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The Ballad of Larry Olubamiwo: Part Two

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When the news hit in spring of 2012 that heavyweight hopeful Larry Olubamiwo had been banned by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) for creating and using a performance-enhancing drug protocol dating back to 2007, U.S. boxing fans weren’t shocked by the offense but rather the punishment. Unlike the other boxers who tested positive for various banned substances with varying reasons as to why, Olubamiwo was snagged through intelligence that led to a target test for the blood doping drug EPO, which Larry O did not pass. Looking at a mountain of evidence presented to him by UKAD as provided by the DEA in a sting known as “Raw Deal,” Olubamiwo decided the truth would be the way to go. For his honesty and cooperation, Olubamiwo was banned for four years.
 
Contrast that sentence with the U.S.-based boxers who tested positive around the same time:

Andre Berto tested positive for Nandrolone metabolites heading into his rematch with Victor Ortiz. The fight was canceled but Berto received no penalty following a closed-door meeting with California State Athletic Commission officials.
 
Lamont Peterson tested positive for synthetic testosterone during training camp for his rematch with Amir Khan. The fight, scheduled to be held in Las Vegas, Nevada, was canceled. Peterson has yet to fight in Nevada since then and will likely have to explain himself once he reapplies for a license there. Despite admitting he had a synthetic testosterone pellet in his system for the first fight held in Washington, D.C., Peterson never received a reprimand of any kind and was allowed to fight in D.C. earlier this year.
 
Antonio Tarver tested positive for Drostanolone following his fight with Lateef Kayode. He was suspended one year and fined $2,500 of a $1.1.million purse. He lost his Showtime commentating job and a position as an Olympic boxing analyst.
 
Granted, Larry O.’s punishment for his five years of doping is not one positive test’s worth. However, when you look at the recent cases in the U.K., such as Craig Windsor’s three-year ban for using and possessing the anabolic steroids Oxandrolone and possessing Stanozolol or Dillian Whyte getting two years for testing positive for the stimulant Methylhexaneamine, one has to ask: Why the disparities in punishment across the pond?
 
One reason, Olubamiwo believes, is that the boxers caught and heavily punished in the U.K. aren’t names.
 
“Good question. I guess it’s because I am not a commodity like the other guys that you’re talking about. I mean, I’m quite well known in my country but obviously, I’m not well-known across the world, especially in America. I know that’s probably going to change now,” he said. “For instance, James Toney, under U.K. Anti-Doping rules would have been banned for life. His first suspension was 90 days. His second suspension was 10 months. And this is my first one [Writer’s note: James Toney was banned by the New York State Athletic Commission for 90 days on his first offense. He tested positive for Stanozolol in his 2005 heavyweight title fight with John Ruiz, which he won by decision. The decision was subsequently rendered a no-contest and Ruiz was given his title back. Toney’s second offense was in 2007 against Danny Batchelder. This time, Toney tested positive for Boldenone and Stanozolol and was banned for one year and fined $2,500. He protested and the suspension was dropped to six months after Toney claimed he had no knowledge of taking the substances]. You get guys like Roy Jones who tested positive and nothing happens to them [Writer’s note: Jones and his opponent, Richard Hall, both tested positive for the now-banned substance Androstenedione in 2000. Jones claims he used a legal, over-the-counter supplement named “Ripped Fuel.” No fines or suspensions occurred]. Some excuse is made and they get off of it. At the end of the day, these guys have the money, so therefore, they can afford the lawyers that I can’t afford and are able to either get a much shorter sanction or get away with it. And that’s what seems to me to have happened. Basically, they make the little man the scapegoat.”
 
When asked if he felt his ban of four years fit his crime, Olubamiwo insisted, “No, to be fair I don’t. First of all, looking at the other sanctions that the bigger-named guys had, it’s not fair. And a lot of people have made a big deal of me making a big deal about that, saying, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter; you’ve still broken the rules.’ But at the end of the day, these are the guys that we look up to. When I was younger or just getting into boxing, I’d look at guys like James Toney, Roy Jones, guys that are at the pinnacle of our sport. And you see that they’re using things and I think to myself, well, first of all, I have to use these things to get to the top or get to a stage where you can make some money. Second of all, if you do get caught, the sanctions are not likely to be that severe, so therefore, you can still get on with your career as these guys have done. So that was my thinking at the time. That was my mind frame at the time. And I’ve looked at these guys and seen what they’re doing and have concluded, as I did in track-and-field, as a lot of other people did in other sports, that this is what you have to do to reach the top. And I personally feel that there’s an unwritten rule between athletes - and boxers included - that this stuff goes on and you just get on with it. You either decide to do it or you don’t but either way, that’s the sport.”
 
There is a justification among dopers and dealers that because everyone is doing it, the playing field is level. That simply is not true. If no one was doping, the field would still not be level because some are faster, stronger or more resilient naturally than others. The same applies to drug use. Not everyone reacts the same way to drugs.
 
