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Lessons from Boxing’s PED Files

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When it comes to the subject of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in general and state-of-the-art drug testing in particular, boxing has come a long way in the last three years. Three years ago, boxing fans didn’t know what carbon isotope ratio testing (CIR), EPO, IGF-1 or the drug of choice these days, synthetic testosterone, was. The process of moving a dinosaur sport like boxing into the present can be daunting but considering the milestones and the distance traveled in such a short time, the sport and its PED issues have traveled a long way toward bringing a solution to fruition. However, as the recent testing snags in the lead-up to the upcoming Nonito Donaire vs. Guillermo Rigondeaux and Timothy Bradley vs. Ruslan Provodnikov fights have shown us, there will always be more to learn.
 
Before we get to our most recent lessons, let’s recap the lessons as they have come.
 
May 2010: Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Shane Mosley make boxing history by employing the United States Anti-Doping Agency to test blood and urine samples taken at random times within an agreed upon testing window from training camp until after the fight. Mayweather originally offered the testing stipulation to Manny Pacquiao, who refused following negotiations over a cut-off date for blood to be collected. Because of that refusal, Mayweather declared that all future opponents would undergo USADA testing or not get a fight with him. Mayweather has fought twice since under USADA testing.
 
 

Lesson learned: If you want something done in boxing, do it your damn self. Actions always speak louder than words. Mayweather has spoken with action and continues to in his upcoming May 4th bout against Robert Guerrero.
 
Spring 2012: Independent drug testing was so prevalent in 2012, VADA and USADA tested fighters on the same card (May 5, 2012’s Mayweather vs. Miguel Cotto/Saul Alvarez vs. Shane Mosley dueling testing card) and several,  independent of each other. A slew of positive tests (and a canceled testing program) rocked the boxing world one after another. The newly-minted and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and accredited Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) detected Nandrolone in Andre Berto’s system prior to his scheduled rematch with Victor Ortiz and synthetic testosterone in Lamont Peterson’s system prior to his scheduled rematch with Amir Khan. In 2012, several other boxers and MMA fighters from all walks tested positive around the world, bringing the PEDs in combat sport issue to the fore.
 
Lessons learned:
1) Combat sports has a drug problem.
2) State commission testing in its current form is generally inadequate. While some would point to the positive tests in 2012 as a sign that state commission testing works, a broader, realistic view sees them only as a very small sample size of a larger problem.
3) WADA releases a downloadable mobile app of the updated banned substance list. Every fighter, manager, promoter and media person should have it as standard equipment. Ignorance cannot be an excuse an accessible information age.
 
Summer 2012: Super bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire declared he would be making history by entering into VADA’s 365/24/7 year-round testing program. No fighter had raised the bar this high in boxing history.
 
 
Lesson learned: To be the best, you have to innovate. Nonito took what Mayweather started and ran with it.
 
October 2012: Erik Morales tests positive twice heading into his bout with junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia and still the fight goes on.
 
 
Lesson learned: It is possible for a fighter to test positive twice before a televised title fight and it still go on. Per a few contracts obtained by Maxboxing.com, USADA and Golden Boy Promotions do not require relevant state commissions be notified in the event of a positive test. This is not a good thing.
 
This brings us up to date.
 
Donaire, Rigondeaux, and VADA/USADA testing…
 
Unlike Mayweather, Donaire initially decided he would fight even if his opponent did not undergo VADA or USADA testing during training camp. He offered two opponents, Toshiaki Nishioka and Jorge Arce, to join him in VADA testing. Neither man outright refused. They simply ignored the request and Donaire, being a relaxed, easygoing guy, didn’t complain but instead treated the men as sportsmen and gentlemen. Donaire dropped Nishioka twice and referee Raul Caiz Sr. halted the action in ninth. Arce’s beating only lasted three rounds before he was knocked out.
 
Recently, a fight between Nonito Donaire and Cuban Olympian and two-time gold medal winner Guillermo Rigondeaux was set for April 13, 2013 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, live on HBO and promoted by Top Rank. Donaire once again offered his opponent to join him in undergoing VADA testing. “Rigo,” as he is commonly called, verbally agreed. However, by the time all parties arrived in New York, Rigondeaux had not signed the VADA contract nor filled out the appropriate paperwork. Donaire was in an uproar, declaring on Twitter that until the VADA paperwork was signed and delivered to VADA by Team Rigo, he would not fight.
 
