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Boxing’s PED Problem: Where do we go from here?

Dr. Margaret Goodman
Dr. Margaret Goodman

Three years ago, Floyd Mayweather Jr. said in action what nowadays everyone knows and is for the most part still afraid to say: Our favorite sport, boxing, has a drug problem. For years, we’ve ignored it. Like that person who unbeknownst to them marries an alcoholic and ignores that fact over time, making all kinds of excuses for doing so, we’ve grown expert at denial.

It’s been easy. Boxing is a personal sport. Each fan, writer, fighter, manager, promoter, and network exec is in it for themselves for various reasons attached to each distinction.

There is every reason in the world for us to waste time arguing about Pacquiao not taking the tests when Floyd asked him to. It’s easier than finding real solutions to real problems.

We can argue endlessly about whether or not it’s the right thing to wonder about Juan Manuel Marquez because he hired Memo Heredia. It’s much easier than admitting we need a way to police what all fighters are using to condition, in and out of competition, globally.

It’s much easier than questioning why Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer not only gives out therapeutic use exemptions for testosterone but why he gave a talk before nearly 300 fighters in the UFC about how to get one for themselves.

It’s easy to say “I’ll take any test you want. Hey, let’s both take them” the week of the fight when you know no one is going to actually make you do that. It’s certainly easier than contacting the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association and signing up for random year-round testing the way Nonito Donaire has.

It’s easier to do testing under a shroud of secrecy and ignore media questions about alleged impropriety than it is to have a transparent drug testing program that may end up cancelling fights due to its discoveries.

It’s easy to say “We have to trust the commission” and lay out a plan to seamlessly pay for testing for each fight while ensuring state commissions have to act on pre-fight positive tests than actually doing it.

It’s easier to suspend Nick Diaz one year for using marijuana close to a fight than to order a study of the effects of marijuana on a fighter in competition. The drug is legal for recreational use in two states and is becoming a growing part of accepted culture. It’s less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco (and certainly less performance enhancing than synthetic testosterone, Nevada). Fact.

It’s easier to punish a PED user than it is to get info about their potential addiction to the drug, where they got it, how prevalent the problem is in their home gym, etc. Right now, we’re punishing users and looking no further into the problem. And then we wonder why in 2012, combat sports saw nearly a person a month test positive for a banned substance and two multi-million dollar network fights dissipate because two fighters who asked for testing had banned substances in them.

For years, we’ve treated boxing’s drug problem like that favorite drunk uncle who every once in a while gets a little crazy at the bar and punches someone. No one truly holds it against him. We calm him down, admonish him and then send him on his way to think about for a period of time much shorter than what is truly needed to solve anything at all.

So where do we go from here?

In a perfect world, we’d get the state commissioners into one room with the Boxing Promoters Association of America and the president of VADA, Dr. Margaret Goodman. The conversation should be simple. How much does it cost to get every professional fighter into a testing program that is year round? With that kind of money, intelligence and clout in one room, the answers should flow freely and easily.

I know what you are thinking. Why not the United States Anti-Doping Agency? After all, the started off first with Floyd.

Well, it’s very easy to explain.

This year, VADA detected banned substances in two high profile fighters before two high profile fights were able to happen. That’s the whole point. Catching someone with a banned substance in their system before they do someone harm in the ring. VADA used aggressive science to do so and were successful in setting the testing bar in all sports higher than it’s been in years simply through their use of Carbon Isotope Ratio testing as a screen test 100% of the time.

“But what about Victor Conte’s ‘adviser to VADA’ role? Could that be just a giant ruse to help his fighters circumvent the testing process?”

Andre Berto, who Conte advised to join the VADA program, tested positive for the banned substance Nandrolone. Conte and Berto worked closely together in the Bay Area for only one camp leading up to the Jan Zaveck fight. After that win, Berto held his next camp in Los Angeles before an injury postponed his scheduled rematch with Victor Ortiz. Conte was not a part of that camp. Berto started a second camp two-three months later in Winter Haven, Florida. Again, Conte was not part of that camp. The first Berto sample collected at this Florida camp tested positive for Nandrolone metabolites causing the Ortiz rematch to be cancelled.

