Are you wondering if UFC fighters are on steroids?
In this article, we’ll explain why UFC fighters are on steroids and give 24 examples of UFC fighters caught and suspended for using and taking steroids and performance-enhancing drugs.
- Are UFC Fighters on Steroids?
- UFC Fighters on Steroids: Pre-USADA
- UFC Fighters on Steroids: Post-USADA
- The Bottom Line
Are UFC Fighters on Steroids?
The UFC has had its fair share of controversy over steroids and performance-enhancing-drug (peds) use since its inception in 1993.
Steroids, or peds, are illegal in all sports and are used at the top level because of the advantages they give an athlete. Because of this, they’re widely used in MMA where they’re most beneficial – so yes, UFC fighters are on steroids, and this article will provide you with plenty of evidence to support this answer.
The partnership started in 2015 between the UFC and USADA aimed to reduce the amount of peds in the UFC, but they can only do so much. Steroids are still widely used by athletes who can beat the testing or use undetectable steroids, more commonly known as designer drugs.
You only have to look at Russia’s state-run doping scandal to know there are endless ways around drug testing and if the UFC wanted to protect their fighters they could.
Peds are also used by UFC fighters considered skinny, as they’re not used solely for muscle gain but are used for a myriad of benefits.
Some benefits include improved bone mineral density, increased oxygen-carrying capacity for increased cardio, faster recovery time, anti-inflammation, more power, and maintaining all levels of performance normally weakened when calories are low and fighters are cutting weight.
Having said this, let’s take a look at UFC fighters caught using peds pre and post-USADA. The terms steroids and peds are used interchangeably and mean anything illegal taken by athletes to improve their chance of winning in the UFC.
UFC Fighters on Steroids: Pre-USADA
1. Alistair Overeem
Prior to his first UFC fight with Brock Lesnar, Overeem failed two drug tests required of him by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
Somehow he was granted a “conditional license” to fight Lesnar, who he beat via TKO in round 1. It’s obvious how he got this miraculous conditional license.
It’s because people are willing to pay to see two huge and popular fighters like Overeem and Lesnar fight, and rules are bypassed when money is involved.
Expected to fight against Junior Dos Santos for the heavyweight title at UFC 146, Overeem again failed his pre-fight drug tests, having a testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio of 14-to-1, more than double the allowed ratio of 6-to-1.
He was given a 9-month suspension and tried to blame his failed drug test on a doctor-prescribed anti-inflammatory medication mixed with testosterone.
When he first started his career he was 185 lbs and somehow managed to get as heavy as 280 lbs before cutting weight to make the heavyweight limit of 265 lbs. Overeem is a fighter who used peds to add a lot of muscle, but likely for many other reasons too.
2. Chael Sonnen
Sonnen tested positive for steroids in 2010 following his UFC 117 loss to undisputed middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
His testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio came back as 16.9-to-1, while 4-to-1 was the maximum allowed by the California State Athletic Commission for athletes using testosterone replacement therapy.
Hilariously he argued all drugs in America are used to enhance its people and that he was using TRT as medicine for hypogonadism (low sex drive). Sonnen was handed a $2,500 fine and a 1-year suspension by the CSAC.
Sonnen again tested positive for peds in 2014 in a random drug test before his fight with Wanderlei Silva. He was given a 2-year ban by the NSAC and announced his retirement soon after. He was caught using peds, HGH, EPO, anastrozole, and clomiphene.
In his hearing with the commission, his lawyer submitted all the drugs Sonnen was taking to show how the drugs were obtained legally. This shows how when money is involved peds are easy to obtain, but unfortunately for Chael, his timing was off in avoiding a positive test.
3. Anderson Silva
One of the UFC greats and a fighter many were shocked to see fail a drug test because he doesn’t have the appearance of a muscled-up steroid user.
In his return after his horrific leg injury against Chris Weidman, Silva tested positive for the anabolic steroids, androstane, and dromostanolone in his pre-fight drug tests, on January 9, 2015.
Silva’s lawyer argued the steroids were flagged because of a tainted sexual enhancement drug he’d taken.
The commission was having none of it and his win against Nick Diaz was overturned to a no-contest, meaning he lost roughly $380,000 and was banned from fighting for 1 year.
