Finding out that Anderson Silva has tested positive for not one, but two banned substances feels worse than when someone first told me that Santa Claus didn't exist, because I never really believed in Santa. I believed in Silva.
First the facts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission announced that on February 3, it received the results from a January 9th test, which showed Silva had two banned substances in his system, Drostanolone metabolites (anabolic steroid) and Androsterone (a form of endogenous testosterone). Both are performance-enhancing drugs. The Commission also took a random sample of Silva's blood on January 18. Results from that test have not yet come back. Silva did, however, have a clean results from a post-fight urine test.
Now the reaction: heartbreak. There's frustration, incredulity and anger, but mostly, it's heartbreak. I've never believed in holding up athletes as role models. The incentives at the highest level of athletic competition are too high and the fruits of stellar performances too sweet for most people to live squeaky-clean lives. But that's exactly it — I never saw Silva as an "athlete" or prizefighter. I, like many MMA fans, have looked at him more as a pure martial artist testing his craft against any challenger. Naive, I know. Yet, Silva's fantastic success, mostly professional and calm demeanor (outside the cage), and allegiance to his training group have helped build that pure zen monk kung-fu image. That's gone now.
Nick Diaz also tested positive for a banned substance, marijuana. I don't care. It's his third time testing positive for the same substance. Obviously, it was a stupid decision, but it's nowhere near what has been found in Silva's blood.
Silva has never tested positive for any banned substance before, but even the least discerning fan and analyst must ask whether this is really the first time Silva has ever used performance-enhancing drugs. Yes, there are other tests being run on Silva's samples to confirm the results of the first test. That may clear Silva's name, but that is wishful thinking. Assuming, for now, that the initial result holds true, what are the chances this is the first time Silva turned to chemicals to prepare him for the cage? He was coming off of a long injury-motivated layoff, he's near 40 and he was being pressured by his family to retire, all of which undoubtedly put an incredible amount of pressure on him to perform better in this fight than normal. Perhaps this unique set of circumstances caused him to stray from an otherwise pure training path. We don't know. We can't know.
What about the future? The Nevada State Athletic Commission will likely issue a fine and suspension, but I highly doubt it will ban him like it did Wanderlei Silva. Will the UFC impose any additional sanctions? Will it drop him? Both are highly unlikely. For as much as the UFC has said it has a strict policy against performance-enhancing drug, UFC seem to be more interested in attempting to stop PED use (through offering to pay for testing in certain instances) instead of punishing confirmed users. Moreover, I find it difficult to believe the UFC would ever fire Silva, who carried the organization on his back for years. If it did fire Silva (which won't happen), you can bet that every MMA promotional company in the world would be throwing sweetheart deals at him. The UFC knows that and isn't likely to create a situation where a competitor could gain so much.
Once, however, Silva said:
"When the guys test for the steroids, (they should have) no more fights.”
Will the man, once revered by so many, now live up to his own words? Sadly, Silva's failed test destroyed the very faith needed to think he might live up to those words. Following through with them might be the only thing that begins to rebuild his image. That's especially unlikely now that Silva is outright denying any foul play on his part. Not surprising, but hard to swallow. Maybe we'll be forced to swallow it. Maybe 15 retests will confirm Silva's innocence. But that is a wide-eyed fan's hope and not a realist's perspective rooted in history.
Regardless of what this does to Silva's GOAT title, the idea of Silva as the pure martial artist is dead (for now). And all MMA fans are poorer because of that.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.