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'Bigfoot' Silva failed drug test proves MMA's TRT and PED testing system is broken

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Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva has failed a PED screening for elevated levels of testosterone, which is a major bummer coming off his feel good "Fight of the Year" contender against Mark Hunt. However, Silva's test failure, despite being on TRT raises, serious questions and is just another example of the reason mixed martial arts (MMA) has yet to make any serious headway toward solving its PED problem.


In case you haven't heard, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva failed a post-fight performance enhancing drug (PED) screening after his battle for the ages against Mark Hunt at UFC Fight Night 33 earlier this month.

From here, you probably can fill in the blanks yourself. It seems every time news breaks about a fighter who has pissed hot fire during a drug test, an all-too familiar series of events plays out with the implacable certainty of a child's set of dominoes tumbling down.

It's almost like some perverse game of Mad Libs we're all forced to keep playing, despite being utterly sick of it at this point.

A general paradigm for "PED Mad Libs" might go like this: "Fighter tests positive for [A] is fined [B] and suspended for [C], but claims he is innocent because [D]."

In Silva's case "A" isn't a PED per se, but rather elevated levels of testosterone, "B" is UFC rescinding his $50,000 "Fight of the Night" bonus, and "C" is a Zuffa-stipulated nine months for "Bigfoot" to sit in the corner, presumably staring at the wall and thinking about his mistake.

It's the "D" that's a real doozy this time around. You see, like so many aging fighters, the 34-year-old Silva fought Hunt while receiving the controversial Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT). Putting aside the Sasquatch-sized issue of how Silva -- who once tested positive for the anabolic steroid Boldenone -- was approved for TRT in the first place, what really strikes one here is that "Bigfoot" flunked his post-fight test despite, apparently, having "the shit" tested out of him throughout his camp by UFC.

What does that say about the quality of UFC's testing -- and the ability of athletes to mask PEDs -- when a fighter is apparently tested his entire camp, yet nothing abnormal comes up until after his fight has already taken place? Even worse, this same exact scenario played out little more than two months ago when Ben Rothwell was popped for elevated testosterone after UFC 164.

It's enough to make one wonder: Just how stringent is UFC's policy on out of competition screening for TRT abuse anyway?

The problem is, we don't have those answers. We just have UFC President Dana White's word that his company is attempting to close the TRT loophole.

And that's kind of a problem. When a lack of transparency meets a vested self-interest -- and it is best for UFC's business to deliver the main events they promise fans -- then it's impossible to know if serious steps are being taken to deal with TRT-abuse, or if White and Co. are only paying so much lip service to the idea of implementing more stringent testing just to get us to shut up about it.

However, let's get one thing clear before we go any further: This isn't meant to accuse White or UFC of any malfeasance in how testing was handled for "Bigfoot" and Rothwell. For all we know, the company regularly monitored both men's testosterone levels throughout their camps and found nothing abnormal. What's more, to UFC's credit, the promotion administered the test that caught "Bigfoot" and then made the results public, sucking the wind out of the sails of a "Fight of the Year" candidate and big-money rematch down the road.

However, if UFC wants to prove it is truly committed to cleaning up the sport, then there's only one solution that will truly make a difference: Random, unannounced third-party testing.

Unfortunately, White isn't a fan of fighters submitting to voluntary, out of competition testing by agencies such as the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA). In fact, he went so far as to intimate that Georges St-Pierre was "stupid" for opting to undergo enhanced testing through VADA earlier this year.

"These guys are going to get tested by the athletic commission," White said of St. Pierre and opponent Johny Hendricks back in September.

Yet athletic commission testing is largely more of an IQ test than anything else, since savvy dopers can cycle off their PED of choice before day of competition screenings. Considering that most commissions largely only conduct same-day drug testing, one can only imagine how many fighters may be currently doping and beating the system.

White himself is aware fighters can cycle off PEDs before day of testing, as his comments on TRT back in February made apparent:

"What I believe guys are doing, is jacking up this stuff through the roof through their entire training camp, then getting back down to normal levels right before the fight, which is cheating," the UFC President explained.

Which begs the question, how can athletic commission testing be considered an adequate deterrent in a world where dopers -- both those who are on illicit substances and those who are abusing medically prescribed anabolic steroids -- have a blueprint on how to beat tests administered on fight day?

The tragic thing in all this is that proactive testing is what MMA needs to help root out its drug problem at the source. The specter of regular out of competition testing, acting as a deterrent for fighters who are tempted to get better results through better chemistry, would be a lot more effective than our current system, which just slaps suspensions and public scorn on the handful of fighters who are unsophisticated enough to get caught.

Continuing to leave testing to "the government" and UFC's own practices behind closed doors may be the easiest solution to MMA's PED problem, but it's not going to cut it if the goal is to help prevent use in the first place.

When White defers responsibility for drug testing to "the government" and puts down the idea of enlisting a transparent, third-party agency to administer testing, it feels like he's taking an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to PED screening.

Unfortunately, for MMA fans and fighters alike, the current drug testing system is most definitely broken.