“I think it depends on who you speak to,” said Olubamiwo when asked what the drug of choice among boxers is. “Some people would say testosterone is the drug of choice because of what they’ve heard or what other people are doing, whereas other people like myself will experiment with different things to see which could give the best effect because everyone is different. What works for one person might not necessarily work for another. So I wouldn’t necessarily say testosterone is the drug of choice but for some people, it might be [seen] as being that.”
 
Olubamiwo understands the “Monkey see, monkey do” concept and while he doesn’t agree with his approach, he does agree he should be punished. The problem, as he sees it, is a lack of uniformity among boxing officials both on drug testing protocols and what to do when someone is caught.
 
“Here’s the thing; I’m not disputing that I have broken a rule and I should be punished. I’ve never disputed that. I’ve never said that shouldn’t happen. I knew the rules when I came into the sport and I’ve broken the rules and I should be punished. No problem,” he said. “If everyone else was uniformly punished, then that’s not a problem. If James Toney got four years or banned for life. If Shane Mosley got four years [Writer’s note: Though he did not test positive for a PED in his 2003 rematch with Oscar De la Hoya, Mosley admitted to using designer steroids obtained from BALCO. No punishment was given and the fight result, a Mosley decision win, still stands], then of course, it would be perfectly applicable for me to receive four years and I’ll just shut my mouth and get on with it. The problem for me is that there’s no uniformity in these sanctions. And that probably might have made me think, ‘Okay, well, you know what? If this guy got four years, that’s a big chunk of his career. Even though he’s doing it, maybe I shouldn’t do it.’ That might have swayed my thinking but that didn’t happen.”
 
Part of Larry O.’s indignation seemed to come from the fact that while the book was being thrown at him, there is still a large percentage of fighters out there, some with bigger names than his, actively cheating.
 
“I would estimate worldwide…if I’m talking about the U.K., I would say 30 percent,” said Olubamiwo. “Worldwide, I would think it’s a lot higher than that. A lot higher than that and I’m being conservative with my estimate because what people need to understand is that, in the U.K. at least, if you aren’t fighting for a British title [afterward], you don’t get tested. You [do not] get tested, it is as simple as that. So there is nothing to stop anyone from using up to the British title level. And this is why I was able to get away with it for so long because I hadn’t fought for a British title but [I fought for regional titles] and had title eliminators. I had an English title eliminator that I was not tested for. I had an International Masters title fight which I won and wasn’t tested for.”
 
Despite being based in the U.K., Larry has trained in the U.S., most notably at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA. While he did not name specific gyms or fighters, Olubamiwo painted a picture of a hidden brotherhood, probably not unlike those found in any other sport, in which drug use is openly discussed.
 
“A lot of people will give me a lot of stink, especially [in the U.K.] because I keep saying this. Because they believe there are only 10 percent of guys doing it. And I accept that there aren’t probably as many guys doing it in the U.K. as there are in the U.S. but there is a large minority,” he said. “And I’m not saying this because I’m trying to lessen the attention on myself. I’m saying this because I have seen people, boxers, buying stuff from the same guy that I’ve bought stuff from. I have spoken to boxers who are telling me they’ve done this; they’ve done that. Is this good? Have you tried that? If I was to mention names, it would blow people’s socks off and obviously, I’m not going to go down that route. But I do feel when I was in track-and-field that there was definitely an unwritten rule and guys knew it. And I feel that it’s the same in boxing, an unwritten rule between the boxers that you do what you have to do. It’s a very dirty sport and we’re all in this sport to make money. And regardless of what anyone wants to say, we’re all in the sport to make money. You do what you have to do…well, to a certain extent. I wouldn’t load up my gloves but at the end of the day, even with these substances, you have to work hard. These substances alone do not make you a champion. In fact, you have to work even harder than a normal guy to take advantage of the benefits of these substances and this is what a lot of people do not realize. So it’s not a quick fix. But I do realize that I entered boxing late, therefore, I needed to get [to that] level and I needed to train my guts out. And I needed a recovery aid. And that was also one of my reasons for doing this but I definitely think there’s an unwritten rule between boxers definitely.”
 
Though his ban was fresh and this was the first time he was publicly speaking so openly, Olubamiwo was calm and relaxed in his demeanor. When asked why he was taking it so well, he said, “Because I know what’s going on, basically. You got the other guys who have been popped recently. You have Lamont Peterson; you have Andre Berto. You have these guys who have probably just shied away and hid away and I’m not doing that. And I’m not doing it because I’m proud of what I’ve done but I’m not shying away. Because people are saying to me on the one hand, ‘Oh, we want the sport clean,’ so I’m saying, ‘Okay, so you want the sport clean. Well, I can tell you that there’s lots of people doing this.’ And then on the other hand, they’re saying, ‘Oh, well, you’re just saying that to take the shine of yourself.’ But everyone that knows me and has had dealings with me knows the kind of person that I am. The fact that I still go on the forums shows everyone the kind of man that I am. I’m not going to shy away from anyone. Obviously, also, I’m not going to out anyone. This is all about me. Whatever they’re doing, the anti-doping people need to do their job and find them. That’s their job. I’m not going to take anybody down with me; they weren’t involved in what I was doing. So to each to his own.”
 
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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