On July 1st 2015, the UFC introduced their new Anti-Doping program in partnership with the United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA). Coincidentally, this date marked a turning point in the career of a number of previously prolific fighters.
It isn’t for me to speculate on the exact reasons for the dramatic changes in fortune of these four fighters. Age, injury, bad match ups have all played a part in some form or another. That said, it does seem that July 2015 was a real turning point for many UFC fighters careers, particularly the fighters below.
Below, I break down the shift in career trajectory of four athletes who prior to July 2015, were some of the UFC’s brightest stars.
Pre July 1st 2015 Record – 18-5-0
Post July 1st 2015 Record – 1-4-0
Erick Silva arrived in the UFC as a highly touted welterweight prospect with a record of 13-1-0 (1 no contest). Making his debut in August 2011, Silva made short work of Luis Ramos, picking up a TKO victory in just 40 seconds. Unfortunately for Silva, he never really lived up to his potential and spent the next four years alternating wins and losses. Things finally seemed to be coming together with a March 2015 win against Josh Koscheck. This was the first time the Brazilian had won two fights consecutively since 2011.
Silva returned to action looking for his third win in a row at UFC Fight Night 74 in August 2015, two months after the UFC implemented their new Anti-Doping partnership with USADA. At the weigh ins, Silva presented a much softer physique which drew a significant amount of attention from fans and fighters alike. The search for a third win was ultimately unsuccessful and what followed has been a real disappointment. 5 fights with a lone win, sandwiched in the middle of four losses.
The dramatic physique change accompanied a sharp downturn in form, which will always leave unanswered questions hanging over Silva’s time in the UFC. Just last week, this time came to an end with the announcement that the one time hot prospect had been released from the UFC roster.
Pre July 1st 2015 Record – 17-3-0
Post July 1st 2015 Record – 1-5-0
Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks has had a rough time over the last two years. From botched weight cuts to underwhelming performances, Hendricks has been a shadow of the man who defeated Robbie Lawler to claim the UFC welterweight title in 2014. Bigg Rigg’s luck seemed to change in his February 2016 fight with Stephen Thompson, almost a year after his last fight where he defeated Matt Brown in March 2015. The battle with Thompson was the first time Hendricks had been stopped in his 21 fight professional career.
Hendricks missed the welterweight limit in his next two fights and added two additional losses to his record. It was also the first time in his career he had lost consecutive fights. After taking the decision to move up to middleweight Hendricks finally snapped his losing streak with a unanimous decision win against Hector Lombard. Just when it seemed his luck was turning, Hendricks missed weight again, coming in 2lbs above the middleweight limit. Rubbing salt into the wound, the 34-year old was on the receiving end of the second TKO stoppage of his career on fight night.
In his most recent attempt to reverse his fortune, Hendricks faced fast rising prospect Paulo Costa at UFC 217. Sadly for Hendricks this fight ended in his second consecutive second round TKO loss.
One could make the argument that father time has caught up with Hendricks with more than half of his fights going the distance. He’s been involved in some legendary fights over the years and there is every chance that those battles have taken their toll on the former champion. Unfortunately for Hendricks, the timing of his dramatic change in fortune will invariably leave fans speculating over what might have caused his sudden decline.
Pre July 1st 2015 Record – 24-11-0
Post July 1st 2015 Record – 2-2-0, 1 no contest
At 40 years old and with a career spanning 21 years, it is inevitable that Vitor Belfort would have to slow down sooner or later. The dramatic changes in both his performance and appearance certainly escalated that decline.
Prior to July 2015, Belfort was a force to be reckoned with. His win list reads as a who’s who of the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions. His only losses coming at the hands of certified greats Jon Jones and Anderson Silva in addition to then middleweight champion Chris Weidman. In his first fight of the USADA era, Belfort picked up a first round KO victory against Dan Henderson but followed this up with three consecutive KO defeats. The most recent of these ended up being over turned to a no contest after the victorious Kelvin Gastelum tested positive for THC. The idea that Belfort would be knocked out in three consecutive fights would have seemed unthinkable a few years ago.
