It was supposed to be the UFC’s comeback year. After the horror show that was 2014, with event cancellations, an injury epidemic that wiped out or altered nearly all of their originally advertised Pay Per View main events, depressing TV ratings and an impending lawsuit that could change the business forever, 2015’s marquee first quarter should have been the shot in the arm the UFC needed. Fate had other plans. The best laid plans of mice and men Jon Jones vs Daniel Cormier, the return of Alexander Gustafsson, Conor McGregor, Anderson Silva vs Nick Diaz, Chris Weidman vs Vitor Belfort and Ronda Rousey vs Cat Zingano. What a way to start a year, and what a way to recover from a 2014 run that saw the UFC’s financial status downgraded thanks to an appalling run of bad luck. Then Jones popped for cocaine and suddenly nobody was talking about the fights. Gustafsson was mauled, killing the long-awaited return match with Jones. John Lineker missed weight for the fourth time and won, throwing the flyweight division into disarray. Kelvin Gastelum missed weight by 10 pounds and was hospitalised, raising questions of why he was allowed to compete just 24 hours later. Weidman pulled out of his fight with Belfort again, and Belfort refused to fight anyone but Mark Munoz as a replacement. Throughout all of this, a young Irishman shone like a beacon of hope on stormy seas. When news broke on Tuesday night that both Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz had failed drug tests in connection with UFC 183, Dana White must have felt like somebody, somewhere, was playing a very cruel joke. Conspiracy theory There’s only so much coincidence people are willing to accept before they start pointing accusatory fingers. Coming so soon after the Jon Jones cocaine scandal, the circumstances surrounding Silva’s pre-fight failure (specifically the gap between the test being administered and the results becoming available) were simply too tasty a morsel for fans and media not to bite. Conspiracy theories are great. Here the accusation is simple; the UFC is somehow suppressing failed drug tests results in order to keep profitable fights in play. But what about the commissions? Are they in on the fix too? After all, it’s the commission that stands to suffer the biggest financial blow from a cancelled card; almost all of their funding is derived from the taxes they levy on the night. The Tennessee commission is currently in danger of dissolving because the UFC hasn’t come to town for a while. If you really want to put your tinfoil hat on, perhaps the Nevada commission not only suppressed the results in order to preserve the UFC 183 main event, perhaps they waited until after the fight so that they could recoup some big, juicy fines from Silva’s purse. Of course, there’s always a simpler answer. A freedom of information request determines that the NSAC did indeed only receive the test results after Silva and Diaz had fought. The lab testing the sample only has a serial number; no names, not even an indication of what event or sport the sample is related too. And let’s not forget, while this is the biggest story of the year in MMA circles, as far as the Nevada government is concerned those results were just another sheet of administrative paperwork on a huge stack in a giant building staffed by overworked, underpaid bureaucrats. Sometimes we have an over-inflated opinion of how much this sport matters in the grand scheme of things. Conspiracy theories are great, but more often than not purely because they provide a more interesting/fun/scandalous alternative to the dull truth; in this case that a commission with a track record of incompetence is dealing with a new and flawed out of competition testing system. Or maybe the NSAC is run by shape-shifting lizard men of the Illuminati. The cost of doing business As we try to make sense of what’s happened, there’s much talk of tarnished legacies and the throwing away of careers. But what has Nick Diaz really lost? The maverick fighter took home a cool $500,000 for his losing effort; his highest ever purse and one of the most handsome basic salaries handed out in UFC history. Guestimates (and it’s worth noting that they are just guestimates) from industry insiders project his final payday (inclusive of Pay Per View ‘points’ and additional payments from the UFC) will be in the region of almost three times that. Even when the tax man has taken his slice and the Nevada commission has levied its inevitable fine, Diaz could be going home to Stockton with close to a million bucks in his back pocket. That’s a lot of living for a man who has professed that he “doesn’t need a lot” to get by. As a three-time offender, it’s easy to write Diaz off as an idiot. Maybe Diaz isn’t an idiot, maybe he genuinely doesn’t care. While there are plenty of ‘fun’ fights out there for him, it’s tough to think of one that would generate the kind of box office to justify paying him half a mil just to show up. Diaz just doesn’t seem enamoured with the concept of being a full-time UFC fighter. Why not sit at home for a year or two out of the public eye, then lace ‘em up again for another big money marquee bout against the likes of a deposed Robbie Lawler – or whoever it is the UFC needs a high-profile opponent for – in 2016? He’ll only be 33, after all. It’s likely that Diaz will take the Royce Gracie approach: Why fight it when I’m happy competing once in a blue moon? Silva’s loss is far greater. I’ve always been a great believer in the concept of Occam’s Razor: The simplest explanation is most likely to be the correct one. What’s more likely to be true here? That Silva is a life-long cheat, or that a near 40-year-old man needed a little of the kind of help that prayers and vitamins don’t provide to come back from an injury that would have ended the career of many men half his age? Unfortunately in a sport that is riddled with drug use (recreational, therapeutic and performance enhancing) from top to bottom, it doesn’t matter what the truth is. Silva’s name will now forever be tarred with the same brush as the likes of Belfort, Barnett and Sonnen. Some have already forgiven his misdeed as a necessity (Silva himself claims innocence) and for others time will be a healer, but there will always be those for whom his many and varied contributions to the MMA history books will now contain an asterisk and the words drug cheat. While some revel in schadenfreude at his tarnished legacy, others hold their head in their hands and ask the simple question “Why, Anderson? Why?” For MMA fans of a certain era, he was the last of our heroes and there is an overbearing sense of disappointment – rather than anger – emanating from the Twittersphere. And that’s the sad part of this story. Because while Diaz doesn’t care, you always got the sense that Anderson does. If he is innocent, I hope he can clear his name. If he cheated, I hope it was worth it. Three high-profile drug test failures have sullied the start of what was supposed to be the UFC’s comeback year. And while the promotion can pass the buck to commissions, laboratories and fighters all they want, ultimately it’s their own fault. So here’s an idea: Fail a drug test, don’t get paid. Not a single cent. Pump that money back into drug screening. There will always be ways to circumvent testing; it’s down to the UFC to make the cheaters hurt, lest the cheaters continue hurting them. That’s the cost of doing business.
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