TJ Dillashaw says he only took the banned substance that got him suspended when his body was beaten down during a drop to make the flyweight limit of 125 pounds.
The former UFC bantamweight champion told Chael Sonnen on the "You're Welcome" podcast that he began taking the anemia medication ProCrit six weeks before a flyweight title fight with Henry Cejudo at UFC Brooklyn in January, when Dillashaw's body "started to crash."
ProCrit is the synthetic form of erythropoietin (EPO), a prohibited substance under the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code. Dillashaw said he was aware of its illegality when he injected it. He said it was a drug 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," Dillashaw said in the first interview since news came out about his failed drug test. "I'm obviously gonna own up that I cheated, I got caught. It's a rough one, man. It's hard not to hate yourself a little bit."
Dillashaw said his body started to stop responding to hard workouts during training camp before the Cejudo fight. Dillashaw had only fought in the UFC at 135 pounds, where he was the champion. And he was trying to make 125 to fight for the flyweight title. Cejudo ended up finishing him by TKO in 32 seconds.
"I pushed my body to the extreme," Dillashaw said. "About six weeks out, my body started to crash, it started to get tired. I started feeling like I didn't want to get up for practice."
Dillashaw, 33, tested positive for EPO in an in-competition test in relation to UFC Brooklyn in January, after also failing an out-of-competition test for EPO on Dec. 28. He was subsequently suspended by the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) for one year and USADA, the UFC's anti-doping partner, for two years. He is eligible to return to the UFC on Jan. 18, 2021. Ahead of the announcements, Dillashaw relinquished his bantamweight belt.
Dillashaw said he took EPO in order to drop weight and had never used the banned drug previously. Jeff Novitzky, the UFC vice president of athlete health and performance, has said that USADA had tested Dillashaw previously for EPO and then retroactively on other tests and all those came back negative for EPO. USADA does not test every sample for EPO, a designer drug that has a short detection window.
"I was so into doing something that has never been done before," Dillashaw said. "Not the two champs. Obviously, I wanted that more than anything. I wanted to prove I'm the best in the world. But it was also to drop that weight class. I'm a lean 135er, I wanted to drop the weight class to go 125s and I played it off on how easy it was gonna be."
He said he checked his hematocrit levels during training camp and they had dropped, which prompted his EPO use. ProCrit works to make more red blood cells in the body and is typically prescribed to patients with long-term kidney issues, HIV or cancer, according to WebMD. Dillashaw said he only ever took as much to get his hematocrit levels to a normal level.
"The real s---ty part -- I'm not creating any excuse, I f---ed up, I did it -- is the fact I never took my body to anything that was un-normal," Dillashaw said. "... It wasn't like I was above unnatural levels."
The worst part about the situation, Dillashaw said, has been the blowback on his family and coaches. He said he made a decision and none of them had any idea he was doing it.
Dillashaw (16-4) said in his time off he's going to work on healing both of his shoulders. He had surgery on the right one already and has a procedure for the left one scheduled in two weeks. Dillashaw said he has been to Panama to get stem-cell injections in both.
The California native said he'll also be using this layoff to spend more time with wife and his infant son. In addition, he is working on two separate companies, one selling cold press juice, the other selling spices. Dillashaw guaranteed that he would come back and be champion again once he returns to the Octagon.
"Who doesn't like a good comeback story?" Dillashaw said. "Love me or hate me, it's gonna be a great comeback story."