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Brazilian MMA promoters are trying to clean up the sport, but still have a long way to go

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Guilherme Cruz, MMA Fighting

Anderson Silva is all over the news in Brazil, but it’s not for a good reason.

The fighter that changed MMA in Brazil, knocking out Vitor Belfort to become a huge star in 2011, was busted for two banned substances prior to his unanimous decision win over Nick Diaz on Jan. 31.

The most important fighter in the history of Brazilian MMA getting caught in a drug test raises questions among casual fans. The most common reaction after this news is wonder if everyone is using banned substances and what can be done about it.

Brazilian MMA promotions are trying to stop fighters from using steroids, but they still have a long way to go.

Nitrix Champion Fight and The Hill Fighters are the only MMA promotions in Brazil to drug test fighters with the Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission (CABMMA). They recently started doing tests, and a couple controversial cases surfaced.

A day before his fight at The Hill Fighters 4 on Sept. 28, Jackson Miranda informed the commission he used a diuretic, and was suspended for three months. At Nitrix CF 22 on Aug. 10, Alex Sandro Alves ran from the commission following his loss to Gian Siqueira in the main event, and was handed a 180-day suspension by CABMMA.

"Alex Sandro Alves was suspended because he ran away from the test after the fight," Nitrix CF promoter Isais Pele said. "The commission went after him to get his urine for the test, be he decided not to take the test. He ran from the test because he did steroids. He’s still suspended, actually.

"We started doing tests recently, and three fighters already came to me saying they were worried they would be caught. Unfortunately, most of the fighters do steroids," he continued. "One doctor called me once, asking for me to reconsider (testing a fighter), but I’m not the one in charge, that’s the athletic commission. The commission picked him randomly to do the test, but (the banned substance) was already out of his system. Unfortunately, Brazilian athletes have this misconception and want to do these steroid cycles."

Watch Out Combat Show (WOCS) promoter Otavio Duarte agrees that they need to work to stop fighters from using banned substances, but the money involved is too much.

"It’s hard to test fighters in Brazil because of the price of the drug tests," Duarte said. "When I was looking at this in the past, I think it was 1500 reais (600 dollars) per athlete for a basic exam. When I had a meeting with CABMMA, they wanted to do the tests. (CABMMA medical director Dr. Marcio) Tannure later came up with a pretty basic exam for 700 reais, but that was too basic. (The promoters) didn’t accept it because of the costs.

"Testing fighters would cost a lot more than what fighters actually make. I’m a promoter for 10 years and we know that fighters make no money when they are starting their careers. No non-Olympic sport does drug testing in Brazil. It’s too expensive. We know it would be the ideal to do it, to at least random test a few fighters, but unfortunately that’s the reality of the sport. Even in the United States, nobody drug tests their fighters except the UFC. It’s hard to pay for everything."

Jungle Fight, the No. 1 MMA promotion in Brazil, will start drug testing fighters this year. Longtime MMA promoter Wallid Ismail told MMA Fighting that two fighters will be randomly selected to do the test after every event, starting on March 28. Ismail will do it even though he expects to lose a lot of money with it.

"Money is the problem," Ismail said. "I was one of the first promoters to demand medical exams like the Nevada commission, and I will start drug testing fighters now. Starting at my next event, on March 28, we will randomly choose two fighters and test them."

Isaias Pele admits he also loses money by paying for drug tests and fighter’s medical exams, but found a good way to solve this dilemma.

"I have a good partnership with a clinic for both medical exams and drug tests. That’s the only way we could do it. It’s too expensive," Pele said. "You have to take money from other things to pay the tests.

"Urine test and blood test have different prices. In Brazil, we only do urine post-fight tests. We’re still too far from what the American commissions do. The sport is still growing here, so we will eventually get there."

Four fighters are tested per event at Nitrix CF. CABMMA tests both fighters in the main event and randomly picks two others athletes. If Nitrix CF offers you a main event spot in one of their cards, you know you’re going to be tested. One fighter realized that, and decided to call the promoter.

"One fighter called me one saying he was doing a steroid cycle and wasn’t sure he would be clean on fight night, and asked me if we wanted to take the risk," Pele said. "I said no. He would be tested and would be bad for the promotion. Many fighters believe they will be clean on fight night and take a chance."

WOCS’s Otavio Duarte says "90 percent (of the fighters around the world) would test positive" if the commission started to randomly test everybody, but most of the Brazilian fighters can’t even pay for steroids.

"I don’t think many Brazilian fighters do steroids because it’s too expensive," he said. "Only the high-level athletes, those who can afford it after going to the UFC or any other big promotion. They start making some money and invest on this type of thing. When you make 500 reais in a fight, how are you going to pay for this? And why? You don’t have enough money to buy food and you’re going to buy steroids? That doesn’t happen here."

Ismail agrees that most Brazilian fighters don’t use steroids, but for a different reason.

"If you’re fighting at Jungle Fight, you know you’re eventually going to the UFC, so why are they going to use steroids?" Ismail said. "Tell me one fighter that came from Jungle Fight and tested positive in the UFC. I already put 100 fighters in the UFC and none of them every tested positive for anything. They know Jungle Fight is a bridge to get to the UFC and they can be there at any moment."

Anderson Silva’s failed test at UFC 183 could be the turning point in Brazil for doping control, but also tarnish the image of the sport. Ismail prefers to wait for all the drug test results, but believes that nothing will stop MMA from growing.

"The sport is bigger than any doping case," he said, "but I say that people can’t forget everything that Anderson Silva did for the sport in Brazil. The case isn’t over yet. If the other results come back positive, I will continue to support him, because he was very important for the evolution of the sport in Brazil."