No! Don’t do it! That is the stuff that makes you test positive!” So went the adamant words flying out of Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva’s mouth, genuine worry and concern painted onto his thick brow and mixed in with his resounding Brazilian accent that echoed off the walls of American Top Team. These words of warning had been directed toward a group of Silva’s own teammates who had been discussing legal supplements, the purpose of which is to naturally boost testosterone production. Silva, of course, was warning his friends about falsely testing positive for steroid use following the random drug-screening tests that state athletic commissions require mixed martial artists to submit to at any given show—the same type of test that had sidelined Silva from fighting in the U.S. at that very moment, for the very same reason he was forewarning.
Denial and excuse-making is oftentimes the tune sung by fighters who get popped for ingesting illegal performance-enhancing drugs, but that’s usually on camera. In public. In afterthought.
But in the shadows of the gym, encircled by a group of like-minded confederates who know the sacrifices of the game they play for money and glory and pay for with blood and suffering, it might only be there that true intentions be whispered and admitted without fear of reprisal or judgment. But even there, in the first place he called home outside of Brasilia, Brazil, Antonio Silva speaks with honesty and sincerity, even when he has no clue that a journalist dressed in fight shorts and a rash guard is casually mingling within earshot, right behind him.
“It is because of my tumor,” Silva would later explain, pointing to his head with a large finger. “[Doctors first noticed the tumor] when I did the medical exams for my first fight in K-1 Hero’s. Up until then I had only fought on small shows, and had never had an MRI of my head done.” The tumor that Silva speaks of was located inside his brain, on his pituitary gland, which is dubbed the “master gland” given its heavy hormonal role in the body, growth being one of them. And although the tumor has since been removed, the damage has arguably been done. Standing 6 foot 4 and weighing over 300 pounds at one point in his life, Antonio Silva suffers from acromegaly, a syndrome that can be caused by such a tumor, and whose symptoms include lowered testosterone levels, increased human growth hormone (HGH) production and resultantly large facial features, hands and feet—undoubtedly what earned him the second moniker of “Bigfoot,” aside from “Junior.” But it is the lowered testosterone that would lead the super heavyweight-turned heavyweight beast to make a simple mistake that would set off a chain reaction of sour luck and alleged injustices against the hulking fighter. “My HGH level is very high, but my testosterone is very, very low, because of my acromegaly. So I took a supplement that raises testosterone,” says Silva.
“It turns out that he was using a legal, over-the-counter supplement called ‘Novedex’ to help boost his testosterone before his last fight against Justin Eilers [in July 2008],” says manager Alex Davis, a man who currently assists Luiz Cane, Thiago Silva and Thiago Tavares, among others. “But there is an ingredient in Novedex that metabolizes into the same chemical form as Boldenone (an illegal steroid).” Unwise to this tidbit of knowledge, Bigfoot had taken the supplement and was later bewildered to learn that he had been fined and suspended for one year by the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) following a false positive on his urinalysis test. But once the culprit—Novedex—was discovered, that’s when the trouble began. “We investigated and found out that Novedex makes a positive for Boldenone,” says Davis. “So we gathered proof that Antonio had used the supplement, and had him do another urine test after he stopped using it, and the test immediately came back negative.”
Boldenone, which is usually reserved for veterinary care on horses, has a very long half-life, meaning it can reportedly linger in the body for almost a year and a half after being used, and for at least a few months following even a small dosage. But the fact that Silva’s second test came back negative—following his immediate stoppage of ingesting Novedex— more or less spelled out what both Silva and his manager had asserted: Silva could not have taken Boldenone and tested negative mere weeks after having tested positive. Such evidence should have held enough weight for the CSAC to reexamine the case, both men thought, but the suspension was upheld following an appeal (and even an unproductive case in civil court), thereby threatening to cutoff Bigfoot’s very livelihood that affords his family food and the medicine necessary for treating his condition.
“The cost of my treatment is very high. Just the monthly injection I take is very expensive, not to mention the doctor’s exams. It got to the point where I had to put my health and well-being first,” says Silva, before running through the same-old-sameold he’s been proclaiming since Day One. “Also, I never took any steroids, I did not cheat. I spent the time and money to try and prove this through the normal channels to the CSAC even in civil court, but no one would listen or look at the proof. I need to take care of my family and my bills just like anyone else.” Meanwhile, EliteXC had collapsed as a company, Antonio Silva’s lucrative contract more or less with it. But whereas this proved frustrating and frightening to many fighters caught in the fray, the dissolving of Silva’s contract was more so a blessing in disguise for Silva, whose U.S. suspension and contractual gridlock had effectively held his career in limbo up to that point.
Motivated by a self-righteous contention of unwavering—and provable— innocence, and a necessity that only desperate men know, Antonio Silva and manager Alex Davis went to the land of the rising sun. Bigfoot had no choice, he says, but to take a fight within the Sengoku promotion in Japan, much to the displeasure of—and far from the official reaches of—the CSAC, whose suspensions only heavily insinuate a worldwide hiatus from MMA. This decision would spark an up-and-down speculation on the outlook of Bigfoot’s Americanized fighting career, and as of the date of publication of this piece—three days before Silva’s original suspension was to conclude (which was enacted by a CSAC that has since revamped its ranks, with murmurs of scandal allegedly lining the core of this decision)—it is unclear as to what Antonio Silva’s future holds based upon the facts of his case, the switching of power within the CSAC, and the “all in” gamble that a desperate giant took on his life as a fighter.
But that doesn’t stop Bigfoot and his manager from looking toward future challenges, including two separate op- ponents whose first names alone illicit a litany of emotional feedback from rabid fight fans: Fedor and Brock.
“I would really, really like that fight with Fedor,” says Silva, a BJJ black belt under respected ATT co-founder Ricardo Liborio. “Fedor is a great fighter, the best in the world at the moment, and if I want to become No. 1, he is the man I must beat, and I think I could do just that.” Whereas this is the cut and dried desire of every heavyweight fighter striving for greatness, it’s worth noting that Silva is arguably within spitting distance of this goal, as he remains one of few top heavyweights in the world who could not only pose a challenge to the likes of Emelianenko, but also one who is not currently under contractual obligation to the UFC.
Of course, this scenario could very well never play out, should Bigfoot eventually end up within the UFC himself, once his contract with Sengoku is up. Following a historic night at UFC 100 that saw UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar’s heel-appeal swell to an ugly head and explode all over the Octagon, Antonio Silva just might represent the proverbial “big gun” that spiteful fans would pay big bucks to have the UFC pull out and aim at the 6’2 Lesnar in the future—and it would be with good reason, too. Despite standing two inches taller than Lesnar and tipping the scales at the same weight, Bigfoot displays a swift and free-flowing athleticism that is rare for a guy his size. Able to throw smooth head kicks at will (his first MMA fight was won with a head kick to his opponent, he proudly boasts), Bigfoot’s style is more comparable to the likes of a super-sized Miguel Torres, rather than the powerful and choppy mechanics that are attributed to the likes of Lesnar. But all of this is talk, paying fans realize, until the day they hopefully see this matchup come to fruition.
“Nothing else has happened – after July 27, his suspension is up,” Silva’s friend and manager, Alex Davis, says with relief and closure. “We don’t foresee any further action on the part of the CSAC, and we hope to put this issue behind us and move on.” Although neither of them explicitly says so, it’s clear that July 27 is a date that both men eye with hope, faith and a little trepidation, after which each man may breathe easily once again – and chalk this expensive and frustrating experience up to lessons learned and dreams yet to be pursued.