Why Antonio 'Big Foot' Silva's failed drug test hurt more than just himself

Why Antonio 'Big Foot' Silva's failed drug test hurt more than just himself

Antonio "Big Foot" Silva was not the first UFC fighter to test positive for elevated levels of testosterone.

And you'd have to be a complete fool to believe he's going to be the last.

Silva is like virtually every one of the dozens, perhaps hundreds by now, of fighters who failed a post-fight drug test. It wasn't, he said, his fault. And he wasn't trying to cheat.

He did cheat, mind you, but talk to him and he'll insist that it wasn't his intention.

It never is, is it?


Silva works during an open training session Thursday in Brazil. (Getty)
Silva works during an open training session Thursday in Brazil. (Getty)

Silva's failure tarnished what should have been one of the most special moments in UFC history. His Dec. 7, 2013, fight in Brisbane, Australia, with Mark Hunt, which was scored a majority draw, was everything fight fans want a match to be: There was tremendous punishment delivered, non-stop action, plenty of drama and frequent swings of momentum.

A pair of mid-level fighters – both entered the fight coming off losses, and Silva was just 2-3 in his last five – showed the kind of bravery, determination, guts and effort that makes lifelong fight fans and makes the athletes legends.

Silva, though, is no legendary figure. As it turns out, his effort wasn't all natural. He was aided by his elevated testosterone levels.

The test failure even popped UFC president Dana White's bubble. White was over-the-top joyous after the fight and remained so until word of Silva's positive test came in.

"I was so bummed out, man," White said. "That was tough. That Mark Hunt fight was one of the best fights, maybe the best, I've ever seen, then that happened. It pretty much sucked."

On Saturday, Silva returns after a nine-month suspension and will face Andrei Arlovski in the main event of a card streamed from Brazil on UFC Fight Pass.

Silva's positive test forced so many changes. It killed the euphoria surrounding that epic first battle, and it did away with the possibility of an immediate rematch.

Silva told Yahoo Sports it wasn't his intention to cheat. His manager, Alex Davis, said Silva's testosterone levels were dangerously low and that he had a therapeutic use exemption for testosterone replacement therapy.

He said Silva needed TRT to treat acromegaly, a syndrome that causes excessive growth hormone.

Silva, he said, got the timing of his shots wrong and, essentially, took an extra shot when he shouldn’t have.

The problem with rampant cheating in the fight game is that it essentially disqualifies those with legitimate medical need.

Therapeutic use exemptions were banned in February, and the Brazil commission no longer issues them. So Silva will fight without the TRT that he and his manager said Silva needs to be healthy.

If you extend to Silva the belief that he indeed has a medical condition that requires him to take additional testosterone, and you believe that his "extra shot" was simply a mistake, it still doesn't wash.

There is an extra vigilance required by anyone who'd gotten a TUE for TRT to make sure that no extra shots are taken.

The UFC had Silva submit blood and urine samples in the middle of last month to make certain he was within normal limits. He'll also be given a blood and urine test on the night of the fight, and those samples will be sent to the World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited lab at UCLA for examination, said Marc Ratner, the UFC's vice president for regulatory affairs.

The result of Silva’s test failure is that there is little talk about the glorious battle of Brisbane, when Hunt and Silva pushed themselves beyond their limits.

The public will never fully trust Silva again, and it will be interesting to see if the UFC adds many new subscribers on Fight Pass. Since the streaming service was introduced, the UFC has seen spikes in membership each time there has been an exclusive Fight Pass card.

There aren't a lot of big names on the card other than Silva and Arlovski, a one-time UFC heavyweight champion who is trying to rebuild his career.

Much of the interest in the show will be based upon seeing Silva and Arlovski meet in a rematch of a 2010 fight that Silva won by unanimous decision.

Silva hasn't really taken responsibility for his actions. (Getty)
Silva hasn't really taken responsibility for his actions. (Getty)

Silva doesn't expect a public backlash.

"I'm an honest fighter," he said.

Perhaps. Hopefully, that's true.

The UFC is doing its best to dredge up interest in the show, which will air opposite the Floyd Mayweather pay-per-view boxing match.

Joe Rogan, the UFC’s No. 1 color analyst, makes the fight sound as if it will be a repeat of the Hunt fight.

"I can't imagine this being anything other than the most insane, aggressive fight until it ends," Rogan said. "Big Foot Silva is one of the best heavyweights in the division. If you look at his stoppage victory over Alistair Overeem, it was one of the most devastating finishes we've seen in the history of the UFC. That’s what this man can do."

I'd be more interested if Silva would have taken responsibility for his actions. Even if we believe that he was taking TRT to treat a legitimate medical condition, it was still his responsibility to get the dosage and the timing of his shots right. He failed.

He hasn't accepted responsibility and has, in essence, cast himself as a victim.

The victims, though, are the fans who paid to watch a fraud the last time out. Once again, we'll never be sure if what we see in the cage is real, or chemically induced and assisted.

Not only was one of the great moments in UFC history ruined, but the long string of test failures continues to cast great suspicion on all fighters, even those who are and have always been clean.

That, as much as anything, is the tragedy of competing in the PED Era.

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