Elizeu Zaleski frustrated over ‘unfair’ doping suspension, eyes Gunnar Nelson or Neil Magny after UFC Vegas 74

Elizeu Zaleski finally returns to the octagon on Saturday to face Abubakar Nurmagomedov on the preliminary card of UFC Vegas 74, and he plans to unleash all his frustration on the Russian talent after serving a one-year doping suspension he considered “unfair.”

Zaleski was slated to meet Mounir Lazzez in April 2022 when he failed an out-of-competition drug test performed by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) one month prior to the bout. He was flagged for ostarine, a banned selective androgen receptor modulator (SARM) that’s been linked to several cases involving tainted supplements.

“It was a tainted [supplement], but the compound pharmacy didn’t admit their mistake,” Zaleski said on this week’s episode of MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca podcast. “They would never admit their mistake, of course, and that has made things worse with USADA. But it was proved that it was contamination, yes. We did all the tests, but life goes on. I was hit with a huge loss, but we’re back in the game again.”

When USADA officially announced Zaleski’s suspension in September 2022, it said “the athlete is not able to demonstrate based on a balance of probabilities that their positive test arose from supplement contamination. In this particular case, the athlete presented evidence involving a supplement product purchased from a compounding pharmacy in Brazil but was unable to meet his burden to establish contamination.”

USADA has stated previously, when announcing other cases involving ostarine in which athletes were able to prove contamination, that the substance “has commonly been found as a declared and undeclared ingredient in many dietary supplements” even though it is “not currently available as a prescription medication in any country.”

Zaleski used his forced time off to enjoy time with his family after competing non-stop for 13 years in MMA. But not being able to fight badly hurt him financially.

“What keeps you [able to make ends meet] are the sponsors,” he said. “I pretty much lost all the money I had invested in my camp [for Lazzez]. I spent a lot of money.”

The UFC welterweight said he considered suing the Brazilian compound pharmacy, but “I had no money to pay the lawyer.”

“It would be like a snowball getting bigger and bigger, and I would be dragging in debt more and more,” Zaleski said. “God knows what happened, and my conscience is clear. I proved it was contamination, so let justice be made in any other way. Someone will pay for it somehow.”

For now, Zaleski wants to make Nurmagomedov pay inside the octagon in his first UFC fight since putting on a violent beating on Benoit Saint Denis at UFC 267 in October 2021.

“His game is [engineered], step-by-step, towards using his grappling,” Zaleski said of the 33-year-old Russian, who has won two of three bouts so far since joining the UFC. “He’s no fool on the feet with his kickboxing, he does well there, but does it to get to where he wants, which is taking us to the grappling area.”

Victorious in nine of his past 11 UFC appearances — a long list that includes names like Sean Strickland and Alexey Kunchenko — “Capoeira” has two popular welterweights in mind for his post-fight callout if everything goes his way at UFC Vegas 74.

“It’s been a while since I’m interested in fighting these two guys, Gunnar Nelson and Neil Magny,” Zaleski said.

Nelson does not currently have a fight booked after submitting Bryan Barberena in March, while Magny looks to rebound from a loss to Gilbert Burns when he faces Philip Rowe on June 24.

“They would be good matchups style-wise for me,” Zaleski said. “I think that’s an interesting next step for me. It would be a huge honor for me to fight them.”