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When Anderson Silva pops hot for PEDs, you know we have a problem

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Through many seasons of watching football, you learn to condition the reflex to cheer on a big play. You see it, want to believe it, but there’s a brief second where you hold off on the high fives to make sure there aren’t any flags on the field. If there aren’t, boom, rejoice. If there are, let’s be clear -- somebody is sucking the life out of the game. See enough plays wiped out because of a penalty and you can’t help but guard against your own swing in emotions.

The UFC is a bit like that these days. Cheer on Saturday night when the fights take place, jeer on Tuesday night when the drug tests come back. We saw it with Mark Hunt and Antonio Silva, one of the best heavyweight fights of all time, a fight that ended -- as if ordained by the Fight Gods themselves -- in a poetic majority draw. Dana White had Roots of Fight make him a t-shirt commemorating the bout. It was just that good.

Days later, "Bigfoot" tested positive for elevated testosterone, and suddenly there was a stenciled mustache on the Mona Lisa.

At UFC 182, Jon Jones scored his most impressive victory to date over Daniel Cormier, but by Tuesday it was learned he was in rehab for cocaine. At UFC 183, Nick Diaz and Anderson Silva fought in a rare novelty bout that was all about fan imagination, and not one but both of them came back with hot tests. Diaz for pot (again), Silva for a cocktail of performance-enhancing drugs from a random January 9 test.

The latter is a killer. The latter is, for lack of a better word, disheartening. 

When Anderson Silva tests positive for PEDs, nothing feels sacred. Anderson Silva is largely considered the greatest practitioner of the mixed techniques to ever step foot in the Octagon. He was the guy who beat the roided-out beasts of his day as if to wag a finger at cheating and strike a chord of natural grace. He was the wholesome icon of 16 straight UFC victories and 10 title defenses, whose greatest known vice was scarfing down a couple of Big Macs before a fight. He was the man and the myth, the guy who came back from a shattered shinbone this past Saturday at 39 years old just to show the world he’s still got it.

Before the confetti could be swept up from the celebration of his triumphant return, though, the fight has become tainted. So now has Silva’s legacy. Tuesday once again carried the sad postscript. Drostanolone and Androstane, two banned substances, discovered in his system by the WADA-accredited Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory at the University of Utah. The tests only came back after the fight, which is its own can of worms, but the problem is you’re never sure when it all began. How far does the taint go back? Why, as people have been asking on social media, can’t MMA fans have nice things?

You talk to people who covered this sport from its earliest days, and they tell you stories about just how rife MMA was with cheats. There was a hesitation to believe it was as widespread in the sanctioned New Era, when government bodies conducted in-competition drug testing to catch cheaters and, more realistically, dummies who didn't cover up better. Still, a fair amount of fighters were getting caught doing something. Diaz, who has made no secret that he likes to toke up, was one of them.

But in the world of out-of-competition testing, what a snake hatch we’ve opened up. When it wasn’t Wanderlei Silva running from a drug test (leading to his retirement), it was Chael Sonnen testing for everything under the sun (leading to his retirement). The overall hypocrisy in the matter came off as poorly as the test results.

And speaking of hypocrisy, think back to what Silva told MMA Junkie just this past October and let the thing burn through you.

"When the guys test for the steroids, it’s bad because this is a problem," he said. "It’s bad not just for the UFC, but for the sport.

"When the guys test for the steroids, [they should have] no more fights. When you use the steroids, you use them for a long time. When you use the steroids for a long time, you have a problem. It’s a drug and it’s not good for the sport."

It’s also not good for the sport when one of its greatest ambassadors, the man who personally reopened Brazil for business at UFC 134, ends up in the same pile of asterisks. Maybe it’s no longer surprising when anybody gets caught doing PEDs. But with Silva…well, you can't help but wonder where naïve begins and ends. 

And it sucks.

Since Silva defeated Diaz on Saturday, the "superfight" conversation kicked up again about him longtime welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre finally meeting in the cage. It was fun to think about, because the timing was actually not bad for it to happen.

Or at least, that’s how it was on Saturday. By Tuesday, the timing couldn’t have seemed worse. St-Pierre walked away from the game in part because of its rampant PED issues. Now Silva becomes part of the problem. That fight will likely never happen. Silva, if he lives by his own words, should have "no more fights." St-Pierre, if he lives by his, has no reason to come back.

These are just a couple of the problems that go into what is obviously a larger whole.