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Heredia vs. Conte: More Drug Tests or Defamation Suits?

By Ben Jacobs


As Mexican boxing star Juan Manuel Marquez finalises preparations for his fourth fight with Manny Pacquiao, his strength-and-conditioning coach, Angel Heredia Hernandez, again comes under the spotlight after he first appeared to boxing fans on HBO’s “24/7” series before last year’s encounter between the two men. “Memo,” as he is known, was a witness in the infamous Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative [BALCO] case in which he testified in a U.S. federal court against athletics coach Trevor Graham. He admitted to having sold performance-enhancing drugs to athletes such as Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery, who won gold medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Former BALCO head Victor Conte has expressed doubts over Memo’s claims that he is now an anti-doping advocate and Heredia in turn felt the need to fire back at Conte.
 
“Victor Conte should get a lawyer; I’m going to sue this guy,” he said.

“It’s funny of him to say everyone else is doping except him. It’s ignorant of him to accuse anyone else. I’ve said many times, we can sit down in front of television cameras and discuss what he’s really done for the anti-doping code,” Memo continued. “I’ve done more than anybody for anti-doping and right now, we’re not doing anything illegal and we haven’t been doing anything illegal. I actually propose blood and urine testing but I don’t make the rules. I do my job; I train my guy and I let the commissions make the rules.
 
“Victor Conte is a guy who talks with no sense sometimes – I’ve got brains.”
 
Heredia has since also threatened to sue Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, who, in a recent interview with USA Today, commented that Marquez’s new physique did not seem all that natural.
 
Conte issued the following response to Heredia’s threat of a lawsuit in a statement via email:
 
“It doesn’t seem that Memo understands much about defamation cases. He’s a public figure and people have a right to their opinions about him the same as they do about me. Bottom line, the truth will always be a defense in and of itself. In any defamation case Memo threatens to file against Freddie Roach or Alex Ariza or me or anybody else, the burden of proving damages would be completely on him. Both sides would be able to subpoena witnesses and the discovery process could be exhaustive and expensive. I’ve gained some experience from two frivolous defamation cases filed against me in the past by Marion Jones for $25 million and Shane Mosley for $12 million. Both of these cases ended up being voluntarily dismissed. So basically I’m 2-0 with 2 KOs.”
 
Heredia was also involved in a row with Pacquiao’s own strength-and-conditioning coach, Alex Ariza.  Last year, Heredia planned to sue Ariza for defamation. However, the two coaches recently met up and called a truce; Ariza even posted a photograph of them together via his Twitter account.
 
“Everything started because of Conte, who likes to get himself out there and show up every time my name comes up. He likes to hang on my name. I don’t have any boxers under me who tested positive for steroids; Conte has already.”
 
Heredia is referring to the case of former welterweight champion Andre Berto. Berto tested positive for traces of Nandrolone earlier this year; however, it was deemed to be contamination from a supplement and Berto was cleared to fight by the California State Athletic Commission [CSAC]. In addition, Berto was no longer working with Conte, having relocated to Florida whereas Conte is based in California.
 
Expanding on his opinion of the man who has been preparing Pacquiao since the June 2008 bout with David Diaz, Heredia commented, “Alex Ariza is a professional guy; we do our work real good. It made no sense for him to misjudge me and for me to misjudge him. We sat down and put our differences aside. I respect his work; he does a good job and he’s done a good job with Pacquiao.
 
“We’re professional people and it’s immature to be fighting like little girls. We’re competitive but, at the same time, we’re professional,” Heredia continued. “It turned out to be that we share certain knowledge together. He uses science as well for the purpose of training and we have lots of things in common.”
 
That “level” of professionalism is now being called into question. Just last week, prior to a media event at the Wild Card Gym for Manny Pacquiao, Ariza chased Maxboxing’s own Gabriel Montoya, threatening him with the words “I want everyone to see what I’m going to do to you.” This was apparently because Ariza took issue with some of Montoya’s questions about him to third parties.
 
While Heredia will be going head-to-head in the corner against Ariza, he doesn’t feel that now is the time to comment on speculation that Pacquiao may have used performance-enhancing drugs in the past.
 
“I don’t want to talk about that now; I don’t want to create a commotion,” Heredia stated. “[Pacquiao]’s passed drug tests. Last time I heard, he wants to do blood tests with [Floyd] Mayweather. I don’t really want to give an opinion on that right now; it wouldn’t make sense.”
 
Heredia mentioned that Pacquiao has passed drugs tests, nevertheless, in a 2008 interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel. He described in detail how easy it is to procure drugs, particularly in a country such as Mexico, and how easy it is for him to create new undetectable designer steroids.
 
There is also a documentary on YouTube produced by a German television crew in which Heredia appears and purchases EPO in a pharmacy, later injecting it into his own body as a demonstration.  The drug tests that Pacquiao and many other boxers have passed are not sufficient, according to many familiar with the system currently used by state commissions. For example, Nevada still uses a 6:1 Testosterone/Epitestosterone [T/E] ratio, which the World Anti-Doping Agency [WADA] changed to 4:1 in 2005.
 
Memo, who speaks fluent English due to his years spent studying in the U.S., did not want to comment on athletes he is currently working with from other sports amid speculation that he has worked with Jamaican track-and-field stars.
 
“I don’t want to mention any athletes right now. I’m working with all different athletes but I want to stick to boxing right now. This conversation is about boxing; I don’t want to get off the subject,” he insisted.
 
