A positive drug test sample by Josh Barnett has left the Affliction promotion scrambling for a replacement to face Fedor Emelianenko in the main event of the company's Aug. 1 fight card from the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
Barnett and Affliction promoter Tom Atencio confirmed both the positive result to the California State Athletic Commission-administered test and that Barnett is off the card.
Barnett's test came back positive for the metabolite 2a-methyl-5a-androstan-3a-ol-17-one, which is contained in the anabolic steroid Drostanolone, also known as Masteron. The steroid is normally used by athletes who are attempting to maintain strength while cutting weight, which makes it a strange choice for someone competing in the heavyweight division.
Barnett said he wanted to keep quiet as he prepares an appeal, and had nothing negative to say about the testing procedure.
"It's not a big conspiracy," said Barnett, who had a previous positive banned substance test result on his record.
Atencio said the show will go on as scheduled, and that Emelianenko has agreed to face any potential opponent. Yahoo! Sports has been able to confirm the company has had talks over the past day with Brett Rogers, Vitor Belfort and Bobby Lashley.
Barnett (24-5) said he first got word of the results of his June 25 test on Tuesday night, and spoke with the commission about it on Wednesday. "It's as terrible a thing as can happen right now," he said.
While denying using steroids, Barnett said he was not in the dark as to why he tested positive. "I have a pretty good idea," he said. "I'm not really going to talk about it now." Atencio said he believed the commission was waiting for the result of Barnett's "B" sample to come back from the World Anti-Doping Agency lab at UCLA after the "A" sample came out positive before releasing a public statement. Potential punishment will not be determined until after the second sample is returned.
"The license of Josh Barnett was denied pursuant to rule 303 of Title IV of the California Code of Regulations," stated CSAC interim executive officer Dave Thornton. "That rule prohibits the use of certain substances, including anabolic agents, by any boxer or MMA fighter." If the second sample comes out negative, there is still a chance Barnett could be cleared to fight, but Atencio is going forward with the idea of needing to get a new opponent, but no deal has been completed yet.
"Until I have a contract signed, it's all rumors," said Atencio. "Negotiations are negotiations. Until I get the contract, nothing's done."
Atencio said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference that he had spoken with multiple fighters, but didn't want to mention any names until a contract was signed. He did admit talking with Strikeforce about a possible replacement also.
"Right now I've got three people I'm negotiating with," he said. "Everything is going to be fine. I'm not even worried about it."
Barnett was previously suspended by the state of Nevada for testing positive for the drug Boldenone, a veterinary steroid, after defeating Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 36 on March 22, 2002. He went into pro wrestling in Japan during his suspension, then competed in MMA for the next several years also in Japan, where fighters are not tested for performance enhancers.
Barnett, who never admitted to using steroids after his 2002 positive, noted that previous appeals on steroid tests before California commission have not resulted in the test results being overturned. "I know how it turns out," the Seattle native said. "I just hope it's not as bad as it could be." Although Barnett has not beaten a top-10 ranked fighter since a decision win over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira three years ago, he has been ranked between Nos. 2-5 at heavyweight in most polls and was considered Emelianenko's toughest remaining test outside the UFC.
Multiple sources have indicated Affliction is dangling a $500,000 payday to potential Barnett replacements.
Rogers (10-0), coming off a knockout of former UFC champ Andrei Arlovski in just 22 seconds on June 4 in St. Louis, is said to be a prime candidate. Rogers' manager, Ken Pavia, confirmed his willingness to take the fight, but because Rogers is under contract to Strikeforce, he would have to be given clearance by both Strikeforce promoter Scott Coker and Showtime.
At press time, Coker, vacationing in Italy, was said to be aware of the situation, but that Showtime had not given clearance to the fight. A potential holdup is that Rogers could be a possible replacement for Alistair Overeem, Strikeforce's heavyweight champion, who pulled out of his scheduled Aug. 15 title defense in San Jose against Fabricio Werdum.
Belfort (18-8) is scheduled to face Jorge Santiago on the Aug. 1 show as a middleweight. Picking Belfort, a former UFC light heavyweight champion, as the opponent would be met with controversy because of the size disparity. Without having to cut weight, Belfort would likely fight at around 210 pounds, maybe 20 pounds or so less than Emelianenko would be expected to weigh in at. If Belfort fought Emelianenko, the company would have to either find a new opponent for Santiago or scratch him from the show.
Lashley (4-0), who because of his notoriety as a pro wrestler would garner the most attention and result in the most pay-per-view buys of any of the opponents being mentioned, has turned down the fight according to sources at his American Top Team camp. But others involved in the negotiations believe Lashley is not a dead deal and would take the fight if more money was offered.
The ATT's Dan Lambert stated that while the original money offer was great, it was too early in Lashley's career to take the fight and that a year from now, with the right preparation, the answer would be different. He said the camp instead would like to get the more experienced Jeff Monson into the fight.
"If it was a guy making $30,000 a year, my advice would have been different," said Lambert. "Bobby is lucky enough that if he continues to progress, he'll be making paydays like that in the sport."