Despite losing a small fortune in bonus money for a failed drug test at UFC 159, lightweight Pat Healy manned-up and moved forward.
Following the biggest victory of his career in April, UFC lightweight Pat Healy was suddenly transformed into a teenager who had worked hard all summer and couldn’t wait for his first, fat paycheck to arrive in the mail.
“I was going to my mailbox every day, waiting for that big check to finally come” says Healy. “Then one day I got a letter from the NJ Athletic Commission instead.” It may as well have been a letter from Mr. Buzzkillington.
Making his UFC debut, Healy had just pulled off a major upset at UFC 159 in New Jersey, submitting perennial contender Jim Miller in his own backyard and earning the Team Quest fighter both “Submission of the Night” and “Fight of the Night” bonuses totaling $130,000. It was the breakout performance of his career and by far the biggest payday for the hard-nosed Irishman from Salem, Oregon.
“I got very nervous and thought to myself, this is not good,” Healy says. “I opened the letter up and it said that I’d failed the post-fight drug test and was suspended for 90 days. I then realized I wasn’t going to get any of the bonus money.”
He was right. Healy’s victory was overturned to a no-contest, he had to forfeit his $5,000 win bonus, and he lost out on the $130,000 award bonuses after his post-fight drug test relieved marijuana in his system. Yes, marijuana, which is now legal in two states. While pot continues to gain acceptance in society, it is still a banned substance by athletic commissions regulating MMA, including the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, which oversaw his fight against Miller.
While other fighters are receiving fines of a couple thousand dollars for having elevated testosterone levels or PEDs in their system, you could argue this was much too severe of a penalty for a non-performance-enhancing drug, but not Healy, who admitted that he used marijuana, accepted the UFC and commission’s disciplinary measures, and took responsibility for his actions.
“It certainly was a bummer losing out on all that money, but it was my own fault, I had to be a man about it,” says Healy. “I didn’t want to be one of those guys who lied about it and said it was secondhand smoke or anything like that. I wanted to address the issue right away because I didn’t want people to think I used PEDs—that is very important to me—so I guess I just had to man-up.”
The decision to smoke weed with some old friends would prove to be a very costly decision for the veteran fighter.
“I smoked like three or four weeks out,” he says. “I didn’t really think it would be an issue when it came to the drug test. I knew the rules and never should have done it, but I never thought it would be an issue. I’m sure there are many things I could have done to make sure my system was clean, but I didn’t really even think about it and was very surprised when it came up in my system.”
Surprised may be the understatement of the year.
While the loss of thousands of dollars could prove to be the breaking point for some, Healy has used the unfortunate situation to rededicate himself to mixed martial arts. He has a new four-fight deal with the UFC, is scheduled to face undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov September 21 at UFC 165 in Toronto, and is looking to build off his performance against Miller to get into title contention.
“There were a few days where I stared at a wall in a dark room and was very angry with myself,” says Healy. “But I just tried to be a man about it, took responsibility, and leaned on family and friends to help me get over it. The fight with Nurmagomedov is exactly what I need. He’s tough, has impressive wrestling skills, and is undefeated. If I can get another win against him, I feel I’ll be right back in the mix.”
Even with his win over Miller officially being overturned to a no-contest, “Bam Bam” is doing some of the best fighting of his career recently and is 9-1 in his past 10 fights. The veteran of 45 professional bouts has recorded victories over Carlos Condit, Paul Daley, and Dan Hardy.
Although Healy has received some much needed support during this difficult time, it doesn’t mean he didn’t get an earful from those closest to him.
“My brother Ryan didn’t let me have it too bad, but his wife certainly had some choice words,” he says. “She wasn’t happy because we have a business plan that we are working on to invest in a UFC gym where my brother currently works as an assistant general manager and is taking over as full GM. So she was pretty upset with me because that would have been the rest of the money to complete the investment. I got reamed pretty hard by her for that.”
While the UFC has pleaded with athletic commissions to reduce the penalty for marijuana and increase the allowable threshold of the drug being in a fighters’ system, Healy, for now, is the poster-boy for being busted for smoking marijuana. It was a hard lesson to learn.
“You just can’t take things for granted,” says Healy. “I took things too lightly by doing something against the rules. I really appreciate my job and being with the UFC and am happy they stood behind me and really thankful for all I still have. I’m officially finished with pot.”
Although it may have been the “high road” that got him into this mess in the first place, the 30-year-old continues to travel down that path.