Conte may be a lot of things. Two things he isn’t: Stupid and someone who would give a fighter a long lasting steroid such as Nandrolone.

Since Lamont Peterson and Andre Berto tested positive under VADA testing this spring, the testing organization has expanded their program with a year-round testing program that super bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire is currently enrolled in. They have also added Roy Nelson, B.J. Penn and Rory MacDonald to their list of fighters undergoing the most stringent testing available as well as several female MMA fighters.

On the final episode of HBO’s “The Fight Game” with Jim Lampley, Dr. Goodman and Nonito Donaire were named “Person of the Year” and “Fighter of the Year” for their contribution to the anti-doping movement. They’ve been a bright spot in a year where PEDs became an issue that can no longer be ignored.

On the flipside, 2012 saw USADA cancel testing for two fights with not much explanation. Any attempts to further illuminate the situation were met with silence.

Golden Boy Promotions sent this writer a cease and desist regarding my looking into a clause in the USADA/Golden Boy master agreement regarding testing that would allow someone to test positive but the fight to continue. They also accused me of spreading a rumor where that scenario played out three times with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. I was threatened that if I continued my alleged behavior, they would not hesitate to sue me. I printed the cease and desist and was never sued. I was, however, banned from all Golden Boy Promotions events as well as removed from their email list. It was never official but suddenly I stopped getting emails and was not credentialed for any Golden Boy promoted show. This was the second time this had happened this year so I just did the math.

Then in October of this year, Erik Morales had two sample sets test positive before his rematch with Danny Garcia. At the final press conference days before the bout, Garcia’s father and trainer Angel, was visibly upset about something but no one, not even his son, Danny, knew what it was. As it turned out later, Angel Garcia knew Morales had tested positive for clenbuterol. The promoter was leaving it up to Garcia to go through with the fight or not. Angel didn’t tell Danny about the positive tests until after the weigh-in on Friday. The New York State Athletic Commission did not appear to know about the positives until called them about it.

Ultimately, Morales-Garcia 2 was allowed to go on. A few weeks later, my Golden Boy ban was lifted. No one told me officially about it. A source told me they had a meeting. And I suddenly started getting credentialed again.

I’ll let you decide how or if that all fits together.

In essence, VADA has shown the ability to test fighters at a high level while maintaining the public trust.

Right now, USADA, public trust and boxing don’t quite fit in a sentence together, in this writer’s opinion, nor should they.

Why not leave the testing upgrade to the state commissions, you ask?

In Nevada, where the T/E ratio is 6:1 (50% greater than the World Anti-Doping Agency’s standard 4:1 that pretty much the rest of the world, except for New York, follows) and where Keith Kizer is giving out TUE’s for testosterone at a record rate, the message is clear: It’s fairly easy for athletes to use testosterone in Nevada. Sure, the NSAC catches people who break their T/E threshold from time to time but only the dumb or unfortunate. The smart users have likely been making a mockery of the NSAC loophole for decades. And the even smarter users now just get a TUE.

In New York, the T/E ratio is 6:1 and they just allowed a top level fighter to test positive for a banned substance twice and still fight. It was four times if you count each A and B sample set twice. The NYSAC have yet to make any coherent statement as to why they would possibly allow that.

In February of 2012, the Texas commission forgot to test an entire card with title fights on it and network coverage. And one of the combatants had tested positive for a banned substance in the past. But give them a break. Texas only started drug testing in 2010.

If we leave it to the commissions to upgrade testing, we might as well admit we are waiting for the Doomsday Scenario. What is that? It’s a ring death coupled with the survivor testing positive for a banned substance followed by a possible federal investigation, congressional hearings and ultimately government oversight of our sport.

Does anyone want that? No? Good.

So where do we go from here?

Boxing promoters, state commissioners and Dr. Margaret Goodman in the same room with one question on their minds: How do we achieve more effective PED testing in boxing?

It’s a complex problem that could have a simple starting point.

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