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Why Is Andre Ward So Testy About Testing?

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Heading into the HBO-televised title fight between super middleweight champion Andre “S.O.G.” Ward and Edwin “La Bomba” Rodriguez, a battle of another kind has emerged. The former will be fought with gloved fists. The latter has been fought with empty words and bold actions. The fight, now only a championship affair for Ward after Rodriguez missed the 168-pound weight limit by two pounds Friday, will be held Saturday night at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, CA. But the battle for better anti-doping testing, fought valiantly by Rodriguez alone in this particular case, will be ongoing on many fronts.
 
This was not the fight Andre Ward wanted. Coming off a 14-month layoff following surgery to repair a long-injured right rotator cuff, it was reported that Ward wanted a tune-up fight but risky fight money. Ward is the last gold medal winner the U.S. has produced, was the surprise winner of the “Super Six” super middleweight tournament devised by HBO Sports President Ken Hershman when he ran the Showtime boxing program. Ward is also an HBO analyst.

Inside the ring, Ward is a seasoned master. He knows multiple ways to negate his foes’ offense much like Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Bernard Hopkins do, taking his fights to a slow pace full of mauling and grappling on the inside. On the outside, Ward is cautious but effective, rarely opening up full throttle but rather slowly tearing opponents down, piece by piece. Is it effective? Absolutely. Is it entertaining to watch? To some, it’s fascinating to watch chess play out in violent fashion. To others, that isn’t fun at all.
 
But as for popularity, while Ward has sold well near his hometown of Oakland, CA, he has not broken through into the mainstream. In the press and on Twitter, Ward comes off defensive, curt and downright condescending at times. In short, his accomplishments stack higher than his Q-rating.
 
The press seems to have turned away from him since he won the “Super Six” and passed on fighting Lucian Bute. The more Ward tries to downplay how little he thinks of the media, the worse it seems to get for him. To top it all off, for all he has done, Ward is a graduating class behind Floyd Mayweather. Thus he’s constantly referred to as “the second best fighter in the world behind Floyd Mayweather Jr.” And so Ward entered this fight - foisted on him not when or against whom he wanted it - with a chip on his shoulder.
 
Heading into the press conference to announce the fight, Rodriguez was making plans to enter the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association.
 
Ward is trained by Virgil Hunter at a private gym in Heyward, CA. Rodriguez trains in Houston at the Plex Gym with Ronnie Shields. However, Rodriguez also works with Victor Conte of SNAC System in San Carlos, CA. Conte, along with the rest of his SNAC Boxing Team including sprint coach Remi Korchemny, and Undisputed Boxing Gym’s Brian Schwartz and Mike Bazzel, conducted essentially a mini-camp with Rodriguez. Part of that training included hyperbaric training and what Conte calls “high exertion hypoxic boxing training.” SNAC also supplies Rodriguez, among many fighters, with supplements.
 
Conte is the founder of BALCO and served four months in jail for conspiracy to distribute steroids and money laundering totaling $100 (not a typo but in fact a U.S. record for a lowest amount offense). Since then, he has been a vocal anti-doping advocate, consulting and opining on various sports’ drug problems.
 
 
Conte offered to sponsor the testing for Ward-Rodriguez and according to sources including Rodriguez ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taw8TBSqQmc (Preview) ), Hunter knew all about it and was supposed to consult with Ward. Whether that happened remains a mystery only Hunter and Ward can answer.
 
At the press conference to announce the fight, Rodriguez announced he would do testing and offered Ward a chance to join him.
 
Published September 30 on Boxingscene.com:

 
“I’m signing up for VADA testing for this fight so when I do beat Andre Ward, everyone knows I’m clean. And my question is, is Andre Ward willing to do that as well? I have a sponsor who’s sponsoring the testing. It will be free of cost to Andre. Free of cost to me. I’m trying to be in a clean sport. I don’t believe he’s dirty at all. I think he’s a great fighter but will he take a stand? I’m taking one” said Rodriguez.
 
Rodriguez, who many consider not in Ward’s league (and certainly the “B-side” in this fight), seemed to expect that Ward would have no problem participating in testing. Perhaps that is because in May of 2011, Ward publicly stated he was for stricter anti-doping tests in boxing.
 
From May 16, 2011 on Boxingscene.com:
 
 
 
“I think it is [necessary for boxing]. I would welcome it. I think it’s great. That way there is no confusion about who’s playing on an even playing field. This is a dangerous sport. You hear whispers about guys, what they’re doing and not doing. You have to figure out who’s going to pay for it, but once we get past that - I think it should be something that’s implemented in every big fight,” Ward said.
 
However, Ward declined. He treated the move as a publicity stunt and the excuses to not test began to flow.
 
