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Articles of 2005

Boxing and Steroids



Baseball’s dirty little secret has turned our National Pastime into a national embarrassment. The specter of steroids has cast a shadow of doubt over some of baseball’s most prestigious records. Congressional hearings in Washington, DC last week probed into the matter.

Boxing once endured its own set of hearings when Sen. Estes Kefauver sought to rid the sport of Organized Crime in the early 1960s. It’s unlikely there will be a Kefauver II, at least not for steroids. But in an era where celebrity is as cheap as the next reality show and making fast money is preferred to earning money, one can never be certain that a fighter – or any athlete – is above using performance enhancing drugs to achieve riches or glory. In boxing, most of the major state athletic commissions already test for steroids, and to date there has only been one high-profile positive test – Fernando Vargas after his loss to Oscar De La Hoya.

It does not seem that boxing has a steroid problem, but that doesn’t mean the issue should be ignored.

I spoke with Marc Ratner, chairman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, and he said: “I don’t think it’s a widespread problem but we have to be vigilant. Of the hundreds of tests we’ve administered, we’ve only had a couple of positives. But the most important thing is that we maintain a level playing field.”

Nevada, New Jersey, New York, California and Pennsylvania are some of the major state athletic commissions that administer tests for steroids. Some states – such as New York and California – test only after world title bouts. Nevada has been conducting random tests for more than a decade and mandatory tests after championship fights for the last five years. The New Jersey commission tests for controlled substances after every fight, and steroids, along with marijuana and narcotics, fall into that category

Larry Hazzard, commissioner of the New Jersey Athletic Control Board, agrees with Ratner and points to the numbers as proof. “With all the years that this has been a problem in other sports, and it has been much more of a problem in other sports, we haven’t seen a lot of it,” he said. “We’ve had a few positive tests, but it’s been a very small percentage. There hasn’t been a high profile fighter who has tested positive in New Jersey.”

Lonnie Bradley, the comebacking former WBO middleweight champion from New York, has been around boxing since 1990 and has never witnessed a fighter using steroids, nor has he been offered them. “I think most fighters are clean,” he said. “I think fighters want to keep things fair. There are so many fighters who aren’t using it, that no one is opposed to testing.”

Nonetheless, with huge purses at stake, there will always be those who risk their health to gain financial security.

“Could I see why someone would take steroids? Yes, I think so,” said Yuri Foreman, the unbeaten junior middleweight prospect who trains at Duva’s gym in New Jersey. “To me, no, it would never be worth it. I personally think anything in sports that is considered cheating should be illegal.”

Those who govern boxing have adopted a proceed-with-caution attitude – particularly when it comes to the success athletes in other sports have had in masking performance-enhancing drugs during testing. One quandary boxing may face in this area is diuretics, which are often used to lose weight, but which are also known as a masking agent.

“We use very sophisticated technology,” said Ron Scott Stevens, boxing commissioner in New York, where they haven’t had a positive test in the two years they’ve been testing. “But I believe that they are very sophisticated in masking it so you can’t detect it. As the technology for testing grows more sophisticated, we’ll avail ourselves to that.”

Added Hazzard: “There are a lot of ways to hide the substance once you’ve used it. So there is the possibility that athletes are using it and we don’t know about it. If that were the case, there may be a need to take the testing to another level.”

There is a general belief that steroids may not necessarily help a fighter. “Technically, I think steroids wouldn’t help much in boxing,” said Foreman. “You might have more strength, but it’s not going to help your reflexes and make your chin stronger.”

While it certainly won’t help your chin, there are, according to Dr. Margaret Goodman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, some important benefits.

“People tend to think of steroids as something that will benefit the big, heavy-weighted fighter,” said Dr. Goodman. “But that’s not the case. This benefits athletes who want to train harder and recover quickly. If a fighter wants to have heavy sparring sessions all week, he’s going to benefit by steroids, because, by the next day his body won’t be feeling sore or tired. It enables them to work on their skills longer.”

That is the magic of chemistry and perhaps the most alluring feature of steroids in the modern athlete. Muscle mass or increased strength help, but the opportunity to train at an extremely high level, day in and day out, without breaking down your body, has been appealing to those inclined to cheat. Even before steroids were exploited by football players to acquire size and strength, it was distance athletes, most notably cyclists, who experimented with steroids. Of the fighters linked to alleged steroid use – Roy Jones Jr. and Shane Mosley, who was subpoenaed during the BALCO investigation that has plagued baseball – are those who have climbed multiple weight classes.

(For the record, Mosley has denied that he knowingly used steroids. He submitted a polygraph test, which he passed, and a written statement to the Nevada State Athletic commission. Jones, who tested positive after fighting Richard Hall, also has denied that he knowingly took steroids, saying that he used an over-the-counter supplement.)

There are all kinds of steroids. Vargas tested positive for Winstrol, which makes an athlete more cut, defining his musculature. But one important misconception about steroids, which was floated by admitted user and former baseball slugger Jose Canseco on “60 Minutes,” is that steroids are not harmful when used properly.

“That’s just not true,” insisted Dr. Goodman. “The people who (steroids) has worked for are very lucky. There is no telling what the long-term effects are.”

She added that among the many side effects to steroid use are heart, liver and kidney failure. They can also make a male athlete sterile and predispose the user to strokes.

Boxers risk their lives simply by stepping into the ring. Add steroids to the mix and the dangers increase.

“The main problem with steroids in a boxer is that it predisposes you to bleeding in the brain,” said Dr. Goodman. “It can affect your liver, which affects your ability to clot blood.”

There are no more feared words in the sport of boxing than “subdural hematoma,” which usually means a death sentence. A subdural hematoma is basically bleeding on the brain and is at the root of many ring fatalities. It is scary enough that punches can cause such a tragedy, but every boxer should be aware that steroids may increase the chances.

For once, at the moment at least, boxing can look down its bashed nose at other sports. The fight game has long been mired in one controversy or another. Now it is baseball whose image has suffered.

“They have had some very high profile players involved in the steroid scandal,” Hazzard said. “And honestly, if it’s all true, that is very disappointing.”

Lonnie Bradley grew up in Harlem, New York as a longtime Yankees fan. You can actually see the “House That Ruth Built” from his backyard. It hasn’t been lost on him that two of the Yankees’ premier sluggers – Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield – have been linked to steroids as a result of the BALCO investigation.

“I think they had their skill level and talent before they started using steroids,” he said “Sheff had one of the fastest bats in baseball for a long time. Do I think it helps them hit a 90 mph fastball? No. Just like I don’t think it can help my chin or my jab. But baseball has suffered a lot because of the negative publicity. To some baseball players, I guess they just thought it was worth it and didn’t think about what might happen if they were caught.”

That same sentiment is likely to be true in every sport. And that reality upsets Hazzard: “I really don’t think they give a damn and that angers me. There is enough information out there about the dangers of steroids. To me, the lasting image of steroid abuse is Lyle Alzado. Was it worth it? But I think if you ask that question to a young fighter, a young athlete, some of them will say it was worth it. Today, they are more interested in becoming superstars and that is troubling.”

The steroid story continues.

Read Robert Cassidy Jr.’s article on the James Toney steroid scandal.

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More



A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights




Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06



Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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