A standard theme in American country music – which everyone should be listening to every day and night, especially boxing people – is cheating, or, more precisely, cheatin’.
Hank Williams is well-known for his classic lament “Your Cheatin’ Heart,”, still regularly played in jukeboxes in the finest dive bars of America where such thoughts and dreams keep the ATMs humming. Present-day country superstar Gretchen Wilson, best known for her anthem “Redneck Woman”, had a recent hit song on her first album, which sold over four million copies, called “When I Think About Cheatin’”, which netted her a 2005 CMT award for best video by a female artist and was shot at the Ryman Auditorium, longtime home of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn. And this year, Sara Evans, named by People Magazine as one of their “50 Most Beautiful People of 2005,” rose to the top of the CMT video charts with a song simply titled “Cheatin’”.
The cheatin’ referenced here, of course, involves infidelity in marital or similar committed relationships. Cheatin’ in such filthy endeavors as politics, business, and baseball takes other forms, all more and more documented as the Internet grows. But cheatin’ in boxing?
Shoot. The main difference between the cheatin’ in the honky tonks and the cheatin’ in boxing is that the former is usually attempted in relatively private settings, while in the latter it is practiced before national and international audiences of millions and millions, and often on that lovely medium known as pay-per-view.
The top two grossing pay-per-views in the U.S., not surprisingly, involved Mike Tyson. When Tyson had his rematch with Evander Holyfield in 1997, the pay-per-view drew about two million buys. That, of course, was the infamous “bite fight”. Tyson felt that Holyfield was cheatin’ on him by using unpunished foul tactics, so he upped the ante by cheatin’, and eatin’, on his ears.
The pay-per-view business tanked for a few years, but the buys did get to that magical one million mark again in 1999 when Holyfield finally met Lennox Lewis in their first fight. Here Lewis was cheated out of a deserved victory and the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world, not to mention the millions of paying fans who witnessed this robbery.
The other pay-per-view to draw around two million buys was the 2002 Lewis-Tyson fight. That show was originally scheduled to be held in Las Vegas, but the infamous New York press conference brawl preceding that fight got it tossed out of Sin City. In that brawl, Tyson returned to his cheatin’ ways by eatin’ on Lewis’s leg.
After Tyson, the next largest draw on pay-per-view has been Oscar De La Hoya. Following in these grand traditions, several of his top-drawing fights have been marred by cheatin’, although not on his part.
De La Hoya’s 1999 fight with Felix “Tito” Trinidad got around 1.4 million buys, the most to date for a non-heavyweight fight. Most observers felt that De La Hoya was cheated out of the victory, although Oscar cheated the fans (and himself as well) by running the last several rounds, thus defaulting on any right to complain about the cheatin’ officials too strongly.
Another of De La Hoya’s top-drawing pay-per-views was in 2002, this time against Fernando Vargas. That show got 935,000 buys. De La Hoya deservedly won by an 11th-round TKO, but after the fight it was announced that Vargas had been caught cheatin’ for using the anabolic steroid stanozolol.
De La Hoya’s latest pay-per-view show, his May 6 victory over Ricardo Mayorga, was also one of his most-watched. According to figures released by HBO Sports, this fight received 875,000 pay-per-view buys. That is De La Hoya’s fifth best, only behind the two fights listed above and his second fight with Shane Mosley in 2003, which got 950,000 buys, and his 2004 fight with Bernard Hopkins, which got one million buys. And like the Trinidad and Vargas fights, you could have added a musical score to the bout with Mayorga from any of those country cheatin’ songs.
It was also announced last week that Mayorga’s post-fight doping test had come back positive for the diuretic Furosemide, also known as Lasix. This stuff is often used to cut weight quickly. Had Mayorga not made weight for this fight, he would have lost his WBC 154-pound title on the scale. He also no doubt would have had to have paid De La Hoya a substantial amount of money, as most contracts stipulate penalties for one fighter failing to make the agreed upon weight. Mayorga already had been complaining the week of the fight about his cut of the money. (If this charge sticks, Mayorga will undoubtedly lose even more money, but getting caught cheatin’ was not part of the plan.)
This stuff also is pretty much universally accepted as a banned substance in sports. In an e-mail answering an inquiry from me about this substance, Frédéric Donzé, Manager, Media Relations, of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), wrote, “Furosemide is part of section S5 (diuretics and other masking agents) of the WADA 2006 List of Prohibited Substances and Methods.” While, of course, he could not comment on the specifics of the case of Mayorga, who also has to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, he did add, “But a positive test for diuretics under the World Anti-Doping Code can mean a 2-year suspension if the athlete cannot establish that he bears no fault or negligence.”
Diuretics are also used as a masking agent for steroids, according to Dr. Flip Homansky, Association of Boxing Commissions’ Vice President and former Nevada State Athletic Commissioner and emergency physician. He is working with neurologist and the Nevada commission’s former chief ringside physician, Dr. Margaret Goodman, along with several other physicians as well as former heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis and former mixed martial arts (MMA) and Greco-Roman wrestling champion Randy Couture, in establishing the Combat Sports Center for Safety and Research (CSCSR).
Going against what is sometimes asserted in boxing, Dr. Homansky said during a telephone interview Monday, “I think that anabolic steroids and human growth hormone are rampant both in boxing and especially in MMA.”
Nor does he believe that there is adequate testing to try to catch those who are cheatin’.
“We test very few. We don’t test everyone. We test only a couple,” he stated. “You shouldn’t be testing after a fight. These people cycle and know when to stop. We’re only catching the dumb ones.”
Dr. Homansky also differs with those who dismiss the danger of steroids in boxing on the grounds that it does more harm than good to the fighters during the fight.
“You can make a cocktail of different steroids to create whatever you want to create,” he said. “If it’s endurance, if it’s reflexes, if it’s speed.”
He added that in baseball, it was not just the big home run hitters who use steroids, but also the shortstops.
“It helps them recover quicker in their training so they can train three times as hard. It allows them to come back from injuries quicker. It does a multitude of things.” He continued, “And all of them are unfair, give an uneven playing field, and are dangerous to the taker.”
On this same interview, Dr. Goodman concurred with these views, citing her own experiences talking with fighters in gyms.
“For people that want to say in boxing and MMA, ‘oh, it’s just a few guys,’ it’s just crazy. This is part of the norm,” she has concluded.
In other words, cheatin’ is “rampant” and “the norm” in boxing.
I just wonder if they can set up Ryman Auditorium for a boxing pay-per-view.