“I don’t know what to take from it. I don’t know if he was trying to prove a point or whatever. We just had a lengthy negotiation and VADA wasn’t brought up. USADA wasn’t brought up. Nobody was brought up one time. Now all of a sudden, at the press conference in front of all the media, [Rodriguez] wants to pose the question like trying to put me on the spot,” Ward would tell BoxingScene’s Luis Sandoval at the press conference.
 
Ward insisted he had no problem doing random testing but like in 2011 when he supported the issue, the words were empty as he declined to participate.
 
“You got to understand; I’ve been in the game a long time and I understand how that stuff works. That’s why I asked [Rodriguez], ‘What kind of question is that?’ So I have no problem taking any random tests. I’ve taken it for years as an amateur and I’ve passed every test as a pro with flying colors. It’s not a problem. So I don’t know what he was trying to do with that. I don’t know if somebody told him to do that to see if he could get a reaction. I don’t know. It’s a better question for him,” said Ward.
 
Rather than continue with testing alone in this promotion without Ward, Rodriguez upped the ante, enrolling in VADA’s “365/24/7” random testing program.
 
 
While Ward seemed blindsided by Rodriguez’s decision to test, Shields was not. “I wasn’t surprised at all. [Rodriguez] called and talked to me about it,” Shields told Maxboxing.com this week. “I told him, I said, ‘That’s great, man. I think all fighters should do that.’” Shields explained that unlike in baseball, where steroid cheats seem to pay the price when it comes time for Hall of Fame voting, boxing’s cheats largely go undetected and unpunished, getting TV dates and title fights following positive results for banned substances.
 
While Ward dismissed Rodriguez’s offer to do testing, citing it as a “publicity stunt” and for a variety of other reasons, Shields explained that the decision to test speaks to his fighter’s character and his love of boxing.
 
“You have to know Edwin to understand him,” Shields said. “Edwin wants the best not only for himself but he wants the best for everyone. And he’s just a genuinely good guy all around. So it didn’t surprise me that he wanted to test 365. It didn’t surprise me at all because I know the kind of fighter that Edwin is. That’s just his personality.”
 
Shields went on record stating he had no problem with 1) Victor Conte working with his fighter and 2) sponsoring testing. Shields seemed to understand that for Conte, this is penance and restitution for past transgressions.
 
“I don’t have a problem with Victor Conte,” said Shields. “He done wrong in the past. I read a bunch of articles about him. He came out and said, ‘Hey, I did wrong and now I am going to right the ship. I’m going to make the ship go right.’ Like I said, he offered to pay for the VADA testing. He did it for Nonito Donaire. He’s done it for a couple other guys too. He said, ‘I want to be good in this sport and I want to do what I can to help out. I paid for my past.’ So why should we hold it against him? And I don’t judge for what he’s done in his past. He’s righted his ship. Now he’s doing everything that’s good so I am not doubting. He’s a man of God. He admitted his wrongs. He admitted that what he did was wrong. So shall we hold that against him for the rest of his life? No. That’s like when a person go to jail. Whatever time they got, they get out, ‘Hey. You got a clean slate. Keep your slate clean.’ As far as we know, Victor Conte is great for the sport of boxing. A lot of fighters are using him, so why not?”
 
Meanwhile, Ward continued to attack Rodriguez’s invitation.
 
The testing issue would not go away. From RingTV.com’s coverage of the conference call promoting the fight:
 
 
Ward: “I don’t know if he answered the question about why wasn’t it brought up the way that it was supposed to be brought up -- if you’re serious about getting drug tested -- in the negotiations.”
 
Rodriguez: “Because it wasn’t a negotiation. I wasn’t saying, ’if you don’t do this, then the fight’s not happening,’ and I’m still not saying that. The fight’s happening, regardless.
 
“So that side wasn’t something to negotiate about. So, you know, you’re a clean athlete, I’m a clean athlete, why not do it? Why is it such a big issue to make it a negotiation?”
 
Ward’s promoter, Dan Goossen tried to move past the issue on the call but Ward wished to clarify how anti-doping negotiations, or any, are to be conducted.
 
Ward: [Jumping in.] “Let me finish my point, Dan. I don’t mean to cut you off, Dan, but let me say this. In negotiations, this is simple. Just like in negotiations where there is money, and there’s something that you’re concerned about, and there’s something that you want to do, you don’t wait until you get in front of the media and pull some publicity stunt and make it look like I’m going to save boxing and be the clean guy.

"You bring it up and say, ’Here’s what I want to do, is he willing to do it?’ But that wasn’t done and I don’t know how many months we were in negotiations, but everybody knows that it was a long, drawn-out negotiation. And then, furthermore, I was not privy to anything Victor said to Virgil or whatever and this, that.”
 
Ward either ignores or is unaware of the fact that each fight involving anti-doping tests outside the standard state commission tests have arrived in unique manners.
 