4. Vitor Belfort
Well known for using steroids since the age of 19, Belfort was popped for using steroids while fighting for Pride in 2006 after losing to Dan Henderson. He was caught using the banned substance, 4-hydroxytestosterone, landing him a nine-month suspension and a $10,000 fine.
Vitor is known as one of the fighters using testosterone therapy replacement (TRT), allowed by the UFC under what was known as a TUE, or therapeutic use exemption.
This is well established as being a farce, as many other fighters claimed to have low testosterone and would follow the same route as Vitor.
At the time it was a legal loophole to use peds as a fighter and as many as 15 UFC fighters were legally using TRT until the UFC banned it in 2014.
It’s also known that the UFC allowed Vitor to fight against Jon Jones at UFC 152, despite his pre-fight drug tests showing way above normal testosterone levels for a man his age.
Their excuse would obviously have been that TRT is legal and he’s medically allowed to use it because of his TUE; business comes first.
5. Dan Henderson
Dan is another UFC legend who used TRT via a therapeutic use exemption because the UFC allowed it until 2014. He simply lied that he had hypogonadism and was granted TRT legally by a doctor.
So despite never testing for banned substances, Dan was legally using steroids while fighting in the UFC.
What made it obvious that Dan Henderson was using steroids was his age. He didn’t join the UFC until 1998 when he was 28 years old, and he fought for 20 years there until he was 48.
No one in their 40s is competing in the UFC against elite-level killers in their 20s and 30s without the use of steroids.
In 2014 when the UFC banned its athletes from using TRT, Dan claimed he went cold turkey and continued to compete for the next 4 years without peds. This is a blatant lie as his physique didn’t change and he was still competing at a high level.
6. Josh Barnett
Josh Barnett is the UFC’s youngest-ever heavyweight champion, winning the title in 2002 by beating Randy Couture, aged 24.
In his fight before his title win against Couture, Josh tested positive for banned substances after his win over Hoffman at UFC 34. For undisclosed reasons, he was still allowed to fight despite the commission and UFC both knowing the banned substances used.
Letting him fight Couture (UFC 36) was clearly a mistake, as his post-fight drug tests showed he’d used banned substances fluoxymesterone, nandrolone, and boldenone.
In his hearing with the NSAC, Josh denied taking any peds and alleged he was being set up. He was given a 6-month suspension which was the worst of his worries. Dana White vowed Josh would never fight in the UFC again, causing Josh to fight in Japan until 2010.
However, Dana must’ve forgotten his promise because Josh returned to the UFC in 2013 where he fought for the next 3 years. Perhaps with how many fighters were legally using TRT and illegally using other drugs, his opposition to them had lessened.
7. Tim Sylvia
Another UFC heavyweight to test positive for banned substances was Tim Sylvia. He won the title against Ricco Rodriguez and successfully defended it against Ian McGee at UFC 44, in 2003.
After the fight, Tim was flagged for the anabolic steroid, stanozolol (Winstrol). Quickly owning up to the fact, Tim said he used the drug in order to change his physique and help him shed excess fat during his weight cut. He hoped it’d be out of his system come the pre-fight drug tests.
Here we have the truth about how 99% of UFC fighters get caught. It’s because their dosage or timing was off and they get caught because the illegal drugs are still in their system.
Tim was stripped of his heavyweight title, suspended for 6 months, and given a $10,000 fine by NSAC.
8. Stephan Bonnar
Bonnar is remembered as a UFC legend for having some of the most exciting wars in the early days of the promotion, such as the epic battle between himself and Forrest Griffin in the TUF 1 finale.
In the eagerly anticipated rematch at UFC 62 (2006), Bonnar again lost by decision and was popped after for the anabolic steroid, Boldenone. He was issued a 9-month suspension and a $5,000 fine.
Boldenone is practically identical to testosterone and is used to increase muscle mass and strength while keeping body fat low; ideal for UFC fighters. It’s also used illegally in racehorses to increase performance.
After getting knocked out by Anderson Silva at UFC 153 in 2012, Bonnar again tested positive in his post-fight drug test for the anabolic steroid drostanolone (Masteron).
Bonnar was suspended for 1 year but had already announced his retirement shortly after the fight.
9. Royce Gracie
A pioneer and UFC Hall of Famer, the UFC may not be where it is today without Royce Gracie dominating the early UFC tournaments and showing the brilliance of Bjj against fighters much heavier than himself.
