You’ve heard the news by now: UFC star Nick Diaz was suspended by the Nevade State Athletic Commission for five years (at age thirty-two, for Diaz that’s nearly a lifetime ban) for the heinous crime of smoking marijuana, something he has a medical license (albeit out of state) for. It was the third drug test failure for marijuana by Diaz, and if that were the only aspect to this story, there wouldn’t really be a story at all.

However, Diaz, the most unlikely of rallying points, may become the catalyst for change when it comes to the (at best) uneven NSAC. And the commission will have only itself to blame.

Lets take a closer look at the Diaz debacle.

Point one: Diaz actually took three drug tests surrounding his UFC 183 fight against Anderson Silva. Two of them came back clean, while the third, which was, in error, labeled with his name clearly visible (all samples are supposed to be anonymous when they head to the lab) came back showing he was five times over the allowable limit for marijuana metabolites. That test was performed by Quest Diagnostics, while the two negative tests the fighter passed were completed by the Sports Medicine Research & Testing Laboratory (SMRTL), a WADA (World Anti-Doping Angency) accredited lab which essentially operates at a higher standard. Oh, and to add to the problems with the Quest test, aside from being labeled when it shouldn’t have been, it was an unsupervised test (no rep was present when the sample given).

How does a fighter pass two tests, and fail one, all basically in the same period, without it being a serious cause for concern? Which brings us our next point of contention.

Point two: this fairly compelling evidence was ignored out of sheer arrogance and ego by the NSAC. Make no mistake, arrogance is the issue here. When Diaz’s lawyer, Lucas Middlebrook, objected to a question early in the hearing, one commission member audibly laughed. Clearly, the message was “How dare you question us, or offer any defense other than grovelling!” After the hearing, Middlebrook paraphrased one commission member as saying “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.

And that’s the message being sent with this ruling. The NSAC isn’t playing by its own rules — it’s trying to quash dissent, by giving hefty sentences to any fighter daring to defend themselves. The problem there is, no matter how hard you’re fighting for a clean sport, due process and the option of a defense is a must, and it cannot be undermined in this way. A similar set of circumstances came about a year ago from the commission, which caused a bit of a stir at the time: Vitor Belfort essentially was gifted a title shot after failing an out-of-competition test for elevated testosterone levels, Chael Sonnen was given a two-year ban from the sport for his second failed test (technically, he failed multiple tests leading up to UFC 175), while Wanderlei Silva was handed a lifetime ban from the sport for, in essence, not co-operating with the NSAC by attempting to mount a defense against charges he dodged a drug test. While “The Axe Murdere” — like Diaz — is hardly a poster boy for common sense and playing within the rules at this point, the fact remains that the lifetime ban was egregious. That ruling has already been overturned in a court of law, which is likely where the Diaz case is heading at this point.

As well it should. The term “Kangaroo Court” was thrown around after the Diaz ruling, and it’s not off the mark. Arbitrary rulings simply cannot stand. Punishments need to follow a set standard. As much as the NSAC wants to send a message, the message must be consistent. “We don’t like you” and “you didn’t immediately beg forgiveness” cannot be a factor that has any bearing on a fighter’s eventual punishment.

Which brings us to point three: the commission is not following its own rules with this suspension. A third marijuana test failure, which is what Diaz is faced with here, is, by their own guidelines, a 36 month suspension. Three years, not five. That’s what the NSAC put in writing earlier this year. Not even months removed, and it seems it has already forgotten that.

At this point, it’s time for the commission to be reigned in. It’s rather ironic that the most unsympathetic of fighters, Nick Diaz, anything but a poster boy for this sort of cause (after the ruling he opted to say, on camera, that the commission was a bunch of dorks — rather tame criticism by Diaz standards), may very well be the catalyst, but that’s where we’re at in 2015.

Keep in mind that none of this even addresses the fact that marijuana is not a performance enhancing drug, and that abusers of actual steroids (Anderson Silva, Hector Lombard) have been given but a fifth of the suspension that Diaz got, albeit on a first failure. However, PEDs are the greater concern in the eyes of most athletes and fans, due to the fear that they may result in actual harm in the ring. For Diaz, who is a marijuana user with a license that is simply not recognized by this particular commission, to receive a ban longer than steroid cheats defies logic. Yet that’s not the point — it’s that the NSAC, out of sheer arrogance, rejected compelling evidence regarding testing problems at one of the labs it employed, and that it couldn’t follow its own guidelines on handing out suspensions.

Like Wanderlei Silva’s lifetime ban, this suspension will likely be overturned, but in the process, the NSAC itself, after years of questionable decision making, needs to be taken to task.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.