The saga of Wanderlei Silva versus the Nevada Athletic Commission has finally reached an end. At a long-awaited re-hearing on Wednesday, the NAC voted unanimously to amend Silva's lifetime ban to a three-year suspension retroactive to May 2014, granting the former PRIDE legend the right to return to active competition in the spring of 2017.
The commission also retracted the $70,000 fine it levied on Silva in its original 2014 verdict, reasoning that since Silva failed to fight Chael Sonnen at UFC 175, the commission had no right to impose a monetary fine. Silva will be required to submit a clean drug test before being reinstated.
The ruling brought an end to a long-standing staredown between Silva (35-12-1, 1 NC) and the NAC which began in May 2014, when Silva fled a random drug test ahead of his scheduled bout against Sonnen. Silva later testified to the commission that he evaded the test because he had taken diuretics, a banned substance which he claimed was used to help with inflammation in a fractured wrist.
In a September 2014 hearing, Nevada commissioners punished Silva by handing down an unprecedented lifetime ban from competing in the state, as well as the aforementioned $70,000 fine. Silva subsequently appealed the ruling and won a major victory in May 2015, when a Nevada district court judge ruled that the NAC's punishment was "in excess of the statutory authority of the agency."
The ruling set the stage for a re-hearing which ultimately faced several delays. After scheduled dates in October, November, and December each meet postponements, Silva's attorney Ross Goodman delivered a frustrated appeal to the NAC last month, during which he argued that the commission was "violating [Silva's] due process rights" by refusing to re-hear the case.
Goodman finally received his opportunity on Wednesday. Much of Goodman's defense centered around Silva's original assertion that the NAC did not have proper jurisdiction to randomly test the Brazilian because Silva was not a licensed fighter at the time of the incident.
As it has throughout the life of the case, the NAC rejected Goodman's arguments, citing that the same judge who abolished the lifetime ban also ruled that the commission "properly exercised jurisdiction" by issuing the random test.
In a tense back-and-forth, Goodman called Nevada executive director Bob Bennett to the stand as his first and only witness, attempting to point to a 2008 memorandum on the official NAC website which detailed the commission's guidelines for licensure and testing. However the line of questioning was shut down by the NAC, with commissioner Pat Lundvall calling the proceedings "insulting."
NAC chairman Anthony Marnell stated that the case was without precedent for the commission, and Lundvall, noting that Silva's actions were the "most egregious" of any possible given the circumstances, called for a four-year suspension. Commissioner Skip Avansino countered by recommending a two-year ban, before the NAC ultimately settled on three years.
The 39-year-old Silva is a renowned figure of the sport who is most well known for holding the PRIDE FC middleweight belt during the heyday of the Japanese promotion. He last fought in March 2013, defeating Brian Stann via second-round knockout at UFC on Fuel TV 8. Silva has also defeated the likes of Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Dan Henderson, Michael Bisping, and Ricardo Arona, among others.
Following a separate long and protracted battle, the UFC released Silva from his contract last month. Bellator president Scott Coker recently told MMA Fighting that both Bellator and Japanese promotion Rizin are interested in signing the former champion.