In a 2007 rematch against Kazushi Sakuraba, Royce was eager to win after Sakuraba had beaten him and his brothers, Ryan Gracie, Royler Gracie, and Renzo Gracie.
Royce won the rematch via unanimous decision but was popped for the steroid, nandrolone. He had 25 times the amount of testosterone a healthy male has.
In his previous fight in the UFC against Matt Hughes, Royce weighed 175 lbs, while in the fight against Sakuraba, he weighed in at 188 lbs. He looked more cut so the weight gain was mostly muscle; highly unlikely for a 40-year-old man to gain in 12 months without the use of steroids.
Royce was slapped with a 1-year suspension and a $2,500 fine by the CSAC, while the victory remained on his record for unknown reasons.
10. Wanderlei Silva
Wanderlei is known as “The Axe Murderer” and for good reason; he’s one of the most violent and aggressive MMA fighters of all time.
Wanderlei was never flagged for steroids, but he refused to take a random drug test before a fight with Chael Sonnen in 2014 and was replaced by Vitor Belfort.
Silva was given a lifetime ban and a $70,000 fine by the NSAC for not taking the random drug test. The suspension was later overturned to 3 years.
His lawyer said Wanderlei had used diuretics to heal his injured wrist and was worried these would show up in the drug test. Diuretics are used by fighters when cutting weight as they increase urine flow and sodium excretion, both vital in executing a water flush.
However, they’re also used to mask the presence of various substances such as steroids by reducing the concentration of these substances in the urine. At the end of the day, diuretics are also banned but Wanderlei didn’t want to admit to steroid use.
11. Thiago Silva
Expecting to face former light heavyweight champion Quinton Jackson at UFC 130, Silva’s tests confirmed he’d submitted non-human urine. Silva openly said he’d used a urine adulterant in an attempt to game the results; bought online as it supposedly beat drug screens.
In the hearing, Silva also said he’d used prescription steroids 30-45 days before his fight with Brandon Vera at UFC 125, injected into his back and spine in an attempt to heal an injury he’d sustained.
Silva said he was desperate to get back into the cage because he was broke and needed the money. He was suspended for 1 year, fined a total of $33,750 by the NSAC, and his win over Brandon Vera was overturned to a draw.
He was again suspended for 6 months in late 2012 after he tested positive for cannabis metabolites in his post-fight drug test. His win over Stanislav Nedkov was also overturned to a no-contest.
12. Sean Sherk
After defeating Hermes Franca at UFC 73 to defend his lightweight title, Sean tested positive for the steroid, nandrolone, and elevated levels of testosterone. He tested as having 12ng/ml of nandrolone, while the average for a male adult is between 2-6ng/ml.
Initially given a 12-month suspension, this was reduced to 6 months after Sherk battled to clear his name. He was stripped of his lightweight title and fined $2,500.
13. Hermes Franca
Much like Sean Sherk, Hermes also tested positive after their fight at UFC 73 for Drostanolone, more commonly known as Masteron.
Masteron is used by athletes to help retain strength while losing body fat, perfect for UFC athletes during a weight cut as a diuretic.
The CSAC handed Hermes a 1-year suspension and a $2,500 fine.
14. Kimo Leopoldo
A veteran of the sport, Kimo made his MMA debut at UFC 3 in 1994. Returning in 2003 after a five-year absence from the UFC, Kimo took on Ken Shamrock at UFC 48 in 2004.
After he lost the fight, he tested positive for stanozolol (Winstrol), which is no surprise considering how big he was when he fought.
After the fight, he admitted to wrongdoing and said, “I did do some Winstrol in that fight, but at that time it was so early that I didn’t know I was going to be tested. That doesn’t justify it, but I wasn’t using it as a performance enhancer.”
This is the key, all UFC fighters use some form of peds but unlike Kimo, they do know when they’re going to be tested and they have substances out of their system before testing, or they’re masked with other substances.
He was suspended for 6 months and fined $5,000 by the NSAC, never to return to the UFC.
After his suspension, Kimo was scheduled to fight in WFA (2006) but was pulled from the fight after testing for stanozolol again. This is clearly a fighter who didn’t have a good enough doctor to help him pass the drug tests, or who didn’t have a doctor at all.