 
Many agreements have happened once the initial fight agreement was reached and contracts were signed. Some have happened with only one fighter on board. Some have been agreed to and then canceled. Raising the standards of a sport as unregulated and fractured as boxing is no easy task. It is the Wild West out there in this regard. In a perfect world, state athletic commissions would work to find sponsors while upgrading their policies and procedures to meet the new standards set by VADA, which has an aggressive testing policy both administratively and in terms of testing.
 
But if this world were perfect, that simply wouldn’t be boxing.
 
Ward also pointed out that Conte, who worked with Ward for two fights (against Edison Miranda and Mikkel Kessler), was now helping Edwin Rodriguez - thus the enemy. Apparently, his sponsorship was not needed nor wanted.

“Do you understand that Virgil has other fighters in the Bay Area that work with Victor? I’m not one of them,” said Ward. Those fighters include much of Virgil Hunter’s stable including Brandon Gonzalez, Amir Khan, Stan Martyniouk and Alfredo Angulo. Gonzalez wore a “SNAC” hat to the final presser. “That being said, I don’t need Victor to sponsor me. I mean, he’s on the other side right now. I’m going against one of his fighters, so I don’t need Victor to sponsor me or to do me a favor or whatever.”
 
However, Conte does not work for VADA or any other anti-doping agency. He’s a multimillionaire who works for himself and believes in helping athletes and guiding them toward supporting a clean sport. For those thinking Conte has some hold or sway with VADA’s test results, that theory falls all apart with the Andre Berto case. Conte paid for Andre Berto and his opponent, Victor Ortiz to be tested prior to their June 2012 rematch and Berto tested positive for a banned substance. He’s sponsored testing for several fights and offered to pay for opponents many times. No excuse holds water.

“This has got to be done the right way and if I have an opportunity to sit down with [President of VADA, Doctor] Margaret Goodman and talk to her and things get done the way that they’re supposed to be done, then I’ll do what I want to do when I want to do it,” said Ward on the call, followed his statement with a separate excuse to not test. “But you’re the challenger coming into this fight. You don’t make demands, especially the way that you made them and expect them to get met. If you’re serious about it and professional about it, you bring it up the right way and that’s how it’s done.”
 
So far, Ward has said in 2011 that he supports testing, so there would be no questions left unanswered. But when asked to participate in free testing paid for by a man he used to work with and whom in which his trainer and Godfather, Virgil Hunter trusts his stable, Ward declined citing:
 
1.      He was blindsided by the request.
2.      The request needed to be made during negotiations.
3.      Conte is now working with Rodriguez and thus his money is not welcome and frankly not needed.
4.      The offer was not made the right way.
5.      Rodriguez is a challenger who is not allowed to make requests.
 
All the while, Ward assures us that at the appropriate time, he would participate in testing, going so far as stating he would for his very next fight - but not this one.
 
“Andre Ward can say what he wants about, ‘Why didn’t they bring it up in the contract?’ Well, why should [Rodriguez] bring it up when we are doing the contract? It wasn’t something that came up then. It only came after the contracts were signed,” said Shields, who knew full well Ward did not want the fight and was perceived as difficult by insisting testing might have killed the million-dollar fight for “La Bomba.” “[Edwin] just wanted to make sure he got the fight. Once he got the fight, he came out and told Lou DiBella. He told Al Haymon, ‘Now I want to do [VADA testing] and when I go to the press conference, I am going to ask Andre Ward if he wants to be involved with me to show the sports world that boxing is a clean sport, that we’re leaders and we’re going to step up. And we are going to prove that all boxers are clean.’ That’s all it was. And all of sudden, it became Andre Ward saying, like , ‘Was it a trick question?’ It wasn’t a trick question. The man asked you, ‘Hey I am doing [VADA testing],’ and it just took off from there. I think people have the wrong perception that Edwin was saying Andre Ward was dirty and he never said that. Nobody has ever accused Andre Ward of anything illegal.”
 
Dirty? No. Disingenuous?
 
More from the RingTV article covering the conference call:
 
Rodriguez: “It really wasn’t a demand. If it was a demand, it would have been on the contract and it would have been asked in the negotiations, but it wasn’t. Because, like you mentioned, I understand that I wasn’t in that position to be negotiating over that.

“So all I was saying is, ’I got this, I’m doing it, will you be willing to do it?’ Obviously, you’re not, which is fine. But don’t try to act like it’s a publicity stunt. And if you and your team, you know, communicate, and Virgil…”

Ward: [Jumping in] “I don’t know about any conversation that took place...”

Rodriguez: “It is what it is. You also got an e-mail about it. Victor sent you an e-mail, and you didn’t want it...”

Ward: "I’m not into conspiracy theories and all of this ... I never saw an e-mail or none of that stuff.”
 
