A possible answer to that question arrived Thursday, when the UFC announced that Justino had committed a potential doping violation in an out-of-competition test earlier in December. According to UFC President Dana White, that could explain some “strange” decisions she had made in turning down opportunities for featherweight fights.
White told TMZ Sports on Thursday that, while getting the women’s featherweight division “set up,” he had “offered three fights to Cyborg, and she turned them all down.” He added, “Then we just found out, Cyborg tested positive for a banned substance from USADA,” referring to the U.S. Anti-Doping agency, which handles drug testing for the UFC.
“First of all, I was offering these fights at 145 pounds,” White said. “The first fight, she had eight weeks to get ready, the second fight she had 11 weeks to get ready, and the third fight she just turned down, and I thought it was strange that she was turning down all these fights.
“Not so strange now.”
Justino, 31, issued a statement Thursday in which she said that her “recent sample contained a banned substance known as Spironolactone,” a diuretic which she said was “part of a therapeutic treatment.” That treatment, which Justino said was prescribed by a doctor, started in September and was meant to continue “for a period of no less than 90 days.”
“I was given a medical suspension by [the doctor] not to enter into competition style training or weight cutting practices during the period of recovery,” Justino said in her statement. “It is for those reasons why I declined the UFC fight Feb. 11th 2016 for the first 145lbs belt.
“I am proud to be a member of USADA, and was the first fighter to complete 1 year of testing under USADA programs before competing in UFC competition. I have been tested 14 times since entering the program, twice in Q4 in 2016 and have never had a flagged sample.”
Justino did, however, test positive for an anabolic steroid in 2011, when she was a member of Strikeforce. That resulted in a one-year ban from the sport, and she could get a similar punishment from USADA this time, or an even longer suspension, once the agency completes its review of her flagged sample.
USADA does occasionally make allowances for athletes who have been prescribed banned substances to help with a course of treatment, but the athletes usually have to apply in advance for what is known as a therapeutic use exemption (TUE). Justino apparently failed to do that in this case, and it will be up to USADA to rule on the validity of her case.
“This will be the second time [Justino has tested positive],” White told TMZ Sports. “I don’t know [whether she can come back from this]. … We’ve got to see how this thing plays out.”
“For my fans who are disappointed in the news, I am sorry,” Justino said in her statement. “You can feel confident that the substance they are inquiring about is not for performance enhancing use, and is needed for my specific treatments. Feel confident that I am a clean athlete.”
Justino said that her therapeutic treatment was required to help her recover from the rigors of dropping enough weight to be able to compete at 140 pounds, which she did in several catchweight bouts this year, before the UFC created its new division. “It is my hope that my experiences will continue to bring awareness to the dangers of extreme weight cutting,” she said.
Following her previous suspension, Justino became Invicta’s featherweight champion, and her addition to UFC cards this year sparked fervor among MMA fans for a long-awaited showdown with Ronda Rousey. The latter has often mocked Justino for being unable or unwilling to compete at 135 pounds, Rousey’s fighting weight, because her steroid use made her too heavy.
As it stands now, the division that the UFC created ostensibly as a showcase for Justino, with or without a fight against Rousey, may never see the Brazilian star compete for its crown. In light of Thursday’s news, White told TMZ he was glad that, after Justino kept turning down possible fights, he went ahead with the Holm-De Randamie matchup, which will take place at UFC 208 in February.
“It’s funny how things work,” White said. “I ended up making this Holly-Germaine fight at 145, which is perfect now.”