The greatest of all time. Regardless of the sport, no argument is more likely to last all night and day than this particular debate. Until recently, only three MMA athletes — Georges St-Pierre, Fedor Emelianenko and Anderson Silva — had a legitimate claim to the title. But in light of Silva failing multiple drug tests for everything from performance-enhancing steroids to anti-anxiety meds, where does the Brazilian belong in the debate? The short answer is, he doesn’t.
After failing both a pre-fight, out-of-competition drug test and a post-fight test, Silva can unequivocally be considered guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs. One test might have stood a small chance of being overturned on some type of technicality, but two tests administered weeks apart should serve as undeniable proof that Silva was cheating.
Qualifications and accomplishments for being the greatest of all time can be debated, but being caught using performance-enhancing drugs should eliminate an athlete from the conversation. Lying about said drug use, which Silva did when proclaiming that he did not take steroids, should also eliminate an athlete from the conversation. If other sports’ drug scandals have taught us anything, it’s that athletes very rarely take PEDs just once, despite what they so often would like us to believe (see: Alex Rodriguez).
Silva had always been the most crowd-pleasing and exciting of the three men in the GOAT debate. However, like it or not, Silva’s entire career is now tainted and open to scrutiny. Were those Matrix-like moves against Forrest Griffin the result of something in a syringe? Did that front kick to fellow cheater Vitor Belfort’s face have a little extra on it because of something out of a bottle? These are the questions that are now raised by Silva’s positive test. Questions like these do not belong anywhere near the fighter who carries the tag of the “greatest of all time.”
All three men in this debate boast similar accomplishments in the cage, years of dominance in their divisions against high-level opponents, and flashy highlight-reel knockouts. But of the three, only Silva now bears the taint of cheating. It is very important to note that suspicion and proof are two entirely different things, and until either Fedor or GSP are proven to have taken some form of performance-enhancing substances, we must believe that they fought clean throughout their respective careers.
When St-Pierre vacated the UFC welterweight title in December 2013 and announced his intention to take a break from the world of mixed martial arts, it was well known that he was deeply frustrated with the state of drug testing in the sport. Although unwilling to name anyone specific, St-Pierre clearly had suspicions about some of the biggest names in the sport. With top welterweights Jon Fitch and Hector Lombard also recently testing positive for PEDs, it would appear that St-Pierre’s concerns were well founded.
Mixed martial arts is in the midst of a steroids epidemic. Its latest victims were the entire career of Anderson Silva and our belief that an athlete could be that much better than all of his peers. Silva chose to shatter our belief in the seemingly impossible and have his entire career questioned when he opted to cheat before his bout with Nick Diaz. We cannot overlook the fact that Silva cheated and lied simply because of our love of his past accomplishments. The only positive that might arise out of the situation is that it might prove to be the catalyst to increased testing and punishment of those caught cheating — the UFC’s recent policy revisions already indicate that this might be the case. The most immediate result, however, is that Anderson Silva can no longer be considered one of the greatest of all time.