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Champions shouldn't back down from challengers regardless of drug test

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Last updated 6/1/2017 at 10:42am

There’s kind of that unwritten rule in combat sports that a world champion should be ready to defend their title against all challengers.

So it’s been a surprise to many fans that UFC women’s featherweight titleholder Germaine de Randamie has refused to defend her belt against prospective challenger Cris “Cyborg” Justino.

In an interview with ESPN, De Randamie’s manager, Brian Butler, explained that the champion will not fight Justino because the latter’s past drug test failures.

In 2011, when she fought for the Strikeforce promotion, Justino tested positive for steroids following a featherweight title defense. As punishment, she was stripped of the belt and suspended for one year.

But since then, Justino has been clean. Last year, she did test positive for a banned substance, but received a retroactive therapeutic-use exemption from the United States Anti-Doping Agency and wasn’t punished by the agency or the UFC. During this time, De Randamie defeated Holly Holm to win the featherweight title.

This isn’t the first time a fighter has refused to face Justino in the octagon. Former women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and Justino have had a heated rivalry for the last few years — Rousey has repeatedly brought up Justino’s failed drug test, calling her a “cheater,” though her main reason for not fighting Justino was because the latter could not make the 135 weight cut. The failed drug test was really Rousey’s ammo in taunting Justino.

De Randamie has gone as far as to say she would rather be stripped of the title than face Justino. She is the champion and she can do what she wants, but not willing to defend the belt makes her look weak to fans and promoters — and to me, using Jusitno’s past drug test is a poor excuse.

Performance enhancing drugs and cheating in combat sports is a problem and the UFC and Anti-Doping Agency are trying to mitigate it. There are fighters who use these drugs for an advantage before a fight — you know the old saying “give an athlete an inch and they’ll take a mile.” Those who are caught will receive a punishment — which usually equates to a fine and a suspension, or the stripping of your belt if you’re a champion. Some athletes will fail a drug test once and they’ll get the “cheater” label put on them for the rest of their career even though they stayed clean, which isn’t fair.

Since her 2011 suspension, Justino had seven fights, including two in the UFC, and she did not fail a drug test after any of them. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t taking illegal substances during training, but in the case of post-fight drug exams, she passed them all with flying colors.

Justino isn’t the first fighter to fail a drug test and find redemption. Former heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia was stripped of his belt after testing positive for anabolic steroids after a title defense in 2003. After he had his title taken away, Sylvia went 4-2 in his next six fights before he won the title back from rival Andrei Arlovski. Although Sylvia found redemption, it was overshadowed by that one bad drug test.

Fortunately for Justino, fans have backed her because she’s an athlete who has dominated her division — she hasn’t lost a fight since 2005 — and finishes her opponents in fast and furious fashion which people love.

I don’t think we’re going to see Justino fight for the women’s featherweight title anytime soon. The UFC hasn’t said anything regarding De Randamie’s comments, and Justino was recently cited for battery assault following an attack against a fellow fighter at the organization’s recent athlete’s retreat.

But if De Randamie wants her featherweight title reign to mean something, she shouldn’t back down from any challenger, including Justino.

Al Stover can be reached at


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