UFC fighter Nick Diaz was knocked out by the Nevada State Athletic Commission on Monday, when he was given a five-year suspension for a positive marijuana test following his January bout with Anderson Silva.
Diaz, 32, was flagged for marijuana for the third time in his career. In addition to the five-year ban, he was ordered to pay a fine equal to 33 percent of his $500,000 purse for the UFC 183 headliner, a penalty that amounted to $165,000.
“I’m pretty pissed off,” Diaz said after the hearing. “First of all, this sport, this commission and everybody, they’ve done everything they can to keep me from being all the way on top where I should be. They’ve been doing everything they could to keep me from proving that I’m the best fighter in the world, which I am.”
What makes Diaz’s punishment so egregious is that after nearly four hours of testimony from both his legal representation and the NSAC, the decision appeared to be made out of disdain for Diaz’s character rather than the facts of his case.
Diaz is one of the most beloved – yet polarizing – figures in the sport. His raw personality and fan-friendly fighting style have garnered a major following since his professional debut in 2001. Unfortunately, his decision-making outside of competition has frequently landed him in hot water, including being suspended and fined for marijuana by the commission in 2007 and 2012. However, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, even according to Nevada’s own rules.
Earlier this year the NSAC voted to implement new punishment guidelines for failed drug tests. Among the guidelines listed was a category for “sedatives, muscle relaxants, sleep aids, anxiolytics, opiates and cannabis/marijuana.” The punishment for a third offense in that category was a three-year ban and a 60-75 percent fine of a fighter’s purse.
Although the fine percentage came in below the listed spectrum, the suspension length far exceeded it. Repeat offenders are typically given harsher treatment, but it’s the specifics surrounding Diaz’s tests that have his supporters – and fellow fighters – howling.
Diaz, who holds a medical marijuana card in California, was subjected to three different drug tests on the night of his January 31 contest against Silva. The first and third tests were analyzed by the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory, which is accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency, and came back clean. The second test was analyzed by a different firm – Quest Diagnostics, used by the NSAC to conduct tests – and reportedly placed Diaz’s limits of marijuana metabolites at five times the amount allowed by WADA.
Despite the conflicting results and arguments by Diaz’s lawyers over the way in which testing procedures were conducted, the commission focused on Diaz’s answer of “no” when asked on a prefight questionnaire whether he’d used drugs two weeks prior to his bout against Silva. Moreover, the commissioners dialed in Diaz’s history of erratic behavior and labeled his three failed drug tests for marijuana as a sign of disrespect toward the commission and its rules.
“We’re now in 2015, and it doesn’t appear that any of these proceedings have had an impact on the athlete,” NSAC Commissioner Pat Lundvall said. “It doesn’t appear that the athlete is afforded the respect that this commission and the opportunity and the privilege for him to fight in the state then affords.”
Diaz’s suspension has sparked a stunning outcry within the sport’s community. Numerous fighters have voiced their support for Diaz, stating that a five-year suspension is far too serious for a marijuana infraction, even under the conditions of a third offense. The argument is valid, especially when examining suspensions handed out by the NSAC for athletes that test for dangerous performance-enhancing drugs such an anabolic steroids.
In fact, Silva, who was Diaz’s opponent at UFC 183 and originally won by unanimous decision, also failed drug tests around the event. However, “The Spider” didn’t test positive for marijuana, but rather drostanolone metabolites, which indicates the use of an anabolic steroid, as well as androsterone, a form of endogenous testosterone.
Silva was suspended just one year and fined $380,000 for having multiple banned substances in his system in the bout with Diaz.
Diaz’s lawyer, Lucas K. Middlebrook, expressed disgust toward the way in which the proceedings unfolded after the final decision was made.
“This isn’t fair – this is a kangaroo court,” Middlebrook said. “You heard the commission’s decision wasn’t based on the facts; it wasn’t based on the evidence.…One commissioner said, ‘Your attorneys were very persuasive. But you don’t respect us, so here’s a five-year ban and a ton of money that we’re going to take back.'”
UFC officials declined comment on Diaz’s suspension when contacted by Rolling Stone. Middlebrook, however, said he plans apply for a judicial review of the suspension that, if upheld, would put Diaz on the sidelines until February 1, 2020.