15. Cris Cyborg
Before her UFC days, Cyborg tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol (Winstrol) after defending her Strikeforce featherweight title in 2011 against Hiroko Yamanaka.
Stanozolol more commonly known as Winstrol, helps fighters build muscle mass, get stronger, recover faster, and become faster and more aggressive; everything a UFC fighter needs in order to become the best.
Her defense said Cyborg was having trouble during a weight cut, which is known to be one of her problems, and used a dietary supplement to aid her – a laughable argument.
Her win over Yamanaka was overturned to a no-contest and she was suspended for 1 year and fined $2500 by the CSAC.
Although never caught in the UFC, with her size and her known struggles during weight cuts, it’s obvious that Cyborg continued using peds and got around the testing. If she struggled this much cutting weight, imagine how she would’ve faired without the use of steroids.
UFC Fighters on Steroids: Post-USADA
16. Brock Lesnar
WWE wrestling superstar Brock Lesnar managed to crossover and become the UFC heavyweight champion after just his third UFC fight.
Amazingly, Brock was never popped for steroids during his first UFC run between 2008 and 2011, but he returned in 2016 to fight against Mark Hunt and was popped post-fight.
Brock was flagged by USADA for using the banned substance, clomiphene, so his victory against Mark Hunt was overturned to a no contest, while he also received a $250,000 fine and a 1-year suspension from MMA.
Clomiphene is an anti-estrogen drug used after a cycle of peds to prevent many side effects of the cycle, as well as restart natural testosterone production, which may be shut down by using steroids.
So although Brock Lesnar never tested positive for peds, he was caught using banned substances highly indicative of steroid use.
17. T.J. Dillashaw
Considered a UFC bantamweight great, Dillashaw was attempting to become a UFC double champ by taking down flyweight undisputed champion, Henry Cejudo.
Dillashaw was knocked out by Cejudo in the first round, and his reputation took a nose dive after he tested positive in his post-fight drug test for recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO).
EPO is a ped that increases the body’s production of red blood cells, translating into effective oxygen transport and therefore greater cardio.
He used EPO to aid him in cutting 29 lbs in three months to make the flyweight limit of 125 lbs and also to improve his cardio during the fight.
All this means is that Dillashaw screwed up on either his dose or the timing of EPO being undetectable in his system.
Dillashaw was suspended by USADA for 2 years, given a $10,000 fine, and stripped of his bantamweight title.
18. Jon Jones
The greatest UFC and MMA fighter of all time, Jones was initially stripped of the light heavyweight title in 2015 after his involvement in a hit-and-run.
He was stripped a second time after failing drug tests, this time for the interim light heavyweight title before his scheduled rematch with Daniel Cormier.
He’d tested positive for banned substances letrozole and clomiphene, both taken as part of a steroid cycle to reduce unwanted estrogen production which causes gynecomastia and water retention to name a couple.
He was given a 1-year suspension but cleared of any cheating after claiming the banned substances entered his system from a ‘male enhancement pill’.
The fact he was cleared of wrongdoing by USADA shows how clueless they are or how they’re in on the fact; probably both.
If they didn’t think he’d done anything wrong they wouldn’t have upheld his 1-year ban – USADA is all for show.
Jones was again banned after his knockout of Daniel Cormier at UFC 217 in 2017. He won the title but was stripped after he tested positive for anabolic steroid turinabol in his weigh-in drug tests.
Not only was he stripped for the third time but the fight was overturned to a no-contest, he was suspended for 15 months and given a $205,000 fine; which he would have to fulfill if he were to have his MMA license reinstated.
19. Frank Mir
Former heavyweight champion Frank Mir tested positive for anabolic steroids after his pre-fight drug test against Mark Hunt in 2016 came back positive for the steroid, turinabol.
Turinabol is mainly used as a strength boost and is most often used during a fighter’s weight cut as it helps them maintain muscle mass while in a calorie deficit.
Frank denied he’d taken the oral steroid but was given a 2-year suspension from fighting. Frank requested to be released from his UFC contract despite having fights left because the contract prevented him from broadcasting and other avenues of work he wished to pursue.
The UFC granted his release 1 year into his 2-year suspension.
