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UFC releases fighter after withdrawal from event due to COVID

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Longtime middleweight and former BJJ world champ Antonio Braga Neto’s 8-year tenure with the UFC came to a close this week, just two weeks after he withdrew from UFC Vegas 35 due to a positive test for COVID-19.

Antonio Braga Neto enters the Octagon for his 2017 bout against Trevin Giles.
Antonio Braga Neto enters the Octagon for his 2017 bout against Trevin Giles.
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The long, strange saga of Antonio Braga Neto’s UFC career appears to have come to a close. A multiple time BJJ world champion, Braga Neto first hit the Octagon all the way back in 2013, picking up a knee bar victory over future light heavyweight title contender Anthony Smith.

Injury scrapped an expected quick return against Derek Brunson, but the Brazailian was back in the Octagon a year later, in 2014, to take on Clint Hester for a hard fought decision loss. After that, fans could be forgiven for thinking that Braga Neto had walked away from MMA altogether.

Following a scrapped 2015 fight against Zak Cummings, Braga Neto returned to the UFC two years later for a fight with Trevin Giles—a third round KO defeat. 2018, 2020, and 2021 all saw bouts for Braga Neto fall apart, each time with the world-class grappler being the one to withdraw from the fight.

MMA Fighting now reports that the UFC has decided to part ways with the 33-year-old, following his withdrawal from a UFC Vegas 35 booking against Abdul Razak Alhassan. Alhassan would go on to face Alessio Di Chirico, winning the bout via first round KO.

While the Endeavor-owned promotion’s move to end Braga Neto’s contract may not be surprising given that he’s had just three bouts in eight years, it seems somewhat cynical considering Fighting’s confirmation that his most recent booking was apparently cancelled due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

Alongside that news, Fighting’s Guilherme Cruz reports that the UFC has also parted ways with women’s flyweight prospect Liliya Shakirova. The Uzbekistani was recently on the receiving end of a two-year USADA suspension for meldonium. The result of an out-of-competition drug test collected shortly after her debut loss to current title contender Lauren Murphy.

The anti-ischemia medication was forefront in the news back in 2016 when WADA moved to ban the drug, which was a fairly common prescription (with somewhat unclear potential PED implications) in former USSR states. In the UFC Islam Makhachev, Daniel Omielanczuk, and Abdul-Kerim Edilov all tested positive for the substance. However, Makhacehv and Omielanczuk were both cleared of wrongdoing, as their tests came before WADA’s announcement. Edilov, however, was handed a 15-month suspension.

In Shakirova’s case, her harsher suspension appears to have come, at least in part, due to her failure to disclose past use of the drug when filing her “onboarding” paperwork with USADA and the UFC.