Random Thoughts on PEDs Cheats, Dithering Referees and More

Somewhat lost in the boxing world’s understandable fascination with this past weekend’s Anthony Joshua-Joseph Parker heavyweight unification  showdown in Cardiff, Wales, was the result of the top undercard bout, in which Russian heavy Alexander Povetkin, ranked No. 1 by both the WBA and WBO, totally dominated David Price, the former contender from England, en route to a fifth-round stoppage.

Povetkin’s victory upped his record to 34-1 with 24 KOs and presumably puts him in the mix for a shot at whomever emerges as the undisputed heavyweight champion, be it WBA/IBF/WBO titlist Joshua (21-0, 20 KOs),WBC ruler Deontay Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) or perhaps former WBA/IBF/WBO and still-lineal champ Tyson Fury (25-0, 18 KOs), should the massive but troubled Briton ever clean up his act to a point where he can again become a factor in the division.

And while it is likely that Povetkin’s crushing of the faded Price solidified his position in the heavyweight pecking order, it should be noted that he has twice tested positive for banned substances, one such instance scrubbing a challenge he was to have posed to Wilder in Moscow, where he would have been a very live underdog.

Given the recent reminders that the scourge of performance-enhancing drugs has not been wholly or even mostly eradicated from boxing (the much-anticipated Gennady Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez rematch scheduled for May 5 in Las Vegas almost certainly will be canceled as the result of Alvarez having twice tested positive for clenbuterol), it is time – past time, actually – for the fight game’s power brokers to take swift and decisive action to ensure that their sport is as clean as possible moving forward.

This issue was recently addressed in one of TSS contributor Ted Sares’ always-interesting polls, posted on this site on March 20, in which he asked 17 longtime observers of boxing “How would you deal with drug cheats?” The overwhelming response: stricter measures should be taken, and soon, lest a problem that periodically is exposed by the efforts of the Voluntary Anti-Doping  Association (VADA) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) become the sort of runaway scandal that stained Major League Baseball to an extent that has yet to be fully cleansed.

The differences between boxing and baseball on this particular subject are stark and might never be resolved to a point where the penalties for those knowingly attempting to skirt the rules are more or less uniform. As a starting point for comparison, consider the standards for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and National Baseball Hall of Fame. The former is located in the central New York village of Canastota, located a mere 49.35 miles by car from the latter in Cooperstown.

If he keeps winning, and particularly if he captures a world title, Povetkin might have sufficient credentials for gaining one of those hallowed Hall passes. Alvarez probably already has done enough to someday give his acceptance speech, and let us not forget that one of boxing’s most revered figures, Evander Holyfield, was enshrined just last June. While Holyfield in 2007 issued a statement through his promoter that read, in part, “I do not use steroids. I have never used steroids,” a Sports Illustrated investigation that year revealed that someone using the name “Evan Fields,” sharing the same birth date as Holyfield, had illegal drugs from a Mobile, Ala., lab delivered to Holyfield’s home address in suburban Atlanta. Maybe that only constitutes circumstantial evidence, but it probably would be enough for any competent prosecutor to gain a conviction in a court of law.

This is not to say that I advocate the removal of Holyfield, whom I always have admired greatly, from the IBHOF’s roll of honor. Nor would I object, given how the IBHOF has addressed (or not addressed) similar situations, the barring of another slam-dunk future inductee, Shane Mosley, who was implicated in the same Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) scandal that lumped “Sugar Shane” with a host of renowned baseball and track-and-field athletes who were hit with stiff penalties which sullied their reputations. Nobody said fighters are or should be choirboys, but in that other sport, which involves hitting a ball with wooden bats instead of skulls with gloved fists, Barry Bonds, he of the record seven National League Most Valuable Player Awards, and Roger Clemens, he of the record seven American League Cy Young Awards, remain on their sport’s Hall of Fame ballot but have yet to gain admittance, and may never meet the requisite 75 percent approval rating from eligible voters.

Joe Morgan, a two-time NL Most Valuable Player who serves as the Hall of Fame’s vice chairman and a member of its board of directors, is perhaps the most vocal HOF inductee staunchly opposed to the notion of Bonds and Clemens, and others so tainted, ever becoming members of the exclusive club. In an email advisory sent out of eligible voters in November 2017, Morgan wrote: “We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They cheated. Steroid users don’t belong there.”

Morgan’s hard-line position is being echoed by still-active boxers who swear they have never resorted to the usage of PEDs and are loath to compete against those who either have failed drug tests or are widely suspected of yielding to the temptation of the syringe in order to gain a competitive edge. On a level playing field, talent, hard work, mental toughness and a smart, well-executed fight plan should yield the desired result, not chemistry.

