Burkman Explains Steroid Usage from a Fighter’s Perspective

By Joe Myers Sep 22, 2010
The use of performance-enhancing drugs in MMA is always a hot topic of discussion, and it was made even more so with the recent report that UFC 117 headliner Chael Sonnen tested positive for a steroid substance.

UFC veteran Josh Burkman has a unique perspective on the subject, both from training with Sonnen at Team Quest and having taken steroids himself.

“The reason why I wasn't on the first season (of “The Ultimate Fighter”) was that I didn't pass my (steroid) test,” Burkman said Monday during an appearance on the Sherdog Radio Network's “Beatdown” show. “I learned my lesson early on and I'm glad for that. Guys are training so hard that they are (using performance-enhancing drugs). They're taking things for injuries and they're just trying to stay healthy and stay strong. It's a rough sport, and guys are going to do what they have to do. There's more money on the line now. There's more riches. It's a deep-rooted problem in athletics and it has been for 100 years, and I don't see it going anywhere and I don't see a way of fixing it either."

Burkman said he took the steroid Winstrol to prepare for the first season of the reality show. Though he competes now as a welterweight, Burkman -- who cuts to 170 from the 200-pound range -- was slated to compete in the show's 205-pound division.

"My thing was that I was out of shape," Burkman said. "Before I went on 'The Ultimate Fighter,' I wanted to get my weight down and my buddy said, 'Hey, you should try Winstrol.' I didn't think that they were going to test us and so I took it. I started taking it three weeks out, and they called me up four days before ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and wanted me to take a test and I thought, 'Aw, sh-t. I don't think I'm going to pass this.'"

However, Burkman said the positive test caused him to make some major changes in his life.

"I was out of shape because I was in Scottsdale and I was drinking and I was partying and I wanted to take the steroids so I could get in shape faster," Burkman said. "I cut out the drinking and the partying, and I started to develop a more healthy lifestyle and stayed in shape so that I didn't need (PEDs) to cheat to get ahead. As the competition gets more fierce, people are going to look for an edge and that's what I was trying to do. I was trying to get that edge."

Having to tell the football players he coached about his positive steroid test was another experience that hit home for Burkman.

"I was coaching high school football and told my kids, 'Hey, I'm not going to be around this season. I'm going on ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ and two weeks later, I showed back up and the kids asked what happened," Burkman said. "I had to sit the kids down and tell them what happened. It was embarrassing, but it helped me teach them a good lesson in life and it taught me a good lesson in life. I've become a better person, a stronger person and a better influence. Sometimes the worst things that can happen to you, you learn from them. They make you better and stronger, and I'm just lucky that happened for me."

Burkman was able to compete on the second season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” earning a unanimous decision over Melvin Guillard in the quarterfinals before bowing out of the competition due to a broken arm. He went on to have a 5-5 record in the UFC against some of the top names at 170 pounds, including Jon Fitch, Karo Parisyan and Mike Swick.

As for Sonnen and his positive test, Burkman said it was just another indicator of how MMA is becoming more and more mainstream with its problems with performance-enhancing drugs.

"I think a lot of guys in professional sports take performance-enhancing drugs, whether they're doing it legally or doing it illegally," Burkman said. "I would've had no clue that (Sonnen) was taking what he was taking. Some people take them, some people don't. That's the way it is in all sports. I've known Chael for a long time … and when I trained with Chael, he wasn't doing anything. Guys get bigger opportunities, and maybe they feel like they need more things. One thing you can't take away from Chael Sonnen is that he's in the gym all the time busting his ass working hard trying to get better. It's too bad that athletes are getting put under this microscope now because whether it's steroids or whatever it is, athletes have been trying to get an edge one way or another for years and years and years. You can't take away how hard these athletes work and how hard they train, no matter what they're doing."

Long removed from his steroid use, Burkman is now trying to fight his way back to the UFC. He has gone 2-0 since being trimmed from the UFC roster following a unanimous decision loss to Pete Sell at UFC 90 in October 2008. The Sell loss was his third straight in the Octagon, but after taking time off to heal up from several injuries, Burkman rebounded with a first-round knockout of Brandon Melendez in November 2009 and followed that up with a unanimous decision over Jake Paul in April.

He looks to continue his resurgence Friday when he takes on Jordan Smith in the main event of the "Showdown Fights: Respect" event in Orem, Utah. Another win could see him return to the Octagon sooner rather than later.

"I've talked to Dana White and I've talked to (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva, and they knew where I was when I left the UFC," Burkman said. "They knew about my back and me being injured. Joe told me to just go get a couple of wins. Joe told me, 'We've always been happy with the way you fight. You've always put on a good show, and we'd be glad to have you back.' After this fight, I might take one more outside of the UFC. As long as things go well, I'll be back in the UFC. There's no doubt about that."
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