20. Michel Prazeres
In his second doping offense in 2021, Michel was scheduled to fight Clay Guida in December but his urine samples tested positive for clomiphene (anti-estrogen), oxandrolone, and testosterone.
Michel blamed the positive tests on the fertility treatment he used, trying to get his wife pregnant. A lame excuse, he was suspended for 4 years by USADA.
Another thing that gives away his steroid use is his age. Considering how pervasive steroids are in MMA, there’s no chance a 40-year-old is competing against much younger UFC fighters on steroids without the use of peds themself.
21. Marc-Andre Barriault
After joining the UFC in 2019, Barriault lost his first three fights before winning his fourth. Unfortunately for him, his first win was overturned to a no-contest after he tested positive for the banned substance ostarine.
Initially given a 9-month suspension, it was reduced to 6 months after he was cleared of any wrongdoing by USADA as his ostarine levels were low and supposedly the result of contamination.
If this is the case, why wasn’t his whole suspension lifted? He also had to pay a $2,100 fine.
The truth about his suspension is that he took the banned substance ostarine, a selective androgen receptor modulator (SARM), heavily used by athletes globally since 2017 as a performance enhancer.
The concept of SARMS is that they activate the androgen receptor similar to anabolics but without negative androgenic side effects such as water retention, acne, and gyno.
22. Ben Rothwell
Ben Rothwell was suspended for 2 years following out-of-fight tests conducted by USADA, finding him positive for testosterone use.
Ben denied any wrongdoing and claimed his doctor had prescribed him testosterone. USADA denied that Ben was exempt via a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) and his suspension was upheld.
This is an example of a UFC fighter who isn’t the leanest or most athletic-looking, so it’s easy to think he’s not using steroids. However, Ben Rothwell like all UFC fighters uses peds for various reasons, of which power and aggression are the most sought-after.
Ben Rothwell weighs in at the heavyweight limit of 265 lbs and if he wanted to drop body fat, he could get extremely lean and look like a UFC fighter on steroids. He just prefers fighting with the extra body fat and using the extra weight he’s allowed in the UFC heavyweight division.
23. Sean O’Malley
Sean has been suspended by USADA twice for taking the banned substance ostarine, causing him to miss two years of fighting and fights against Jose Alberto Quinonez and Marlon Vera between March 2018 and July 2019.
No surprise, Sean denied any wrongdoing and claimed the ostarine in his system was caused by tainted supplements. USADA bit his theory and believed that because he had such low levels in his system and was consistent with the story he’d told.
All this means is that there was only a trace amount of ostarine left in his system, and he mistimed his cycle.
Many believe UFC fighters of smaller stature in the bantamweight weight class and below are not using peds, but they too require the strength, cardio, and weight-cutting advantages peds provide.
24. Jessica Penne
For her second doping offense, Jessica failed an out-of-competition drug test, which found her taking stanozolol, for which she was handed a 4-year suspension.
However, this was reduced to 20 months after USADA deemed she hadn’t intended to cheat during her first offense, so 4 years was too heavy.
For the first offense, Jessica was found to have dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in her system which she argued was from a dietary supplement recommended by her doctor for a separate medical issue.
The Bottom Line
Yes, UFC fighters are on steroids, both pre and post-USADA, (2015) as can be seen with the above UFC fighters on steroids who’ve been caught.
While the testing of fighters is much more efficient since USADA became the third-party anti-doping agency for the UFC, fighters will never stop using steroids because they work and they’re a necessary evil to be at the top, as evidenced by the number of fighters sanctioned by USADA.
It’s impossible to say conclusively, but USADA isn’t so much about cleaning up doping, and rather they’re an insurance policy for the UFC.
They’re also about helping maintain the image and legitimacy of the UFC as a clean and drug-free MMA promotion to the general audience; which they’re very successful at doing.
A small minority of UFC fighters might be completely clean, but this percentage is likely under 10% and will never be known.
The fighters not using peds are likely the fighters who can’t afford to as it’s not cheap to pay for the drugs and the doctors. It’s also the fighters who are losing and getting released by the UFC because they’re at a disadvantage and are struggling to compete.
The fighters not caught have money for steroids and the best doctors and experts to help them manage their steroid cycles perfectly. They’re using masking agents at the right times and using peds difficult to catch or even detect – often referred to as designer steroids.