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A Long and Twisted Drug Testing Road for Boxing

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On November 24 at the Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario, CA, Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero gets a tough assignment against Andre Berto. He wanted a big fight with Floyd Mayweather, the current WBC champ at 147 and a titleholder at 154. A Tim Bradley fight was on the horizon as well but some blame Bradley for this fight. Others blame the large bite Golden Boy was taking out of the $1.2 million fee offered to Guerrero. In any case, what fight fans and the fighters get is another action-oriented fight from Golden Boy.
 
“Action” is quickly becoming the word most associated with this brand (well, when you’re discussing their fights, that is). Golden Boy’s philosophy is that it doesn’t matter if its stars lose as long as it happens in an action-packed fight that gets excellent TV ratings, never mind actually selling tickets or putting appropriate draws in appropriate venues. When it comes to Golden Boy fights, if it’s good TV, it’s all good - which is great for me seeing as how…well, you know.

Guerrero vs. Berto is funny for a few reasons. Guerrero wants that mega-Mayweather bout. It’s why this former featherweight is now at 147, eschewing physical advantages he could have enjoyed for a long time at 135 and 140 in favor of giant a payday not available at the lower weight classes. Instead, he is fighting a fast, hard-hitting, aggressive ex-champion who is more of a 154-pounder than a welterweight these days. Berto’s fallback option was a not-so-small Cornelius Bundrage for “K9’s” junior middleweight belt. Not exactly the promised land of bouts for Guerrero, who is arguably a better all-around boxer than Berto as well as a southpaw. That said, he’s outsized here.
 
Berto is fresh off a canceled rematch with Victor Ortiz. Berto had requested anti-doping tests beyond the California State Athletic Commission testing protocols be conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA). Looking at the CSAC’s recent drug testing debacle (http://www.fightopinion.com/2012/10/06/csac-feijao-appeal/), I don’t blame him.
 
In a bizarre twist of fate, Berto tested positive for Nandrolone metabolites apparently so minute the CSAC (who just upheld Antonio Tarver’s year suspension for Drostanolone) didn’t blink in giving Berto his license back just a few months later. What a coincidence; Berto now has a lucrative match on a major cable network against a name opponent who is making a career-high payday in California, of all states.
 
Speaking of VADA, both fighters preferred to use them in this fight. In fact, VADA contacted Guerrero and offered him a sponsorship to do testing under their protocol. Instead, Golden Boy and Berto adviser Al Haymon were deferred to and they went with their drug testing agency of choice, USADA. As previously reported by several news sources and confirmed with Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer himself, USADA’s cost for two fighters to be tested for training camp (roughly 8-12 weeks) is $100,000. VADA estimates their costs, which, in their protocols, includes the more expensive CIR (Carbon Isotope Ratio testing, which detects synthetic testosterone) as a screening tool 100% of the time, to be $10,000 for two fighters. In the case of Guerrero vs. Berto, they were offering it for free.
 
So to keep score: VADA has caught Andre Berto and Lamont Peterson for two very different drugs and its being offered for free. USADA has no track record of catching anyone in boxing and costs $80,000 more than their competitors and for this fight costs $100,000 more.
 
So why no VADA? Because they caught fighters? It’s as good a question as “What the hell is Erik Morales doing fighting a Puerto Rican from Philly in Brooklyn?” (Possible answer: Apparently doing anything but selling tickets).
 
You can’t say VADA caused the cancelation of the Golden Boy-promoted Peterson vs. Amir Khan and Ortiz vs. Berto rematches. The blame there lies on the athlete who forgot or didn’t care he is responsible for knowing the legality of what goes in his body. Sure there were kinks in the system. The problem over who would receive the results in the event of a positive drug test is a major issue among promoters who like the idea of better testing but are afraid of losing out on revenue in the event a guy pops positive in the week leading up the bout.
 
There’s an argument that says change can’t begin with the fighters. A voluntary organization, whether it is VADA or USADA, can’t be relied on to sustain the better testing movement. That change has to come from the commissions. And maybe it’s true but we’ve relied on the commissions for a long time and what we are seeing is not good.
 
