Sorting Out the Canelo Alvarez PED Mess

The Nevada State Athletic Commission has slapped Saul “Canelo” Alvarez with a temporary suspension because of two failed drug tests last month. The suspension will be re-visited at the next meeting of the commission on Tuesday, April 10. At that meeting, Canelo will be interviewed. However, he is not required to be there in person so it’s likely the interview will be conducted on a speaker phone (via a translator). It goes without saying that if the commission opts to extend the suspension, the May 5 mega-fight between Alvarez (49-1-2) and Gennady Golovkin (37-0-1) will evaporate.

Canelo tested positive for trace levels of clenbuterol on Feb. 17 and again on Feb. 20. He blames the adverse tests on eating contaminated meet. In Mexico, ranchers commonly add clenbuterol to livestock feed. It increases the leanness and protein content of cattle and hogs. It is illegal in the United States and Europe, but has been approved in some countries for use in asthma patients.

“We respect the Nevada State Athletic Commission process and will vigorously present Canelo’s case throughout,” said a spokesman for Golden Boy Promotions, Canelo’s promoter. “Over his career, Canelo has tested clean more than 90 times and would never intentionally take a banned substance.”

Nevada is far more stringent than most other jurisdictions when it comes to banned substances. As a consequence, the PED question has repeatedly clouded many of Nevada’s biggest fights. A case in point was the fourth fight between Manny Pacquaio and Juan Manuel Marquez on Dec. 8, 2012.

Although there was no corroborating evidence, rumor-mongers smeared both fighters with allegations of PED use. That went double for the then 39-year-old Marquez who came into the fight carrying 143 pounds but with a physique considerably more buffed than he showed in their most recent meeting 13 months earlier when he weighed only one pound less.

Marquez ended the fight with a brutal one-punch knockout in the sixth round. He was 0-2-1 vs. Pacquiao in their previous engagements.

In the past, the Nevada commission has made some strange decisions when penalizing boxers found to have consumed illegal drugs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. was slapped with a $900,000 fine when he tested positive for marijuana following his 2012 match with Sergio Martinez. It was his second infraction.

Because marijuana is not performance-enhancing with respect to an activity like boxing, the penalty was derided as draconian. “What were they smoking to impose such a harsh penalty?” was a common reaction. Nevada would subsequently legalize marijuana for recreational use. Boxers are no longer tested for it. (Chavez appealed the suspension and the fine was reduced to $100,000. The actions occurred when Keith Kizer was the head of the commission. He abruptly resigned after a seven-year run in January of 2014 and would be replaced by Bob Bennett.)

Although it isn’t explicitly stated, the primary goal of the Nevada Athletic Commission is to serve as an economic engine for the state. Hence, it’s extremely doubtful that the commission will extend Alvarez’s suspension and risk losing the May 5 date. The first fight between Canelo and GGG was one of the richest fights in the history of Nevada. The attendance, 22,358, was the largest ever for an indoor boxing event in the Silver State. The rematch figures to be no less lucrative. The cheapest tickets, if you can find one, are $300.

Working in Canelo’s favor is that Pat Lundvall is no longer on the commission. Lundvall served on the commission from 2007 to 2016, rising to the post of chairman, before being relieved of her duties by Governor Brian Sandoval. A Las Vegas attorney, she was far and away the most hardline of the commissioners when it came to PEDs, recommending penalties that many of her colleagues viewed as excessive.

If perchance the commission actually does come down hard on Canelo, Billy Joe Saunders is presumably waiting in the wings. Saunders, who holds the WBO version of the middleweight title, was scheduled to face countryman Martin Murray at London’s O2 Arena on April 14.

Earlier this week, it was announced that Saunders would be unable to keep the date because of a hand injury incurred in sparring. This being boxing, many folks suspected that there was more to the story.

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