On October 2, 2013, Edwin Rodriguez enrolled in the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency’s 24-7-365 testing program. That means VADA can demand blood and urine samples from Rodriguez without notice anytime anywhere. In so doing, Edwin followed the lead of Nonito Donaire, who announced in early-2012 that he was unilaterally subjecting himself to year-round PED testing by VADA.
Boxing has a serious PED problem. Under the best of circumstances, trying to catch drug cheats is like designing anti-virus computer software. The cheats are always finding new ways to thwart the system.
In boxing, the system is easy to beat. Most states have drug-testing programs that a high school student could circumvent. Testing on fight night or testing once a fight has been announced is better than no testing, but it’s not enough. A fighter can use PEDs between fights and cycle off when his next fight is signed.
The Damocles Sword of testing by a qualified testing agency 24-7-365 is essential if boxing is to curtail PED use. But with rare exceptions, this testing hasn’t been implemented.
Indeed, one might posit that Rodriguez and Donaire (pictured above, in Chris Farina-Top Rank photo) have put themselves at a competitive disadvantage. Their upcoming opponents have steered clear of 24-7-365 PED testing. That doesn’t mean their opponents are dirty. But it doesn’t inspire confidence that Edwin and Nonito will be in the ring against clean opposition either.
Jim Lampley was once reluctant to call for stringent measures to curtail the use of performance enhancing drugs in boxing. That changed on December 8, 2012, when Manny Pacquiao was brutally knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez.
“I saw Manny Pacquiao lying face-down on the canvas in front of me,” Lampley recalls. “I thought he might be dead. That imbued me with a sense of urgency on this issue.”
One week later, on the December 15th edition of The Fight Game, Lampley designated Donaire as TFG’s “Fighter of the Year.”
“He committed to random drug testing, 24-7-365 whether he is scheduled to fight or not,” Lampley explained to viewers. “At a moment when, elsewhere in the sport, you can find instances of star fighters who are testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, test results which have allegedly been ignored or suppressed in favor of unobstructed commerce, enforcement efforts which get lost or fall short due to improper scheduling, inadequate testing methods, and bureaucratic incompetence; if you are looking for the ray of hope, the light in the forest, his name is Nonito Donaire.”
On the same telecast, Lampley honored VADA president Margaret Goodman. After referencing VADA’s “state of the art procedures” and “prominent busts” of two elite fighters (Lamont Peterson and Andre Berto), Lampley declared, “It took VADA and Margaret Goodman two fights to establish the will to enforce standards which might help to reverse what many observers now see as an onrushing tide of performance enhancing drugs in boxing. For making her point forcefully, fearlessly, and immediately, Dr. Margaret Goodman is the ‘TFG Person of the Year.’”
One can argue that it’s the responsibility of state athletic commissions, legislators, and promoters to help rid boxing of PEDs. But most of all, it’s the responsibility of THE FIGHTERS and their camps. The fighters are the ones who are at greatest risk.
A fatality would be the most stark evidence of the crisis. But the dangers go far beyond a handful of deaths. Twenty years from now, an entire generation of fighters will have brain damage from having been hit in the head harder than would have been the case without PED use by their opponents.
Thus, it’s worth focusing on Edwin Rodriguez and the laudable commitment to 24-7-365 VADA testing that he recently made.
In August of this year, Rodriguez signed with manager Al Haymon. At least three of Haymon’s fghters (Andre Berto, Antonio Tarver, and J’Leon Love) have tested positive for PEDs in the past.
Another Haymon fighter (Peter Quillin) was enrolled in a USADA testing program prior to his June 2, 2012, fight against Winky Wright. Then, after blood and urine samples were taken from both fighters, Wright was told that the testing had been abandoned and the samples were destroyed.
Haymon also represents Adrien Broner.
Broner, Antonio DeMarco, Golden Boy (Broner’s promoter), and the United States Anti-Doping Agency signed a contract for USADA testing prior to the November 17, 2012, Broner-DeMarco fight. But according to DeMarco, he wasn’t tested by USADA for that bout, nor was Broner.
Then, on June 22, 2013, Broner fought Paulie Malignaggi.
“I wanted VADA testing,” Malignaggi recalls. “And I was told, ‘No, we won’t do VADA. If you insist on VADA, there won’t be a fight.’ Finally, I said, ‘F— it. I’m getting seven figures. I’ll go ahead and fight.’ Would I have been more confident that Broner was clean if there had been VADA testing? Absolutely.”
Haymon’s flagship fighter, of course, is Floyd Mayweather.
On June 24, 2013, at a media sitdown before the kick-off press conference for Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez, Leonard Ellerbe (CEO of Mayweather Promotions) told reporters, “We’ve put in place a mechanism where all Mayweather Promotions fighters will do mandatory blood and urine testing 365-24-7 by USADA.”
USADA declined a request from this writer for comment on the truth of Ellerbe’s contention. Al Haymon also declined comment for this article. And questions remain regarding the issue of whether or not, several years ago, Mayweather “A” samples tested positive on three occasions.
Referencing that issue, Dan Rafael of ESPN.com stated during a November 21, 2012, online chat, “I need to see proof before I accuse somebody of something so serious. What is fact, however, is that the settlement in the Pacquiao-Mayweather lawsuit happened after the Pacquiao camp tried to get Mayweather's USADA testing records. So maybe where there is smoke there is fire.”
So here’s a suggestion. Why doesn’t Floyd Mayweather enroll in VADA’s 24-7-365 program? And let him state publicly, “Any fighter who wants to be eligible to fight me must enroll in VADA’s 24-7-365 program NOW.”
And let’s take it a step further. In addition to Mayweather, Broner, Quillin, Berto, and Love, Al Haymon currently represents Danny Garcia, Devon Alexander, Lucas Matthysse, Marcos Maidana, Leo Santa Cruz, Keith Thurman, Austin Trout, Omar Figueroa, Gary Russell Jr, Sakio Bika, Josesito Lopez, Erislandy Lara, Shawn Porter, Errol Spence, Chris Arreola, Seth Mitchell, and Deontay Wilder.
Let’s assume that all of these fighters are clean. Let them all enter a 24-7-365 VADA testing program. I can’t speak for anyone else. But that would certainly make a believer out of me.
Al and Floyd have enough money to fund it.
It’s easy to talk the talk. Let’s see who walks the walk.
Let’s also remember the thoughts of Jim Lampley, who has warned, “Whatever is the worst thing that can happen as the result of boxers employing modern medical science to strengthen their bodies, it hasn't happened yet. But if nothing is done to further strengthen testing standards and applications, it surely will. And when it does, we won't be complaining anymore that boxing can't find its way into mainstream media. We'll be there in a big way, and in no way to our credit.”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book (Straight Writes and Jabs: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) has just been published by the University of Arkansas Press.