The press conference was held up as the two sides haggled over details. Finally, it was agreed that Team Rigo was allowed to reserve the right to bring in USADA to test as well.
 
At the press conference, Rigondeaux’s new trainer, Pedro Diaz, announced the wrinkle to the testing proceedings, telling the assembled media the fight’s testing would be legitimized by the addition of USADA testing because they were the Olympic standard and Floyd Mayweather uses them.
 
However, Rigo’s paperwork was not filled out properly. He merely signed it and gave scant details as to which supplement he was taking. There was no contact information or locations for the VADA sample collectors to meet the fighter. This had to be worked out with trainer Diaz, Team Rigo claimed. But time kept dragging on and Donaire grew more and more impatient.
 
As the days dragged on into the weekend, Donaire did what some might call controversial (but this writer would call smart). He used social media to not only pressure Rigo to fill out his paperwork but to pressure his own company, Top Rank, to convince  Rigo to fill out the paperwork. To Donaire, getting his opponent to do VADA testing is not a random stipulation by a diva. It’s not he’s asking for only red M&Ms in his dressing room; he is legitimately concerned about his health and safety.
 
Sunday, Donaire released a statement to Maxboxing.com wherein he agreed to go on with the fight despite Rigo’s noncompliance with testing. He also revealed he had not yet turned in a signed contract to Top Rank.
 
 
Finally, Rigo and his team provided the proper paperwork and VADA accepted them into the program. By Monday morning, Rigo had samples collected and VADA testing was underway.
 
Lesson to be learned:
 
1) I would like to introduce Mr. Diaz to Mr. Pat English, [Rigondeaux’s manager] Gary Hyde’s lawyer. I would also like to introduce Mr. Diaz to Mr. English’s rather negative and fact-based position on USADA testing in boxing.
 
 
2) There is a lot more to testing than saying you will or are doing it. There is a process to enrollment. There is also a deadline. With that in mind, it is highly unlikely that USADA would be involved in testing this fight. More on that later…
 
VADA and USADA paperwork has to be filled out in full with the most important documents being a list of supplements or anything else the fighter takes into his body and the “Whereabouts Form.” That form details the locations and numbers sample collectors need to locate said athlete. Once those documents are filed, VADA policy is to look over the paperwork and then decide whether or not to accept the athlete.
 
3) The time to negotiate and sign testing agreements is not at a press conference.
 
4) Get educated. The cloud of suspicion hanging over USADA in boxing right now has not dissipated because time has passed. There are questions about them. What’s more, there are many articles on the subject out there right now. It is inexcusable for managers, promoters, fighters and media not to be armed with the available information.
 
5) When used well, social media is a badass weapon.
 
Timothy Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov…
 
Like Donaire, Timothy Bradley has reached a new status in his career. With a victory over Manny Pacquiao and a pay-per-view appearance, he has decided that in order to fight him, his opponents will have to agree to training camp testing. Bradley wanted VADA testing initially for his March 16 fight with Ruslan Provodnikov. At his media day Tuesday, he told a reporter that he felt everyone he had faced before now was on something.
 
 
Later, Bradley told Maxboxing.com reporter, Radio Rahim, he felt that Pacquiao was not. Regardless, he initially wanted VADA testing.
 
Provodnikov had no problem with that. In fact, he was going to ask for it himself. So he readily agreed.
 
Then a few days after they agreed, Bradley decided he was going with USADA and two reporters who tweeted, “Bradley will use VADA,” became confused. They would not be last people confused by the situation.
 
At the press conference, Bradley admitted he did not know that it was USADA who handled the Garcia-Morales II case but declared because he was familiar with USADA, he would be using them.
 
However, Team Provodnikov wasn’t having USADA. They wanted VADA and they wanted to make sure that the USADA contracts included the relevant state commission in the information loop. Everyone agreed.
 
But along the way to finalizing who would pay for the testing, a deadline passed and USADA decided not to do the testing after all. USADA’s Annie Skinner released this statement to Maxboxing.com Tuesday:
 
“While USADA had been contacted regarding the potential to conduct an anti-doping program for the fight between Mr. Bradley and Mr. Provodnikov, unfortunately, the contract process was not able to be completed in a time frame that would allow us to conduct a program with the adequate amount of time to implement a thorough testing program in line with USADA’s standards, including the proper athlete education, numerous sample collections and lab analysis all to be completed prior to the fight. We appreciate Mr. Bradley and Mr. Provodnikov’s desire to implement Olympic style drug testing in the sport of professional boxing and USADA continues to work with those in the professional boxing community who want to ensure clean competition.”
 