It is common knowledge that Belfort has received Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) in the past. Fans and analysts often refer to ‘TRT Vitor’ as an example of just how scary an MMA fighter can be. While the rules around TRT are somewhat murky, Belfort never received a suspension for his “medically prescribed” TRT treatment. Looking at the physique of the former champion today compared with how he looked in his prime, it begs the question, just how much of a physical advantage did Belfort receive due to the TRT treatment?
Pre July 1st 2015 Record – 33-6-0, 1 no contest
Post July 1st 2015 Record – 1-2-0
Just a few years ago Anderson Silva was almost universally considered to be one of the UFC’s greatest of all time. Many still hold that opinion but events of the last 3-4 years have irreversibly changed the opinion of a large portion of the fan base.
It would be unfair to suggest that Silva’s problems began after the introduction of USADA. Things really began to go south for the former great in 2013 with a pair of bouts against fellow middleweight Chris Weidman. Silva entered his first fight with Weidman as middleweight champion. He hadn’t lost a fight in six years. He held the company record for most consecutive title defences. He was a hero. Unfortunately, all of this came crashing down around him just 1 minute into the second round. Silva, with his hands by his hips, taunting Weidman, was caught flush on the chin and dropped to the ground where he was finished by a flurry of punches from the American challenger. Silva no longer seemed invincible.
Granted an immediate rematch, Silva met Weidman for the second time in December 2013. This time out, he showed a little more respect to the newly crowned champion but nobody could have predicted what happened 1 minute and 16 seconds into the second round. Silva threw a fairly innocuous inside leg kick which was checked by the champion. In a moment MMA fans will never forget, as the kick connected, Silva’s leg snapped. The former champ fell to the ground unable to continue and he experienced the first consecutive losses of his career.
After a long lay off to recover, Silva made his return to the octagon in January 2015 against Nick Diaz. The fight ended with a unanimous decision victory for Silva but this was quickly overturned to a No Contest after it was announced that both fighters failed pre-fight drugs test. Silva had tested positive for an anabolic steroid. It later emerged that Silva had also failed a fight night drugs test for separate substances. In an effort to save his legacy, Silva’s team acted quickly to protest his innocence and find an explanation. That explanation ultimately ended up being that Silva had taken a tainted sexual enhancement pill. The Nevada Athletic Commission rejected the explanation and handed Silva a one year suspension.
During the hearing, Commissioner Anthony Mundell cast doubt over Silva’s previously clear test record.
“I’m not taking anything away from Mr. Silva’s career. I think he’s done excellent things. He’s by far one of the top fighters in the world. But this is the first time he’s really been subject to enhanced testing, so it’s hard to put a lot of credibility into his prior test results — not his career, but his prior test results.”
The Brazilian legend returned from his suspension to face Michael Bisping in February 2016 with the new USADA regime in place. That fight ended with in a unanimous decision win for Bisping. Silva followed this up with a second unanimous decision loss, this time to light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier at UFC 200 after stepping in at short notice due to a failed Jon Jones drugs test.
Silva picked up his first win in 4 and a half years at UFC 208 against middleweight Dereck Brunson. Maybe things were finally getting back on track for the 42-year old. Sadly not. Before he could get a chance to fight again, Silva was flagged by USADA for another failed drugs test and suspended indefinitely, pending the outcome of an investigation. The former champion continues to protest his innocence but with two instances of failed tests in the last three years, things are not looking good for Silva or his legacy.
I’ll leave it with you to draw your own conclusions on what was the biggest cause of the declines each of these fighters has experienced.
Of course, the fighters discussed above aren’t the only ones to experience a change in fortune once the UFC entered into partnership with USADA. I should add – before anyone mentions his name, Alistair Overeem is 4-2 since July 2017 with his only losses coming against reigning heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic and title contender Francis Ngannou. Compare that to his pre July 2015 record of 4-3, his form has actually improved since the introduction of USADA. With that in mind I didn’t feel he warranted inclusion in the list above, despite a pretty dramatic physique change over the past few years.
Let me know who you think has struggled the most since July 2015 in the comments below.
For more of my MMA content, you can find me on Twitter @tommymull_mma.