Henry Cejudo in just 32 seconds in January 2019 to miss out on the flyweight title, it seems things couldn't get any worse for TJ Dillashaw.

Fast forward three months later and his fighting future would be in jeopardy after testing positive for the performance-enhancing drug erythropoietin (EPO).

Dillashaw was suspended for two years by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and only eligible to fight again in January of this year.

Having served his time on the sidelines, the former champion Dillashaw makes his octagon return this weekend against surging bantamweight contender Cory Sandhagen in the main event of UFC Vegas 32.

When news of his anti-doping violation first broke, Dillashaw released a lengthy video on social media taking full accountability for his actions. The 35-year-old admitted he had "a hard time" forgiving himself for intentionally cheating but vowed to come back "better and stronger" in the future.

"I understand the criticism and scrutiny coming my way. But what I really feel bad about is the bad light bringing on to my coaches, my family and my teammates. They had no involvement in this and I feel the worst for them," Dillashaw said.

"I have a 15-month old son and I want to be a role model for him. As well as a lot of other kids out there too, it’s tough. But I got to man up for what I did. I accepted all penalties and I didn’t try to fight this."

Long before his doping scandal went public, former Team Alpha Male teammate turned rival Cody Garbrandt stated that Dillashaw even showed other fighters at the gym how to take illegal substances and not get caught.

Things between Dillashaw and his former teammates have always been tense ever since he left the gym in 2015.

Garbrandt and retired UFC veteran Urijah Faber even claimed that Dillashaw, who is notorious for sparring too hard, intentionally hurt his teammates when in training.

Dillashaw later dismissed both claims and insisted Garbrandt was simply engaging in mind games ahead of their clash at UFC 217.

“It’s all happening at the perfect time, when it came out, the week of the fight. Like, come on man, this is all super predictable.” Dillashaw said.

A doping violation is something that casts doubt on any fighters previous accomplishments, so it's no surprise that Dillashaw revealed he's " been put under a microscope " by USADA ahead of his octagon return.

He also said that despite his drug test failure, he's not interested in winning back the hearts of fans following his lengthy suspension.

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“Excuse my language, but f*** your reputation. You’ve got to worry about yourself. I have a great life. I have a great family. I’m just worried about my coaches, my teammates, my family. Other than that, I could care less," Dillashaw said this week.

“I’ve been in this game too long to scroll through the comments and think about what other people think sitting behind their computers and not having anything to achieve for.”

Dillashaw, who will hope to haul himself back into the bantamweight title picture with victory over Sandhagen, has enjoyed two stints as champion of his division. He first won the belt when he pulled off one of the greatest upsets in UFC history by ending the decade long unbeaten run of Renan Barao in 2014.

He would prove the win was no fluke when he again stopped Barao in their rematch the following year, but he fell short against Dominick Cruz by way of a close decision. Dillashaw won the belt back against Garbrandt and later defended it against him at UFC 227.

Whilst two years away from the sport is a long time for any fighter, the disgraced Dillashaw will be hoping to work his way back to championship status in his division, a position that is currently held by Aljamain Sterling after his disqualification win against Petr Yan in March.

And of his failed test for EPO, Dillashaw thinks he is performing better without the drug: "How about this? Let’s let every one of my opponents take what I was taking. I could care less, because it did not help me. I actually feel 10 times better now than going into this fight than that fight.”

A facial laceration he suffered in training meant Dillashaw's fight with Sandhagen, originally scheduled to take place in May, was pushed back to July 24. The idea of fighting a top contender like Sandhagen, who is also a former training partner, is something that excites Dillashaw.

“I’ve always done very well with guys I’ve trained with. I’m a very good guy about game planning, and I know where guys’ weaknesses are at. It’s nice for me to know that, but it all matters when the lights turn on.

"You can talk about practice all you want, but we’re not here to talk about practice – we’re here to do it in front of everyone."

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