A little less than a month after his unanimous-decision loss to Eduardo Dantas at Bellator 137, Mike Richman got the bad news he’d been dreading.
His post-fight drug test had come up positive for an anabolic steroid, which was not exactly a shock, since Richman had used steroids while training for the bout. Still, he knew what would likely come next, and it wasn’t anything he was looking forward to.
In the immediate aftermath of the fight (watch the highlights above) and drug test, he got all kinds of well-meaning advice about what he should say in response. People told him what he could blame it on, how he could craft a defense. People told him that maybe the best thing to say was nothing at all, just ignore it and wait for it to go away.
Instead, Richman decided to do the opposite.
“I just felt like that, once it came out, I wanted to tell people right away,” Richman told MMAjunkie. “It felt like the right thing to do. I thought that with the little integrity I had left, I had to own up to it. I didn’t want to hide behind excuses or blame it on supplements.”
Richman took to his Facebook page that same day with an announcement that drew immediate attention, mostly for its uncommon honesty. He did it, Richman wrote. He took steroids, and he got caught. He offered no excuses or explanations in his defense, only shame and regret.
“I will not sit here and deny that I took it or act like I didn’t know what I was taking or blame it on someone else,” Richman wrote on June 9, 2015. “I am a cheat, plan (sic) and simple and there is no excuse or reason that is valid enough to dispute the reasons why I cheated the sport and myself by using it.”
Richman’s 256-word statement was frank and forthright, a clear admission that never asked for the sympathy he seemed certain that he wouldn’t get. It was also incredibly rare, especially in a sport in which failed drug tests usually set off a wave of denials and deflections, or else prolonged guilty silences.
Still, Richman’s admission did nothing to mitigate the consequences. The California State Athletic Commission suspended him for two years, which meant he had to find another way to make a living, and quickly. So he got a job as a bouncer in a strip club. He got back in the gym and tried to stay in shape, but it was difficult to motivate himself at times with no hope of getting a fight any time soon. Roughly a year into his suspension, Bellator released him, which “came as a bit of a shock” after the organization had originally told him that it would stand behind him, he said.
The toughest part, however, might have been mending fences with his coaches, none of whom knew that he’d been using steroids, t
hough maybe they should have.
“They were definitely disappointed in me,” Richman said. “I think in other instances maybe there is a coordinated effort with this kind of thing (between fighters and coaches), but I was the only one who knew. I think they saw the changes in that camp. I got bigger in size, put on more mass, and my strength and conditioning coach, he noticed that. But people don’t want to question you. They think, maybe he’s eating more or getting more protein.”
And the steroids, they worked, according to Richman. He got stronger. He had more energy. The aches and pains from hard training sessions seemed to disappear faster. He added so much muscle mass that his weight cut went from difficult to nearly impossible. After getting up to nearly 190 pounds in training, he came in at 139 pounds for the 135-pound bout. On top of all that, he lost the fight.
Ask him now why he did it, and Richman resists the temptation to name a reason.
“I could come up with a handful of excuses, but none of them justify it,” Richman said. “I could say that a lot of people are using it, or that I had this big fight that could get me to a title shot, or that I was sick of the aches and pains and I wanted to recover. I could tell you every single excuse that everyone uses. But those aren’t good reasons. They don’t justify anything.”
In at least one way, Richman was lucky. Although the CSAC originally gave him a two-year suspension, CSAC Executive Director Andy Foster told MMAjunkie he waived the remainder of the penalty recently after Richman passed a follow-up drug test. With his license reinstated, Richman (18-6) is now set to return to action for the first time since 2015 when he takes on Lazar Stojadinovic (11-5) in Friday’s LFA 2 main event on AXS TV.
For Richman the goal is to get a winning streak going and attract the attention of the UFC. Partly that’s because, like most fighters, he wants to fight on the biggest stage in the sport. But it’s also because he wants to do what he can to convince people that, despite his past, he’s competing clean now. The UFC’s anti-doping program through the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) might be his best chance to make that case through his own actions.
“You see USADA, they’re catching more and more people, and they’re making an impact on stopping people using (performance-enhancing drugs),” Richman said. “I feel like being in the UFC and going through that USADA program, that helps make your case. I know I’ll always have that asterisk next to my name and I’ll never get rid of it. I understand that, and I deserve that. But I think if people see you in that program, they have more confidence that you’re clean.”
That’s Richman’s hope, anyway. And with his suspension served and his comeback in sight, for now it might be his best shot at redemption.