When contacted for comment regarding the email Rodriguez referred to, Conte informed Maxboxing.com that in July of 2011, he and Ward had a conversation regarding Conte sponsoring Ward for VADA testing. After speaking to Ward, Conte sent him an email offering sponsorship. Ward replied, “Got it, thanks!” but never followed up.
 
“Andre and Virgil were both informed about the sponsorship offer to Andre for VADA testing,” Conte told Maxboxing.com. “Back in July of 2011, when Dr. Goodman was about to launch VADA, I called and talked with Andre and we discussed a possible offer of sponsorship for him. I followed up with an email to confirm the possible sponsorship offer to him. He responded to my email by saying ‘Got it, thanks!’ I have been talking with Virgil about Andre possibly doing VADA testing for a couple of years now. I called and talked with Virgil about Andre possibly doing the VADA program on the day that the contract for the fight was signed by Edwin. This was about three weeks before the press conference that was held to announce the fight. We talked about VADA again several times before the presser and my understanding was that Andre was contemplating doing the testing. I’m still hopeful that Andre will one day decide to enroll in an effective random testing program. The objective in boxing is to do bodily harm to the opponent. It’s not about hitting a ball over a fence or running faster than the guy in the lane next to you. I think that boxing needs random testing for the obvious health and safety reasons in addition to the fairness of competition. I also believe that the anti-doping movement in boxing must be fighter-driven. I’m optimistic and really glad to see fighters like Tim Bradley, Ruslan Provodnikov, Nonito Donaire and Edwin Rodriguez leading by example.”
 
“Like I said, the whole situation was, “Hey, let’s show people that boxing is a clean sport,” said Shields. “I am going to participate and you don’t even have to pay for it. Victor Conte is going to do it. He stepped up and said, ‘You know what? I will pay for it so it don’t have to come out of either y’all’s pocket. It was a good will thing and all of sudden…”
 
Shields said he was surprised by Ward’s reluctance to join in testing with Rodriguez.
 
“I was surprised. I was surprised,” said Shields. “Because I seen what Andre said before. He said ‘after this fight’ that he was going to start doing drug testing. I mean, why after this fight? Is it because, I’m thinking, it’s his ego? That because he didn’t think of it, maybe that’s why; because he didn’t think of it to ask Edwin to do it. Edwin is the challenger; ‘He don’t make the rules’ or whatever. That has nothing to do with it, whether [Rodriguez] is the challenger. Whether he is the champion or the challenger, it don’t make a difference. Edwin wants to do something for the sport of boxing. He wants to show that the sport is clean. And that it is, nothing more than that. If you don’t want to do it, that’s fine. No problem with that. Edwin is still doing it.”
 
To be elite level in this sport without a shadow of a doubt, one need only join a testing program. It’s becoming standard equipment. Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s fights are tested by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Last year, Nonito Donaire, the first fighter to voluntarily undergo VADA testing year-round, was voted “Fighter of the Year” in large part because of that stance. Tim Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov’s last two fights were VADA-tested (though Mike Alvarado declined to partake in VADA testing vs. Provodnikov) and Danny Garcia and Lucas Matthysse tested with USADA for their showdown in September. Adonis Stevenson’s last two fights were tested under a random testing protocol agreement between GYM and InterBox. His upcoming fight versus Tony Bellew is also being tested with that protocol. Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal, whose fight is the original reason for that agreement, are undergoing the same protocol. The sport is changing for the much-needed better.
 
“What we have right now is not good enough because people know how to mask everything these days,” said Shields. And that is true in the sense that diuretics mask all manner of drugs, thinning the urine and traces of banned substances as a result. But athletes mask by knowing how to work around a window of testing, tapering off or micro-dosing to stay under legal allowance thresholds like the T/E ratio test.
 
Tonight, Andre Ward and Edwin Rodriguez are going to fight. That much we know. Missing weight has presented new problems beyond Ward’s elite skill set. Picking Rodriguez, as I did on Thursday, is a longshot pick. Reportedly, he has to stay under 180 pounds for a weigh-in this morning which will further weaken him. The focus will not only be on the fight but the weight issue if we’re not careful.
 
“At the end of the day, what you’ve got to understand is that this fight ain’t about VADA. It’s not about Victor Conte. It’s about me and you,” Ward told Rodriguez during the call. “That’s what this fight is about. Anything else that is contrary and taking away from that is a distraction. We haven’t allowed this to distract us.”
 
Hopefully, boxing doesn’t allow Andre Ward’s excuses provide a distraction either. Ward wants to be number one. He wants to be Floyd Mayweather Jr.
 
Newsflash: For all his skill and accolades, Mayweather participates in anti-doping testing for all of his fights.
 
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, now at its new home, www.blogtalkradio.com/thenextround. 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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