When the UFC travels to a foreign locale, they are often treading virgin ground, introducing the sport to a brand new group of potential fans. While it's no doubt exciting to open new markets, it isn't without a unique set of problems—chief among them the lack of any third-party regulation.
In Las Vegas or New Jersey, the state government has an important role to play, protecting fighters and fans from potential harm. That protection doesn't exist in a place like Macau, China, where the UFC debuted in November.
With no local athletic commission or organized regulation, it could be easy for the promotion to slip back into old habits, to create the kind of wild west scenario that allowed drug and PED use to run rampant in the "good old days" of the sport.
The UFC has combated that problem by bringing its own in-house commission to all events on foreign soil. Headed by Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Marc Ratner, the well-respected former executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, the promotion hires its own officials, offers its own therapeutic use exemptions for testosterone and performs its own drug testing.
And it's not just for show—the UFC has caught and penalized its own fighters on several occasions.
Thiago Silva tested positive for marijuana metabolites following his bout at UFC on FUEL TV in Macau. The UFC organization has a strict, consistent policy against the use of any illegal and/or performance-enhancing drugs, stimulants or masking agents. Silva has admitted to taking the banned substance and has agreed to participate in an approved drug-rehabilitation program and serve a six-month suspension retroactive to the November 10 event. He must pass a drug test upon completion of the suspension before receiving clearance to fight again.
Sounds pretty responsible, right? After all, a six-month suspension, to the lay man, is a serious punishment. Mr. Silva will have plenty of time to think about what he did wrong.
And if that's a thought that crossed your mind, the UFC has you right where they want you.
The truth? A six-month suspension for a two-time failure like Silva doesn't even deserve to be called a slap on the wrist. That's offensive to wrist slaps. In reality, a "six-month suspension" isn't a punishment at all.
Since joining the UFC in 2007, not including time off for a serious back injury and a previous drug test failure in 2011, Silva has averaged five-and-a-half months between bouts. In other words, his supposed suspension, which doesn't include any monetary fine, will last just two weeks longer than his typical layoff.
Appearances matter. The UFC has gone through the motions of punishing Silva, but their real message is clear. And whether the promotion believes marijuana use should be prohibited or not, they have to treat every test failure just like their athletic commission counterparts would.
The UFC has taken serious steps toward eliminating performance enhancers in the sport, but there is still plenty of work to be done. It's great that the UFC drug tests at all when it doesn't have to by the letter of the law. But when a fighter fails a test, it's important that the UFC provide the same punishment as the most serious athletic commissions—like Nevada, where Nick Diaz is serving a 12-month suspension and paid a 30 percent fine on his purse.
Anything else is nothing more than lip service.