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Barnett tests positive, faces possible end to career in U.S.

Just 11 days prior to the biggest fight of his life against Fedor Emelianenko, Josh Barnett, who at 24 became the youngest heavyweight champion in UFC history, was denied a license by the California State Athletic Commission for the Aug. 1 clash following a positive pre-fight drug test for a banned substance, the commission confirmed Wednesday.

Barnett (24-5) told Sherdog.com, which first reported the news, that he was unaware of the results stemming from a pre-fight drug urinalysis. He promised to clear his name, though he wasn't quoted offering a denial of the report.

"Barnett's test was observed in the presence of a CSAC representative and the sample was sent to the World Anti-doping Agency test facility at the University of California, Los Angeles on June 25 for processing. CSAC was notified of the results yesterday," according to a commission e-mail.

During a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Affliction Entertainment vice president Tom Atencio, a longtime friend and supporter of Barnett, said the news came as a complete surprise. He was working under the assumption that a second sample would confirm CSAC's initial exam, which detected 2a-methyl-5a-androstan-3a-ol-17-one, an anabolic steroid, officially knocking Barnett off the card.

In 2002, after trouncing Randy Couture to take the UFC title, Barnett was stripped of the belt and given a six month suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission following a positive test for Boldenone, a synthetic anabolic steroid developed for veterinary use in the treatment of horses. To this day, he denies taking performance-enhancing drugs in advance of the fight with Couture.

Atencio is negotiating with three fighters to replace Barnett, but declined to name them. Early reports indicate Vitor Belfort, Bobby Lashley and BrettRogers are on the short list to replace the 30-year-old Barnett.

"I think it is safe to say that every suitable non-UFC heavyweight is in the mix with the intention to get the best contender available under the circumstances," M-1 Global's American legal counsel Steve Bash, better known as Emelianenko's Russian-English translator when the fighter is in the U.S., said over e-mail.

With an international replacement difficult to secure on short notice due to visa concerns, suitable candidates are in limited supply for Emelianenko, who is scheduled to be in Moscow Wednesday to secure travel papers for next week's trip to the U.S.

Belfort, now a middleweight, was approached by promoters Tuesday afternoon and agreed to meet MMA's No. 1 heavyweight if the money is right.

"We want the fight, but also to be paid comparably to others who have fought Fedor," Belfort's trainer, Shawn Tompkins, said via text message.

In 2007, Matt Lindland moved up from 185 pounds to fight Fedor for a purse of $750,000. Former UFC heavyweight champions Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski earned $800,000 and $1.5 million, respectively. Barnett was expected to earn as much as Arlovski.

If Belfort comes to terms, Tompkins expects him to step into the ring near 215 pounds. Considering the Brazilian was preparing to fight his countryman JorgeSantiago at 185 on the Affliction "Trilogy" card in Anaheim, Calif., it's likely the "Phenom" would make for the fastest opponent Emelianenko has ever faced.

Since Emelianenko, the longtime Pride champ and current WAMMA heavyweight king, relies on speed for much of his success, the possibility of fighting sans that advantage is intriguing. There remains, however, major risk for Belfort and the potential for a completely one-sided fight. Though the 32-year-old Brazilian, himself a steroid offender, recently drew praise and interest for performances at middleweight, challenging Emelianenko on short notice could be detrimental to more than his comeback.

Santiago, who is ranked in the top-10 at 185 pounds and fights out of American Top Team, has not been notified of potential replacements for Belfort, according to a source in his camp.

Eight months and four fights into his career, Lashley said he wasn't overly eager to meet Emelianenko (30-1) in the ring at this time.

Rogers, a 10-0 Strikeforce-signed heavyweight, is interested and would ask for a purse approaching at least the $800,000 Affliction Entertainment paid Sylvia to fight Emelianenko, a source close to the fighter told SI.com.

Strikeforce promoter Scott Coker is in Italy and could not be reached for comment.

A fallback position for Affliction Entertainment and M-1 Global, which are working together on their third pay-per-view card from the Honda Center, is heavyweight Paul Buentello. He is slated to fight Dutch striker Gilbert Yvel on the same card Aug. 1.

With Barnett's (24-5) latest positive test, it's no stretch to suggest his career in the U.S. is done. The highly-ranked heavyweight could return to Japan, where he fled after getting caught in Nevada, but any chance of enjoying a bountiful prizefighting career in America just went bye-bye, along with perhaps the viability of Affliction as a fight promoter and the possibility that fans will ever see him fight Emelianenko.

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