This past week’s announcement that Russian heavyweight contender Alexander Povetkin had tested positive for a banned substance prior to his May 14th WBC World title fight against Deontay Wilder sent shockwaves through the fight world.
That the fight would be cancelled was almost a foregone conclusion, however two days since the announcement, there has been no official word from the promoter or the WBC.
The brief statement on the WBC’s website reads:
The WBC’s priority is and will always be safety, fair play and justice. In order to continue to strive for the absolute safety of the boxers and for a just and fair outcome for all parties involved, the WBC is conducting an in-depth investigation of this matter.
The WBC will make a public announcement in the very near future concerning the results of its investigation and any appropriate steps that it will take.
With the fight now less than a week away, it is highly unlikely that a truly “in-depth” investigation of any type is going to take place. What is more likely going on behind the scenes is that the powers that be are looking for a way to make this fight happen.
First of all, the Russian promotion backed by Russian money-man Andrei Ryabinsky, certainly wants the fight to go on. Obviously, the same goes for Povetkin.
Povetkin has already stated that he took the drug with a prescription legally, and he has also stated that when the drug was banned by VADA last year, he stopped taking it. The test results, he says, are due to residual traces of the drug. Furthermore, Povetkin has stated he has not used the drug in over a year.
Now, Povetkin is not just any athlete. Povetkin won both the amateur world championships and the Olympic gold medal back in 2004 so he has been an elite fighter all of his adult life. Ryabinsky, a rich oligarch whose reported fortune is in the billions of dollars, has long been a strong financial backer of Povetkin; their association goes back to Povetkin’s amateur days. He funded Povetkin’s challenge to Wladimir Klitschko back in October of 2013, and the wait for another shot was almost three years in the making. Men worth a few billion are usually used to getting what they want, and Ryabinsky certainly does not want the fight wisked out from under him with less than a week to go. Just tell the man who he has to pay.
As stated, the WBC is likely looking for a way to make the match happen also. They are interested in retaining their facade of power and jurisdiction, but in the end, the sanctioning fees coming in likely exceed seven figures and that is their bottom line. Heavyweight title shots are by nature less risky and the sanctioning money is practically assured as the fighters do not have a weight requirement to make. With the fight so close, the WBC may have already even cashed the sanctioning fee check, and giving money back, well no one likes to do that…. There is also the small detail that the champion is not the one who tested positive, so they can hang their hat on that.
As for Wilder, the signs are that he could still go through with the match. When news broke of Povetkin’s positive test, the Wilder camp found themselves in England as they had already begun the process of travel and time adjustment. Had the Wilder camp packed up and gone home with a statement to the effect of “I won’t fight a cheater” he lwould not have been condemned. But that does not appear to be the case. By all accounts, the Wilder team hasn’t left Europe.
St. Basil’s Cathedral, the ginger-bread looking edifice with the onion domes that sits outside the Kremlin may be the most beautiful building in the world. It is even more impressive up close. Perhaps Wilder and company will still head to Moscow for their obligatory photo in front of the famous church. Travel should be happening today or tomorrow at the latest, so stay tuned to see if and when Wilder boards a plane and where he lands.
Ryabinsky’s hand can also be felt on Wilder’s thinking here, as he has provided Wilder with his biggest payday to date and Wilder, at the end of the day, has a family to think about. In perspective, Ali and Foreman were making $5 million dollars 40 years ago, so the money is not huge, but for Wilder a $5 million dollar payday is a new threshold of security and having that yanked away at the last minute is going to be hard to take.
Now, the latest news from ESPN’s Dan Rafael predicts a cancellation.
It looks like the Deontay Wilder-Alexander Povetkin fight will be canceled due to Povetkin’s positive drug test… https://t.co/2tD7WCHTo8
— Dan Rafael (@danrafaelespn) 15 de mayo de 2016
VADA (the initials stand for Voluntary Anti-Doping Association) is the one that receives a black eye in this. Yes, the testing they run is more scientifically advanced than that of any other agency, but they are expensive and not everyone uses them. Here, they are paid for, probably on Ryabinsky’s tab, but there is the potential that all the parties involved decide to ignore the results.
There are other questions this raises about VADA and those won’t be answered in a week. The drug in question, Meldonium, was only added to the list of banned substances last year and since then, it has come up in two very high profile cases, both involving Russian athletes. Povetkin is not the first, as tennis star Maria Sharapova tested positive earlier this year and she never denied using the drug, saying instead she had been using it with a prescription since 2006. How did Meldonium suddenly get put on the list of banned substances last year? Is VADA’s process exempt from the international politics that could be playing a part?
Looking at the worlds of boxing and MMA, both sports have had incidents where VADA testing has been used and the agency is completely powerless to questions about sample control at a world widelevel. Who collects the tests in Rio, Chechnya, Berlin and Las Vegas? The results of this situation could become a black eye to VADA because, after all, they have good tests but no way of assuring the samples are handled correctly because they rely on help from local authorities.
News is expected early Monday from the WBC and from whatever other parties are circling around this growing situation. Whatever happens, you can be sure there will be a lot more questions.