Personal vendettas played out in public (http://www.fightopinion.com/2012/05/09/kizer-goodman-vada/) and inept commissions (http://www.fightopinion.com/2012/10/09/csac-bean-counters/#more-13610) only illuminate the problems facing our sport today. The California commission is in chaos and the Nevada State Athletic Commission seems intent on facilitating the growing trend of therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) specifically for testosterone.
 
Back in July of this year, the UFC held its “Fighter Summit” with talks ranging from subjects like how to build a Twitter following to “NSAC laws and regulations regarding PEDs, requirements before seeking a TUE” conducted by NSAC Executive Director Keith Kizer. According to documents obtained by Maxboxing.com, it appeared testosterone was the drug being dealt with in specific regard to TUEs. Not “How to get a TUE for testosterone or a TUE for marijuana or cold medication or any other medication you can think of.” Nope. It was specifically for the drug Alistair Overeem tested positive for with a T/E ratio of 14:1. It’s the drug Ryan Braun had in his system spiking his T/E to 20:1. It’s the drug that is next to Lance Armstrong’s name in almost every article on the Interwebs right now.
 
It makes you wonder if this recent testosterone replacement therapy wave isn’t some pharmacy-driven, “We have a drug; let’s build a market” campaign similar to the great Viagra boom that hit a few years back.
 
In any case, with Berto getting a pass by the CSAC and Kizer all but planning to be a spokesman for “Low-T” (handing out TUEs and not revealing it until after the fight is becoming regular practice in Nevada), it’s hard to imagine anything but the “same old same old but worse” coming from the commissions.
 
For now, it is up to the fighters like Roy Nelson of the UFC who recently agreed to VADA test and challenged his opponent, Shane Carwin, to do the same. Nonito Donaire, who stopped Toshiaki Nishioka in nine rounds, is a VADA-tested athlete who has taken it to the extreme. He has volunteered to be tested year-round, 365/24/7, a first in professional boxing. While this approach is slow going, what is the alternative? Medical industry shell games that will run rampant through combat sports’ loopholes while commissioners thumb their noses at reformers and add to the problem?
 
 
In the end, the argument over which is better, USADA, VADA or the local commission is moot. The UCLA Olympic Testing Lab in Los Angeles is what the CSAC, VADA and USADA all have in common. They use the same facilities to test. USADA and VADA differ from the state commissions in that their sample collectors are trained and accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency. As evidenced by the linked story, the CSAC collectors are anything but that.
 
And honestly, never mind the testing if in the end, Lamont Peterson and Andre Berto can begin discussing big name fights while completely ignoring the fact they got caught with banned substances in their bodies.
 
When Donaire offered to do year-round testing and his promoter, Bob Arum, said he was on board, all seemed right with the world. The combat sports drug war seemed won.
 
Mere months later, it’s hard to even spell “victory.”
 
Post script…
 
I was hanging out with Steve Kim and his friends, the Swider Brothers, two hyper-intelligent sports fans. The younger Swider, Brian, suggested that the only true deterrent is harsher suspensions. Sure, Antonio Tarver lost his Showtime announcing gig, his Olympic commentating gig and a book deal. But in the end, he lost a year on a career that was likely over anyway (he’s in his 40s) and was fined $2500 out of a million-dollar purse. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. got a harsher penalty from his godfather for allegedly drinking sleepy weed tea.
 
Berto and Peterson have received no penalty at all. To be fair to Nevada, where Peterson must go to face his respective music, it was Peterson who passed on his hearing. I don’t know what excuse the CSAC can give for Berto.
 
Apparently. Mr. Swider’s view will be featured on our pages later this week in Steve’s “Soapbox” column. It’s an opinion I happen to agree with. When you look at British heavyweight fighter Larry Olubamiwo and the sentence passed on to him (four years suspension and his entire record wiped clean) for the use of 13 banned substances over a period of years and Ali Adams, (a two-year suspension), you have to wonder if the U.S. actually wants a cleaner sport or a just a big rug with a lot of things swept under it. Those are harsh penalties but sentences sure to make other fighters think twice before going to the dark side of competition.
 
You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PST.
 
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