Nevada commission makes right move in reducing Nick Diaz’s punishment

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The members of the Nevada Athletic Commission who voted in September to suspend Nick Diaz for five years and fine him $165,000 for smoking marijuana looked like a gang of fools far more than a serious regulatory body.

It was an unconscionable overreach, particularly because the commission didn’t prove to any neutral observer’s satisfaction that Diaz had marijuana in his system when he fought Anderson Silva in Las Vegas on Jan. 31, 2015, at UFC 183.

Nick Diaz after his fight with Anderson Silva. (Getty)
Nick Diaz after his fight with Anderson Silva. (Getty)

On Tuesday, the commission acted to repair that mistake, reducing Diaz’s suspension from five years to 18 months and cutting the fine to $100,000. Diaz will be eligible to fight again Aug. 1.

This was a significant moment in the regulation of combat sports, and not just because it gave Diaz the right to fight again.

Combat sports are regulated at the state level, not the federal level, in the U.S. Over the years, Nevada has become the de facto national commission. Its policies were adopted by other states almost by rote. If it was good enough for Nevada, the thinking went, it was good enough for us.

That was true as recently as two years ago, when Nevada put a ban on therapeutic use exemptions for testosterone replacement therapy. Within days of its decision, other states and countries followed suit.

Thus, what happens in Nevada in terms of regulating combat sports has a broad influence over what goes on in the rest of the country.

The overwhelming majority of major fights each year are held in Nevada (almost exclusively in Las Vegas). In 2015, the two biggest boxing matches and three of the four largest MMA bouts were held in the state.

Yet the Diaz case and others like it in recent years have eroded the public’s confidence in Nevada’s ability to effectively and fairly regulate the fight game.

Nevada has done much good over the years, making combat sports fairer and safer for athletes. It was the first state to test for HIV, and it was the first to implement testing for performance enhancing drugs.

It shined a spotlight on fighter safety issues and went to court to battle Joe Mesi, a boxer who suffered a subdural hematoma and then wanted to return to competition, because it felt it was unsafe for him to do so.

It led the way in many other areas related to fighter safety and made certain an athlete met minimum requirements to be able to compete, going above and beyond in an effort to minimize the risks the fighters faced.

Then, the Diaz case came along and the members of the Nevada commission seemed to change. Diaz wasn’t particularly cooperative with Nevada officials before his fight with Silva. He’d been suspended by the body – made up of different members – for marijuana usage in 2007 and 2012.

He was surly and difficult with the commission in his bid to be licensed to fight Silva, and it seemed that as a result it went out of its way to make an example of him.

Even with Tuesday’s settlement, it was stunningly harsh in light of how the same commission treated Silva after the Diaz fight.

Diaz (L) punches Silva during their middleweight bout at UFC 183. (Getty)
Diaz (L) punches Silva during their middleweight bout at UFC 183. (Getty)

Silva tested positive for a variety of performance enhancing drugs, and then told an absurd tale during testimony at his disciplinary hearing. In trying to explain how an anabolic steroid turned up in his system, Silva said a friend from Thailand he couldn’t name gave him a substance in an unmarked blue bottle that he could use to perform better sexually.

He believed it to be a substance like Cialis or Viagra, Silva argued before the commission.

And of course, we all know how eager men are, particularly world champion fighters, to tell their friends they’re having sexual problems.

It was one of the most ridiculous hours of testimony ever given by an athlete before that commission, and as one who has attended many of those hearings, that’s saying something.

Silva failed tests both before and after his fight with Diaz and wound up testing positive for:

Drostanolone, an anabolic steroid.
Oxazepam, a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety and acute alcohol withdrawal.
And Temazepam, a sedative-hypnotic used to treat insomnia.

For all that, Silva was suspended one year. He took drugs that made him more lethal and dangerous, and he got four fewer years than Diaz.

His testimony was laughably inept, but that apparently didn’t factor into the punishment.

As for Diaz, let’s assume he did smoke marijuana before the fight, even though the commission utterly failed to prove it.

It’s only banned in-competition, meaning it is only a violation if it shows up in one’s system from 12 hours before the event until the event ends. Marijuana can linger in one’s system for a long time, but the burden is on the athlete. It can’t be in his or her system in that time frame.

If Diaz used marijuana (although he swore in a declaration to the commission under penalty of perjury that he did not), the substance wouldn't make him hit harder or become more dangerous in any way. According to the World Anti-Doping Agency, using marijuana may reduce memory, attention and motivation, weaken the immune system and impact the lungs.

All of that would be more harmful to the user, not the opponent. And so, it would make sense that the penalties would be significantly lighter than those for using performance-enhancing drugs.

Victor Conte, the founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), dismissed marijuana’s ability as a performance enhancer.

“In my opinion, marijuana does not enhance athletic performance,” Conte said. “There is not much research available, but it seems that marijuana hinders performance in similar ways to alcohol. Some may argue that there may be mild pain relieving properties and that it may help to decrease anxiety.

“However, marijuana has also been shown to impair reaction time, motor control, balance and judgment. I believe that marijuana should be prohibited in-competition only and put in the same category as alcohol on WADA's prohibited substances list.”

Diaz, if anything, hurt himself, while Silva’s violation clearly placed Diaz at risk. Giving Diaz a harsher penalty than Silva because he tested positive for marijuana is a monumental error.

Diaz and his team accepted the settlement, because an athlete’s window to compete is short and it wouldn’t help him in the long run fighting in court instead of in the cage.

But it would have been nice to have seen Diaz’s sentence commuted to time served, because in no fair society does he deserve to serve a day more than Silva, given what Silva did.

At least, however, Nevada recognized its mistake and worked to correct it.

The commission plays a vital role in regulating combat sports, and it needs to have the confidence of all who come before it that it will be fair and will look out for fighter safety at all times.

The fact it essentially acknowledged its error and reached a settlement with Diaz’s team is significant.

In the long run, that’s more significant than Diaz actually being able to fight again because of the impact the commission can have on a global scale.

The best news for all is if this is the first step toward Nevada regaining its spot as the finest regulator of combat sports in the world.

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