The good news is that both Provodnikov and Bradley continued to pursue a testing option and also on Tuesday, it was confirmed by VADA as well as members of both fight teams that VADA testing would be used for Bradley-Provodnikov.
 
Lesson learned: 1) As before, there is a process to doing this testing thing. Get everyone on the same page, then proceed.
 
2) Know your brand. If you are going to say one is better than the other, research is key.
 
3) The best way to insure testing, enroll in a 365/24/7 program like Nonito Donaire. Floyd got this started. Donaire took it to a new level.
 
And then there is Jose Sulaiman.
 
From the files of the willfully ignorant…
 
There’s an old saying that I am fond of: “If you can help, help. If you can’t help, don’t hurt.” When it comes to performance-enhancing drugs and the testing required for it or really, any other issue pertaining to it, WBC President-for-Life Jose Sulaiman knows absolutely nothing. That doesn’t stop him from not making sense publicly:
 
 
Lesson that needs to be learned: 1) Learn what the different drugs are, what they do and the ways they can give a fighter a dangerous or deadly advantage (Mickey Bey winning by nasty third round KO with a “greater than 30:1” T/E ratio comes to mind) before speaking on the subject ever again.
 
2) Stop worrying about testing for THC. It’s not a performance enhancer.
 
3) 15 boxers in 1,000 fights over 40 years is pathetic. Consider that Nevada didn’t start testing for steroids until 2002. It’s scary to think of the careers that went through Vegas and the world before that and fought for a WBC title doing it, winning by knockout and altering other careers.
 
4) Don’t elect Jose Sulaiman as boxing’s PED czar.
 
Mickey Bey…
 
According to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, lightweight contender Mickey Bey tested positive for elevated testosterone levels reportedly “greater than 30:1” following his February 2, 2013 third round knockout of Robert Rodriguez.
 
Bey is trained by Floyd Mayweather Sr., trains at the Mayweather Boxing Club in Las Vegas, Nevada and is promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s TMT Promotions.
 
The assistant to Mayweather Jr., David Levi, tweeted, “Doping is not tolerated at the Mayweather Boxing Gym. @LEllerbe and @FloydMayweather are handling that serious situation.”
 
No doubt the NSAC’s Keith Kizer will deal with it as well and severely. Counting Andrew Hernandez, who won via his second round TKO win over Rudy Puga Jr. on the Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Manny Pacquiao IV undercard in November of last year, these are two boxers in a row who won by stoppage in Nevada with elevated testosterone levels.
 
The average T/E ratio is in the neighborhood of 1:1. Some ethnicities are a little higher or lower than others. I was told by one trainer in a sport (not boxing) of an athlete in his physical prime being a natural 5:1, so it happens. But 30:1 suggests something other than a naturally high T/E ratio.
 
Bey and Hernandez are not connected. They don’t train together. Nor do they train with Alistair Overeem, who also had an elevated T/E ratio in Nevada. Hernandez lives and trains in Arizona. Bey trains in Vegas. Lamont Peterson received his testosterone pellet injection in Vegas but hails from D.C.
 
As far as I know, none of these men are connected to Ryan Braun, who had a T/E ratio in Bey’s neighborhood checked positive with carbon isotope ratio testing (CIR) for synthetic testosterone and still managed to keep his MVP award.
 
The only thing these guys have in common is synthetic testosterone and/or an elevated T/E ratio.
 
Lesson to be learned: Synthetic testosterone is the drug of choice among athletes today. Boxers are athletes. The data tells us so much yet we don’t listen.
 
Simple solution: Add CIR to the standard state commission panel. Make the promoters kick in a few extra bucks for it. Even the mere presence of CIR - if you can’t afford to test everyone - will be enough to catch some cheats and scare others.
 
Boxing is moving in two parallel paths. One is the path where drug users are fairly rampant and the media, fans, promoters and fighters roll along in shared silence. As boxer Sechew Powell tweeted recently, “85% of these fighters are cheating #trueStory #boxing.”
 
The other path is one where the idea that maybe PEDs are a bigger problem than expected and we better start doing something about it has taken roots. While the better testing movement has encountered a stump in the way or a few weeds and a rock or two as the fields of better testing are being plowed, generally, the root that has taken hold has borne a positive harvest.
 
We should pick up the pace as we head down that ladder. But we can’t do that if we continue to make the same mistakes.
 
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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