April 12, 2012

Tainted Mix: Thiago Silva's Return Raises Questions About the UFC's Attitude Regarding Cheating

By Raphael Garcia

Recent events have pushed the discussion around the use of performance enhancing drugs in mixed martial arts. While it seems as if a month cannot go by before another major name is felled by a failed test, a peculiar situation has crept under the radar in recent weeks, involving one individual who is a part of the tainted list.

14-2 Thiago Silva is poised to take on 13-1 Alexander Gustafsson at UFC on Fuel TV 2 live from Sweden this coming Saturday. This is a highly anticipated bout between a quickly-rising young competitor and an individual who was once in that same position. That was before Silva placed himself in a situation that will likely follow him for the rest of his career.

On January 1, 2011, at UFC 125 Silva faced Brandon Vera in a featured light heavyweight contest. During the bout Silva smashed Vera’s nose while smothering him through the entire 15 minutes. Silva looked so fantastic that many individuals believed he was poised to finally make a push towards title contention.

Then things began to fall apart. Silva was pulled from the UFC 130 card where he was expected to face Quinton Jackson. While first inclinations were that Silva had reinjured his back, he actually released a statement about the Nevada State Athletic Commission having an issue with his pre-fight urine tests. On March 29th, NSAC leader Keith Kizer released a statement that after further testing Silva’s urine sample, it was found to be “inconsistent” with that of a human urine sample. Think about that. The results meant that Silva either tried to alter his sample or submitted that of another species when he was tested before his UFC 125 bout. A day later, Silva released a statement admitting to his usage and citing his back injury and recovery as the reason why he took the chance of using performance enhancing drugs. After a hearing a few weeks later, Silva was suspended for a year and faced other sanctions. Now, after serving out that year-long suspension, Silva finds himself in a position to explode back onto the light heavyweight scene at a time when the division is badly in need of a new contender.

That fact should not sit well with other fighters in the organization. It should not sit well with new fighters who are trying to get into the UFC and have to submit themselves to entry contract testing. It also should not sit well with fighters who have been cut from the organization for similar, or even “less offensive,” situations. How is it fair that they’ve had to suffer harsher punishments for similar actions to those that were taken by Thiago Silva? When his return to the Octagon was originally announced, Silva was placed against Vera for a bout that was planned to occur during UFC on Fuel TV 3. However, Vera (who was cut following his loss to Silva at UFC 125, but reinstated with the positive test result came to light) suffered an injury and was pulled from the bout. Silva eventually ended up being placed in his current bout against Gustafsson when Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was hurt.

Yes, you do have to take into account that a string of injuries has placed Silva in the main event of a big fight on free television. Still, the rematch against Vera was still poised to be a highly-pushed and big-drawing bout with much planned hype around it. Silva would have still been placed in a position to greatly benefit immediately upon his return. If he defeats Gustafsson in spectacular fashion, there is no doubt that he will find himself as a potential title challenger by the end of this year, or start of 2013. This can be seen as extremely unfair when those that have done similar actions were removed from the organization.Silva went from sitting on the shelf due to cheating the sport to appearing in a main event bout with the potential to launch himself into light heavyweight contention. Is this the perception that the UFC wants to give when punishing their athletes for using performance enhancing drugs?

As the UFC continues to grow and expand, they have a serious issue on their hands with the perception of “favoritism” when it comes to how it handles fighters that are found guilty of using performance enhancing drugs or illegal substances of any kind. Some individuals are shunned by the organization, while others are defended. The UFC consistently claims to be a part of the most regulated sport in the world and while they are, more could still be done on their end. Hard line rules against using PEDs will let everyone know that they are truly not willing to accept any fighter that takes that route during competition. Instead it seems that every individual is treated on a case-by-case basis, and that plays into the harps from critics of the UFC and mixed martial arts as a whole.

We’ve all heard the saying “Life is all about timing,” and Thiago Silva may truly be a beneficiary of such an occurrence. However the UFC could have handled his situation differently, and will need to do so for those that will come after it, to prove they are really out to force the cheaters out of mixed martial arts.


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