Anderson Silva’s first failed drug test has caused a stir in the MMA world. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Anderson Silva tested positive for two anabolic steroids during a pre-fight drug screening on Jan. 9, but because the result did not arrive before UFC 183, the ex-middleweight champion was allowed to compete with performance enhancing drugs in his system on Jan. 31.
The Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) did not receive the results from the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory (SMRTL) in Salt Lake City until Tuesday -- three days after Silva defeated Nick Diaz in the UFC 183 main event at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Silva tested positive for drostanolone metabolites and androsterone, an endogenous steroid hormone.
Just why did it take so long to find out Silva was fighting with banned substances in his system? According to Dr. Daniel Eichner, executive director at SMRTL, processing samples is not something that can be rushed. Eichner, who was unavailable Wednesday when Sherdog.com attempted to reach him for comment, spoke to ESPN.com about the lab’s drug-testing protocol.
“Blood and urine samples have unique sample ID numbers and we never see a name,” Eichner said. “We see a number. We then screen those biological samples for any prohibited substances and if we see something, we then confirm that. Sometimes it may be more than one substance. We have a confirmation process to make sure that what we've seen is absolutely prohibited and absolutely confirmed. Sometimes that can take time.”
Eichner also pointed out that WADA-accredited labs such as SMRTL do much different work than those that test for drugs of abuse, where results can be received much more quickly. According to Eichner, accuracy is more important than speed, regardless of the circumstances.
“One thing I will never apologize for is sending an adverse finding to one of our clients that may take a little bit longer than we would have liked,” said Eichner. “We will never send a report before it was ready and sometimes they can take longer, depending on the substances we are trying to confirm.”
Still, NAC Executive Director Bob Bennett acknowledges that some of the blame lies with him.
“Unfortunately they were very busy. It was unacceptable that we got the results three weeks later,” Bennett told Sherdog.com. “Quite frankly, I should have called in between then to see where the status was of the report. We had six [events] in the last 30 days. Sometimes things fall through the cracks. This is one of them. It’s unacceptable and we’ve learned from it.”
Bennett is correct: It was a hectic January for the NAC. In addition to two big-ticket UFC events (182 and 183) the state hosted World Series of Fighting 17 and two professional boxing cards. A kickboxing event scheduled to take place on Jan. 10 was ultimately canceled.
Regardless of how full the commission’s itinerary might become, Bennett hopes to prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future by requiring that the labs utilized by the NAC return the samples in a more timely fashion.
“Our goal now is that once the collector sends the specimen up to the lab, they’re gonna make every effort to get us the results within those seven [working] days,” he said.
Both Nevada and the UFC profited greatly from Saturday’s event, which drew 13,114 fans for a gate of $4.5 million. That is the ninth-most profitable gate in the history of MMA cards held in the state, just ahead of UFC 71, which saw Quinton Jackson defeat Chuck Liddell for the light heavyweight title in the main event.
It marks the fourth time a Silva-headlined card has cracked the top 10 gates in Nevada. Although “The Spider” is clearly a lucrative draw, Bennett dismisses the notion that the commission might have overlooked the failed test in order to line its pockets.
“If I had got this report before [UFC 183], where he tested positive for two anabolic steroids, he wouldn’t have fought,” Bennett said. “He would have been suspended -- a temporary suspension until he received an order and came before the commission. So anybody that thinks there was a conspiracy, talk to Eichner. There’s no way in the world this commission would allow somebody to be on two anabolic steroids and fight.
“The report [arrived] yesterday, I got the report and we moved forward. But that’s not to say we couldn’t have done a better job. Obviously we could have. I’m the person responsible for that. That’s the way it goes.”
Dr. Marcio Tannure, Silva’s doctor and medical director of the Brazilian Athletic Commission (CABMMA) recently told Band News radio that the Brazilian middleweight claims that he did not take either performance enhancing drug.
“Anderson told me he’s disappointed, upset, because he didn’t use steroids,” Tannure said in the interview, which was transcribed by MMAFighting.com. “He will ask for the confirmation test because he believes the only explanation is a contamination or a mistake from the lab. He told me: ‘I have an impeccable career history and I wouldn’t want to tarnish my image.’”
Bennett confirmed that Silva’s camp requested that the B sample from his urine be tested at another laboratory. Such a request is “not permissible” according to WADA procedures code. However, Silva and his team have been welcomed to visit the Salt Lake City-based lab where his sample was originally sent to observe the testing process for themselves.
“Mr. Eichner stated if they wanted to come to the Salt Lake City lab, observe the B specimen for them to view to see that it has not been tampered with, and to stay there during the process in which the B sample will be tested, they were welcome to do so,” Bennett said. “I have not received a response back from them since their inquiry yesterday morning.”
Even if Silva does accept Bennett’s offer, he doesn’t expect a change in the result.
“You want to wait and check the B sample, be my guest. But I don’t think getting the lab report late to begin with -- then finding the anabolic steroids in there -- I’d say it’s pretty highly unlikely that you’re going to find that this report’s inaccurate,” he said. “I haven’t had one inaccurate report from Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratories since I’ve been here for eight months.”
Ahead of UFC 182, Dana White announced that the promotion had decided to abandon its plan for a year-round drug testing program for its fighters. The new plan, according to White, was to provide financial backing while allowing the various state athletic commissions to oversee all random testing.
Bennett was diplomatic when asked if he has enough financial resources at his disposal to implement an effective drug testing system.
“Any government, private and/or corporation nowadays is always asked to do more with less,” Bennett said, “and we’re no different.”
With that said, Bennett still praised the UFC’s efforts in pushing for random, out-of-competition drug testing. In many cases, the results of a failed drug test can be quite costly to a promoter – especially if a fighter as prominent as Silva is the one facing a positive result.
“The UFC still continues to test their fighters based on principle and doing the right thing. They’re trying to level the playing field for their fighters, so I think it’s very commendable what they do as well as other promoters in this challenging day of performance-enhancing drugs because it’s not very cost effective,” Bennett said. “Not only test-wise, but if top-of-the-line fighters get suspended for a year, it hurts them as well. The fighters that are out there that go by the numbers, they’re doing the right thing.”
Silva will be officially notified of his temporary suspension at the commission’s next meeting on Feb. 17. From there, he will be required to attend a hearing -- most likely in March or April, according to Bennett -- to receive his punishment for the failed test.