Lab director explains how Silva could fight despite positive result

Less than a month after the Jon Jones controversy, another big star who also generates big money, former middleweight champion Anderson Silva, fought Nick Diaz in the main event of UFC 183 in the same building.

Anderson Silva celebrates a victory over Nick Diaz that has since been tainted. (Getty)
Anderson Silva celebrates a victory over Nick Diaz that has since been tainted. (Getty)

Like Jones, Silva was also given a surprise drug test by the Nevada commission before his fight. On Jan. 9, 22 days before he was to face Diaz, Silva was tested. The sample was taken according to World Anti-Doping Agency standards, and sent for analysis to the WADA-accredited Sports Medicine Research & Testing Laboratory (SMRTL) in Salt Lake City.

The results did not come back prior to the fight and Silva went on to compete, defeating Diaz by decision. But on Tuesday, three days after the event raked in $4.5 million at the gate, the results were returned and indicated that Silva tested positive for two anabolic steroids: drostanolone and methyltestosterone.

Francisco Aguilar, the chairman of the Nevada Athletic Commission and the man who ordered the random tests on both Jones and Silva, said he would not have permitted Silva to fight if the results of the Jan. 9 screening were available to him before the bout.

Both drostanolone and methyltestosterone are banned at all times, and a fighter with them in his system would be in violation of the rules and banned from competition. But because the results had not been returned to the commission, Silva was able to compete and scored a unanimous decision win over Diaz.

Coming on the heels of the situation with Jones, though, it looked highly suspicious: Two of the UFC's brightest stars and most sellable athletes tested positive for drugs but were able to compete.

The conspiracy theorists have been out in force, but the director of the lab that conducted the tests said there is a simple explanation.

Daniel Eichner, a Ph.D. who is the executive director of SMRTL and the former science director of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, said it is the nature of the testing process.

He said he was unable to speak specifically about Silva's case, but said there is a lack of understanding of how testing procedures work.

Jon Jones (R) had a positive drug test revealed days after defeating Daniel Cormier. (Getty)
Jon Jones (R) had a positive drug test revealed days after defeating Daniel Cormier. (Getty)

The key thing, he said, is that everything is done anonymously. The sample is sent to the lab by a WADA-certified collector, who does not put the athlete's name on the sample but rather a number.

The lab doesn't know who requested the test or who is being tested, Eichner said.

"We're independent and we have no knowledge of who is getting tested when," Eichner told Yahoo Sports. "We get a unique sample, a biological sample that is either urine or blood, sometimes both, and it comes in the mail to us. We log it into the system. The analyst will go through that sample and depending upon what kind of testing is requested, whether it's a full WADA screen or whatever, and they'll look for the illegal substances.

"It's important to remember that the analyst only sees a sample number and has no idea whether it corresponds to any particular athlete or any particular event. If there is an event coming up and we get a sample from an athlete in that event, that analyst would have zero idea that that's what this is."

The sample is split into two, an A sample and a B sample. The analyst works with the A sample and puts the B sample aside. Eichner said the lab then looks for every known prohibited substance and metabolite, which he called "quite a vast and extensive screening process."

If anything is detected during the initial screen, that triggers more work.

"If we see anything that could look remotely like a prohibited substance, we then go back to that urine sample in the A bottle and then we do a confirmation process," Eichner said. "We look specifically for that compound of the parent drug or the metabolite."

He said the tests can be lengthy, particularly if there are multiple prohibited substances found, as was the case in Silva's Jan. 9 sample.

Eichner said that though his lab makes every attempt to turn around the samples as expeditiously as possible, he isn't going to do so at the expense of accuracy.

And he said that sometimes, it takes longer and that's part of the process.

That has created outrage among MMA fans and many in the media who can't understand why a second star fighter who tested positive a month before a fight was permitted to compete.

But the testing process is what it is and operates without deadlines.

"Obviously, we would like to get reports out as soon as possible," Eichner said. "But it's important to remember that the kind of work that WADA laboratories do is different than what a drugs-of-abuse lab does. We're not comparing us to the same things. If you're trying to compare us to a workplace drug-testing program, it's not at all the same thing.

"Would we like to get the reports out before an event? Of course. Of course we would. But think of the Olympic movement: You strip people of gold medals. You don't stop them from racing. Sometimes these things take longer and then you have to go back and sanction after the fact."

Ed Soares, Silva's manager, failed for a second day to return calls seeking comment on Silva's test and plans to have the B sample tested.

Francisco Aguilar
Francisco Aguilar

Aguilar said he's working with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval to find a way in the current state legislature to obtain funding to increase the commission staff and make it fully funded. He said that would enable it to stop asking promoters to pay for random testing and allow the office to operate more independently and effectively.

Though he said he regrets the fact that a fighter who had failed a test was able to compete, he prefers to look at the larger picture.

"Every time you do a new project or you start a new business, you learn as you go along," Aguilar said. "Yes, we could have done more due diligence in understanding how the program works. But in order to get to where we are, we're going to have some bumps in the road. Taking those bumps and learning from them, figuring out what we need to do to strengthen the [out-of-competition testing] program and what we can do to make it more solid is all a part of this.

"When it comes down to it, I'd rather have these problems, knowing the program is doing what it was intended to do and that's fighting drugs in unarmed combat."

UFC president Dana White also declined to comment on Silva's positive test.