You know the weirdest part about Anderson Silva’s most recent drug test failure? It’s the silence. It’s all the stuff that’s not being said, both by him and by us.
For instance, look at the timeline of events. On Nov. 10, UFC officials announce he’s been flagged for an undisclosed substance stemming from a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) test from October, and so now he’s off Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 122 fight card in Shanghai. This news is quickly bumped out of the spotlight by the news that Michael Bisping will be replacing him at the UFC event – and only three weeks removed from his title loss at UFC 217.
Then several days go by. No word from Silva (34-8 MMA, 17-4 UFC). No public statement. No plea to his fans.
On Nov. 14, he speaks. Or rather, he posts a message on Instagram in which he thanks his fans, his coaches, and God. He vows not to quit fighting. He ends promising “a big kiss for everyone and see you soon.”
No mention whatsoever of the drug test. Like, doesn’t even acknowledge that he failed one, or that his fight off, or that this is his second failed test in less than three years. If your only source of Silva news was Silva’s social media feed, you’d have no idea what he was even talking about.
But a couple days later, another social media statement. This one is more formal. Instead of essentially a prolonged caption on a stock training photo, this one is a message to fans that’s signed by Silva. In it, he actually acknowledges that he failed a drug test and says his “medical team is working very closely with USADA to find out the reason” for his test result.
“I have been fighting for the past 20 years and always try to be an example to my fans and to my sport…” Silva writes. “Again, I want to thank all of you for your support and hope to see you soon for my next fight.”
At the bottom there’s a picture of Silva, looking serious and sitting cross-legged. Around his waist he’s wearing the UFC championship belt that hasn’t been his since 2013.
What’s interesting about his response is that, while it took him roughly a week and two different social media statements to even reference the existence of a drug testing issue, he never explicitly denied anything.
There were no passionate claims of innocence, no pleas for us to refrain from jumping to conclusions. He didn’t cop to it or apologize, but he didn’t pound on the table and swear he was clean, either.
And the strange thing about all that? It’s that fans barely seem to care. This is the former UFC middleweight champ, the consensus pick for best 185-pounder of all time, not to mention one of the pound-for-pound best to ever do it in this sport, and suddenly he has more drug test failures than wins in the past three years of his career, and it’s barely even news.
Remember when we heard about his first failure, following the Nick Diaz fight at UFC 183? People were heartbroken. Among the younger generation of fighters who had grown up worshipping Silva, it was like finding out that Yoda had been secretly using the dark side of the force.
But back then there was an easy explanation, even if Silva himself refused to embrace it. The Diaz bout was his first fight back after a gruesome leg injury. He was closing in on 40, trying to whip his body back into shape after one of the most sickening injuries ever seen in the UFC. Under those circumstance, you could maybe forgive him for turning to banned pharmaceuticals (or, as he would later claim, to a mysterious marital aid that a friend picked up in Thailand) for help getting back in the cage.
What are we supposed to think now, though? This is Silva, at age 42, coming off a win over Derek Brunson and heading into a fight with former welterweight Kelvin Gastelum. If he was doping for that, do we tell ourselves that it’s a recent development in his life, or an old habit dying hard?
As members of the Nevada State Athletic Commission pointed out when Silva’s team launched their infamous “Thai sex juice” defense, this is a former champion who had the advantage of fighting most of his career without the threat of random, out-of-competition drug tests. How can we not be suspicious now that, in the era of more sophisticated anti-doping measures, he keeps failing tests and losing fights?
But aside from critiques from rivals like Bisping, who insisted that Silva has “completely destroyed his legacy,” you don’t hear much of a reaction from fans. It’s as if, having already decided that Silva is an middleweight of the past but not one who matters in the present, we’d rather just not think about him right now. Better to ignore it all than have to go back and revise our memories of his former glory.
And if that’s where we’re at, it could be that the looming suspension doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to us. Depending on how USADA decides to treat him, Silva could be looking at anywhere from a two- to four-year ban, either of which could essentially be a career-ender at his age.
For a guy who has thus far refused to leave the sport even as it continues to leave him further and further behind, maybe that’s what it’s going to take. And if we could avert our eyes just long enough to see him shuffled into storage, maybe that’s a not-so happy ending that we’d accept, just so we don’t have to deal with questions we might not want answers to.
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