Nevertheless, when this writer inquired as to which boxers he was currently working with besides Marquez and Jorge Arce, Heredia again became hesitant and evasive, “I work with a total of nine world champions right now and I’m working with a few others who will be world champions in the next few months but I don’t want to give any names.”
 
As to why Heredia does not wish to divulge the list of his clients is open to speculation, perhaps he feels those boxers would be unfairly placed under scrutiny due to his past. In any case, the former discus thrower is adamant he is now a force for good in the anti-doping community.
 
“I’ve been a pro-anti-doping coach for over five years; I’ve been working with the United States Anti-Doping Agency [USADA] for many years. I developed protocols for so many years and, really, as a federal witness for the U.S. government. My thing was to help out the anti-doping code and to develop programs for the kids for them not to take that path, to show there are alternatives to be able to perform well at a high level. Every commission has their rules in boxing – Texas, California, Nevada, etc.
 
“I’m going to be meeting with a few people to talk about developing a better program in Mexico, to make it fairer for the athletes,” said Heredia. “In some places, they don’t even test athletes; you wouldn’t even know if some are doping. It might take time just like it did for certain federations to make adjustments but still the testing system remains with a lot of flaws and it takes cooperation from federations and scientists to make changes.”
 
It was Victor Conte who first noticed Heredia’s involvement with Marquez while watching an episode of “24/7” last year. The conditioning coach was using the name “Angel Hernandez” and as soon as Conte recognized him, he revealed via Twitter that Memo’s true surname was actually “Heredia.” Conte outlined to this publication the key differences between his own involvement in the BALCO case and that of Heredia.
 
“In 2005, I pled guilty in the BALCO case to a small quantity of steroid distribution and money laundering. I made a decision not to cooperate with federal law enforcement and/or testify against any others involved in the case. I simply agreed to accept full responsibility for the serious mistakes I had made, which included a sentence of four months in a prison camp and four months of home detention.
 
“Memo was not actually involved directly in the BALCO case. He decided to become a government witness in a separate perjury case that was brought against Marion Jones’ track coach, Trevor Graham,” added Conte. “Trevor was charged with lying to the lead investigator in the BALCO case, Jeff Novitzky. At some point during the investigation, Memo admitted to prosecutors that he had supplied PEDs to Trevor and his group of elite track-and-field athletes. So he was basically facing drug trafficking and money laundering charges.  In short, Memo made a deal with Novitzky to become the government’s star witness against Graham in exchange for leniency. In 2008, Trevor Graham was convicted of perjury and athletes involved lost their championship medals. Although the government knew that Memo had been at the top of a drug distribution chain, he walked free from a potential case in exchange for testifying against a coach and athletes that he had previously sold drugs.”
 
As for the December 8 fight against Filipino icon Pacquiao, Heredia feels his man is capable of attaining a knockout in what will be his first official fight at the 147-pound limit.
 
“As a coach, I saw my guy winning the last fight; it wasn’t easy but he won. What I’m working on with him is more speed and more power and [trainer] Nacho Beristain is working on a different strategy with him, to be more aggressive, Heredia offered. “I guess the knockout would be something we’d like to have. It’s not difficult to get but Pacquiao is a strong guy, a fast guy and he can get away from punches, so really, my opinion would be a knockout is the easiest way to determine a victory for Juan Manuel, to avoid those bad judges’ decisions.”
 
Heredia, not a lifelong boxing fan, initially began working with Marquez after watching his comprehensive loss to Floyd Mayweather in September of 2009. They share a mutual friend in Fernando Beltran of Zanfer Promotions and started training together for last year’s bout against Pacquiao.
 
“When the decision was announced of a third fight with Pacquiao, I felt the urge to communicate with Beltran and talk to him about what I could do for Juan Manuel, to change him and to look differently from how he looked with Mayweather. It was a big challenge; I really wanted to beat Pacquiao and in, a lot of people’s opinions, we won the fight. So that’s how I got started with him; he became my project. I told him what I could do for him and he trusted me and we made some changes.
 
“The fight in 2009 against Mayweather - he increased his weight the wrong way,” insists Heredia. “He looked sluggish, slow, out of shape and I told him already that after this fight or before he retires, he should consider a rematch with Mayweather. It would be a great fight and it would be a different Juan Manuel in the ring - and I think Mayweather would know that. It will be a different outcome; I think Marquez can beat Mayweather. If we’re successful on December 8, it would be a redemption fight for him.”
 
Heredia reaffirmed that nothing untoward has taken place in preparation for the fight, insisting that science and techniques he acquired in the past are the foundation for his client’s improved physical appearance, “I’m trying to show the world that a 39-year-old man can still fight like a 25-year old without using any illegal substances.
 
“We’ve been tested plenty of times and I’ve asked for us to be tested. There are always people that do it illegally but you can never change that.”
 
If Heredia truly wanted Marquez to be tested (and likewise, if Freddie Roach wanted Pacquiao tested), surely they could have contacted the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association [VADA] to arrange the possibility, at least via the fighters’ respective promotional companies. As it is, simply stating, “We want to be tested” is not enough in the current climate in which the media and fans alike are becoming more familiar with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs. It is true, as Heredia points out, that it is also up to the commissions and Nevada will only be doing one drug test which is on the night of the fight. Such a test is essentially useless as fighters can easily taper off before the contest and still enjoy the benefits in the fight. Conte also points out that the Nevada commission does not test for EPO, human growth hormone or synthetic testosterone – could there be a bigger loophole than this in professional sports?


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