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Anderson Silva's positive drug test must force UFC rethink on PED's

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Every so often the cloak of invincibility surrounding a top sports star is lifted in such shocking fashion that is forces heads to roll in a major rethink over the way their respective field governs the very game in which they reside.

Anderson Silva's positive test for Drostanolone metabolites, anabolic steroids in layman's terms, has to be that moment for the Ultimate Fighting Championship and the athletic commissions across America and beyond that rule over fight sports.

The 39-year-old is widely regarded as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, possessing a staggering a range of skills that saw him destroy 16 successive opponents across six years on a run to the UFC middleweight title and beyond.

Silva has become nothing short of an icon in his native Brazil and was quite rightly placed on a pedestal as a man who perfectly demonstrates MMA's transition from barbaric bloodsport to a regulated, respected athletic competition that continues to garner ever-growing mainstream attention.

He now also joins a growing group of fighters who couldn't resist the temptation to seek help to stay at the top of his craft though, which means a legacy that should have stood the test of time is now forever tainted.

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UFC 183 main event a clusterf**k of epic proportions

The UFC has wider problems beyond Silva though, because if it can't flush out drug cheats and stop them entering the cage the very business model on which they have thrived over the last decade is surely under huge threat.

Last weekend's headline showdown on the Las Vegas strip between Silva and the unintentionally charismatic Nick Diaz should have been the crowning moment of a fantastic January for the organisation, who put together a strong run of meaningful fights involving marquee stars across four weeks.

All that hard work was undermined by both main event stars in UFC 183 though, with Silva and Diaz falling foul of drug tests surrounding the event by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Their crimes are very different though, with Diaz guilty of plain stupidity while Silva has far more serious questions to answer.

We always knew the main event on January 31st had some kind of freakshow appeal, but this is just plain ridiculous.

Diaz is no saint, but not the worst sinner

Let's address Diaz first, who had marijuana metabolites in his system in post-fight tests after losing to Silva by unanimous decision. It's the third time Diaz has fallen foul of that rule, it's a minor miracle it hasn't been more.

Diaz had more than the allowed maximum limit 150 nanogram of the metabolites in his body when the sample was taken, which is more than three times the threshold that was in place the first time he got caught back in 2007.

That issue is a minor embarrassment for the UFC, who once again put their pay-per-view machine behind a fan favourite that in truth surely can't be trusted to stay clean with the pressure on in a big fight.

Throw in the shock of light heavyweight champion Jon Jones being caught taking cocaine by a dubious out-of-competition test in the build-up to his title defence against Daniel Cormier on January 3rd and its been a mixed start to 2015 for the UFC to put it mildly.

Silva's crime is inexcusable

Silva's offence is far worse than dumb decisions by Diaz and Jones to take recreational drugs though. The man affectionately known by the moniker of 'Spider' had two anabolic steroids in his system when testers came calling for an out-of-competition check on January 9th.

We aren't talking about cycling or sprinting here, he used performance enhancing drugs specifically designed to stimulate muscle growth to make sure he was ready for hand-to-hand combat.

In hindsight its easy to see why Silva may have decided to cheat. Tasked with returning to the UFC just 13 months after breaking his leg in horrific fashion during a middleweight title rematch with Chris Weidman, the pressure to prove he could defy the odds and at 39 still compete at elite level may have proved too great.

We'll reserve final judgement on Silva until the results of confirmation tests return, but what's far more shocking is the fact that he tested positive for these banned substances on January 9th and was allowed to fight 22 days later. That is nothing short of a disgrace, but who is to blame?

Blame game begins

In his story that broke the news late last night Yahoo's chief 'cagewriter' Kevin Iole rightly points out that the Sports Medicine Research & Testing Laboratory, based in Salt Lake City, carried out the test but failed to return the results to the Nevada State Athletic Commission in anything approaching a timely manner.

They didn't receive the sample result until Tuesday, more than 48 hours after Silva had been given 25 minutes to punch, kick and knee Diaz at will. Quite frankly from the moment Silva tested positive he had no business being in the eight-sided steel structure the UFC calls the Octagon, claims of innocence or otherwise.

Now the UFC will quite rightly point out that the NSAC is paid to manage the big fights that have made Las Vegas the fight capital of the world, but leaving that job in their hands is bordering on negligent based on recent evidence.

The NSAC failed to protect Diaz on Saturday night, but through either ignorance, incompetence or a mixture of both ensured the UFC got a marquee, money-making fight into the cage. A cynical view perhaps, but entirely justifiable.

Passing the buck has been a common trend when it comes this subject of performance enhancing drugs in MMA, so why not simply take the issue to a reputable, established company with huge experience in managing PED's effectively like the World Anti-Doping Agency?

What about WADA?

Bringing an independent authority on board would immediately add credibility and much-needed punctuality to the UFC's war on drugs. And make no mistake about it, if the UFC wants to remain a credible place for the best fighters on the planet to showcase their skills it has to be all-out war.

Currently there's a perception that the UFC won't bring WADA on board because of what they might find among the 300+ plus fighters signed to the company and the far-reaching financial implications of damning results.

Former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre has been particularly vocal on the subject, who cited his belief that the use of PED's in MMA is widespread as a key factor in his decision to surprisingly retire in November 2013.

In an interview with Bloody Elbow the Canadian icon insisted: "I will never fight again in MMA without my opponent and myself being thoroughly tested for the most advanced PEDs by a credible independent anti-doping organisation like VADA or USADA under the strictest standards of the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) Code."

Now this may be an view unfair, it may not, but why doesn't the UFC simply remove that accusation altogether by working pro-actively with WADA and/or VADA, or even going the whole nine-yards and introducing a biological blood passport which tracks fighters and quickly identifies irregularities.

These measures are costly, time-consuming and will no doubt be met with opposition in some circles, but are absolutely vital for a young sport still fighting a daily battle for integrity in the wider public eye.

The UFC has defied all expectations to build a company which Forbes magazine values as the 10th most valuable sports brand in the world, worth an incredible $440 million, but now its time to invest some of that profit into a system which stops cheats damaging that brand irreparably.

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Anderson Silva
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