After two consecutive much anticipated big-money fight cards were cancelled when one of the main event boxers tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, the willingness of other fighters, not to mention their managers and promoters, to face the same scrutiny and risk the same consequences will be sorely challenged.
So, too, will the depth of the sincerity among all prize fighters for policing themselves against the scourge upon their sport of PEDs. With random drug testing for PEDs before a fight not required by most boxing jurisdictions, the onus to clean up the sport has fallen squarely on the fighters themselves. Though ridiculous, like most of boxing’s absurdities it is a sad fact.
To his credit, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. has been a leader in this regard, using his powerful position in the business of boxing to insist upon his opponents agreeing to random testing. Because Mayweather quite often provides opponents their biggest paydays, only Manny Pacquiao has refused since the dawning of this one-man clean-up campaign and the pressure of Mayweather’s public position has led others in high-profile fights to demand the same testing.
Pacquiao has since relented and said he will agree to random blood and urine testing for a Mayweather fight but is not insisting his opponents do the same even though he maintains a similarly powerful position in the sport and could easily do so.
It is ridiculous even by boxing’s low standards that it is the fighters who are being made responsible for regulating their own industry because regardless of the cost of such testing random testing for PEDs should be mandatory. The reason why is simple: if you are using steroids or other PEDs in baseball you simply hit the ball farther or throw it harder. In football, you are running faster, hitting harder or recovering faster from injury. In basketball, you become a rebounding beast.
But in boxing, a fighter on PEDs can both inflict more potentially damaging and possibly life-threatening injuries upon your opponent. In addition you may well be able to withstand more punishment, possibly leading to your own life-altering injuries in the ring. As Mike Tyson once put it so eloquently, “You play basketball. You play baseball. You don’t play boxing.’’
Promoters howl at the potential costs of random testing and both television executives and state regulators fear just what happened in the Amir Khan-Lamont Peterson and Andre Berto-Victor Ortiz fights, which was the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars because you can’t buy insurance for a failed drug test.
Yet the testing costs could be absorbed if it were spread not among individual fighters or promoters but rather paid out of a pool created by taking a small percentage of each big fight card off the gross in each state, the number obviously growing the bigger matches.
The collection and distribution of that money could then be administered by the Association of Boxing Commissions, led by its president Tim Lueckenhoff, with individual states passing legislation if needed to mandate that cost onto individual fight promotions as a cost of doing business in the state.
The latest examples of why this is necessary came first when the Peterson came up positive for excessive artificial testosterone after having called for such voluntary testing himself because, he said, he felt Khan might be using. Peterson later admitted taking PEDs before the first fight between them as well. In both cases, Peterson will argue this was under a doctor’s supervision for a medical condition but there are no real provisions for that.
If a fighter tests positive for performance enhancers there is little gray area for a commission to allow the fight to go on unless a tainted result can be established. That does not appear to be the case in this fight nor in the case of Berto, who suffered the same fate after testing positive and then claiming tainted supplements not given to him by his supplements advisor, Victor Conte, had skewered the test.
The interesting twist there is that is Conte is the disgraced former head of Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), which was the source of PEDs for fallen Olympic gold medalists Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones, allegedly for Barry Bonds and a host of other major league baseball and pro football players as well as boxer Sugar Shane Mosley, who admitted to using PEDs in grand jury testimony.
Conte has since testified for the government in high profile cases against some of his former clients, served a short jail term and now claims to be an advocate for the exclusion of PEDs in sports while continuing to provide assorted other supplements to help athletes legally reach peak performance.
Peterson’s positive test results became public so close to the fight that the card could not be saved, a blow to Khan and HBO. This greatly angered promoter Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy Promotions, who claimed his company was not made aware of the initial positive test until the second sample also was tested a month later.
The lag time left him little opportunity to find a new opponent for Khan in time to save the May date. Khan, who like Peterson trained for months for a fight he will now not be paid for, will face Danny Garcia in July but that will require another round of intense training and does not carry with it any of the cachet of a Khan-Peterson rematch.
Berto’s positive test led to a rapid testing of his B sample after which the results were made public and he was replaced by Josesito Lopez in time to save the June 23 card. But, again, Lopez brings none of the cachet or interest that a rematch with Berto would have in light of the raucous nature of their first fight.
This is what television networks, casino owners and state commissions fear most about regularly randomly testing fighters before major matches for PEDs. Unlike other sports, there is no natural substitute when a man event performer of the quality of Berto or Peterson is lost. Both were in rematches because of the story line around their first fight and now that is lost and so is the revenue those fights would have generated as well as the promotional costs already expended.
All four fighters had agreed to voluntary testing by Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA), a Nevada-based concern run by Nevada’s former chief of ringside physicians, Dr. Margaret Goodman. Since all such testing is voluntary and the belief is VADA is using a more stringent testing protocol than other testing organizations including the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA), which regularly tests but seldom catches Olympic athletes using PEDs (Jones, for example, had never tested positive in an international competition), the fear is fighters will now refuse to participate, as Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. already has.
Pacquiao could ramp up the heat by insisting he and his opponents all be tested as Mayweather has done but as yet he has been silent on the issue. With two major fight cards having been cancelled within two weeks of each other caution and probably a retreat from testing seems likely.
If so, it would be another sad day for boxing and for the men and women most at risk in the sport – the prize-fighters themselves.