Wilder, who has had three title fights canceled when opponents tested dirty (in addition to Povetkin, the others are Andrzej Wawrzyk and Luis Ortiz, whom he later did face and defeat), said, “We always say once a drug cheat, always a cheat.” Golovkin, perhaps still smarting from the middleweight unification draw in his first fight with Alvarez, a fight most observers believe he deserved to win, pulled no punches when confronted with the possibility that the do-over would be canceled or at least postponed, saying that Canelo’s claims of having mistakenly eaten tainted meat was a thinly veiled cover-up for his “cheating,” which he said the popular Mexican had also done prior to their controversial first fight.

The good fight on the PEDs front must continue to be waged, although there are times when the most dedicated members of the clean-up crew must feel as if they’re trying to stem raging flood waters with just a couple of sandbags.

“It’s absolutely necessary to continue testing, even if testing isn’t always adequate to get the job done,” said Dr. Margaret Goodman, co-founder of VADA, who on May 11 will receive the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing from the Boxing Writers Association of America. “You have to do everything you can to keep it fairer and safer for the fighters who are trying to do the right thing.”

ROUGH NIGHT FOR THESE REFS

Joshua-Parker promised much in the way of excitement (both fighters had predicted they would win by knockout), but what Showtime analyst Paulie Malignaggi categorized as a “super-tactical fight – boring to some,” was made worse by the intrusive presence of Italian referee Giuseppe Quartarone, whose abysmal work as the third man in the ring makes you wonder how such an inexperienced (he was working only his fourth world title bout) and seemingly inept official could possibly have been given such a high-profile assignment.

On those few occasions when Joshua and Parker engaged at close quarters, Quartarone stepped in too quickly and clumsily to separate them, not allowing two undefeated heavyweight champions to do what they presumably had come to Cardiff, Wales, to do, which was to, you know, fight. And if that weren’t enough, Quartarone inexplicably attempted to remove a flapping strip of tape on Joshua’s left glove in the eighth round without calling a timeout.

“What the hell is going on?” asked excitable Showtime blow-by-blow announcer Mauro Ranello, which had to be what the 80,000 spectators in Principality Stadium and a global television audience also had to be thinking. A round later, analyst Al Bernstein, who has been at ringside for literally thousands of boxing matches, said, “This is one of the most poorly refereed fights I have seen in a long time.”

Amazingly, Quartarone’s wasn’t even the most ridiculous performance by a referee that night. After watching the Villanova Wildcats, college basketball’s equivalent of the Golden State Warriors, rain a record 18 three-pointers on the shell-shocked Kansas Jayhawks in the second Final Four semifinal game in San Antonio, Texas, I switched over to the ESPN telecast of a Golden Boy show originating from Quincy, Mass., the main event of which was super middleweight Mark “The Bazooka” DeLuca’s seventh-round stoppage of Mexico’s Ramses Agaton. In what has to be the most incredulous ruling of the year in boxing, and maybe of all time, referee Leo Gerstel docked Agaton two penalty points for a low blow in the fourth round. The fact that Gerstel took such punitive action without having issued even a single warning is strange, but not nearly as strange as the fact that it was DeLuca who hit Agaton with a shot so far below the waistband that it might as well have landed in Venezuela.

JOE LOUIS WAS RIGHT

Once, upon being told by someone that an upcoming opponent did not like being hit to the body, heavyweight champion Joe Louis famously replied, “Who do?”

Who do, indeed. In the bout preceding DeLuca-Agaton, Irish middleweight Jason Quigley, returning from a year layoff due to a hand injury, demonstrated why body-punching is something of a lost art that always should be in any fighter’s arsenal, and used much more often than it sometimes is by the sport’s headhunters.

In the sixth round of the scheduled eight-rounder, Quigley dipped to his left and fired a textbook-perfect left hook to opponent Daniel Rosario’s solar plexus. Rosario dropped like a sack of bricks, his face contorted in agony, all the breath sucked out of him as if by an industrial-strength vacuum cleaner. Amazingly, Rosario beat the count at nine, maybe 9½, and valiantly attempted to fight on. Moments later, Quigley threw the exact same punch, with the exact same result. This time referee Mike Ryan didn’t bother with the formality of a count as Rosario lay crumpled on the canvas. Somewhere, legendary body-punchers Mike “The Body Snatcher” McCallum and Julio Cesar Chavez had to be smiling.

I’m making a mental note to myself to nominate this one for knockout of the year.

BEY’S DEATH THE RESULT OF NEGLIGENCE

Former heavyweight contender David Bey, best known for his credible showing in a 10th-round TKO loss to IBF champion Larry Holmes on March 16, 1995, traded punches with some of the better big men of his era and came out of it not too worse for wear. But Bey, who was 60 when he was killed on Sept. 13 of last year, was no match for the steel sheet pile which was inadequately secured and, upon becoming dislodged, rammed into him at a construction site on the Camden, N.J., waterfront.

Last Friday, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ruled that Bey’s death was “preventable” and proposed $151,352 in fines fine against AP Construction Inc. for what it termed one willful and three serious violations of accepted safety procedures.

Bey, a second-generation pile driver, was a member of Local 179 for 37 years, plying his hard-hat trade even during part of his active boxing career.

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