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The Hauser Report: USADA, VADA, and the State Athletic Commissions

Thomas Hauser

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USADA, VADA & State Athletic Commissions

On September 7 of this year, I posted an investigative report on this website entitled “1,501 Tests, One Reported Positive? What’s Going On with USADA and Boxing?”

The article was based on data taken from USADA’s own website in addition to interviews with state athletic commission personnel and experts in the field of performance enhancing drugs. It raised troubling questions regarding the role that USADA plays in boxing today.

USADA has been testing professional boxers for performance enhancing drugs since 2010. As of September 6, 2018, its website stated that it had administered 1,501 tests on 128 professional boxers through August 22 of this year. Yet in all these years, USADA had reported only one adverse finding regarding a professional boxer to a governing state athletic commission.

By way of comparison, Dr. Margaret Goodman (president of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, which is widely regarded as the most credible testing organization in professional boxing) reported that close to four percent of the tests for illegal performance enhancing drugs conducted by VADA come back positive. Using the four-percent benchmark, one would have expected that 60 of the 1,501 tests conducted by USADA would have yielded a positive result.

Virtually all of USADA’s tests were administered in conjunction with fights in which companies controlled by Al Haymon had a vested financial interest. The most common venues for the fights in question were Nevada, California, and New York.

What has happened since then?

First, USADA has now conceded to multiple third parties (who request that their names not be mentioned in this article) that there was more than one positive test result but that USADA chose to adjudicate these matters internally without reporting the positive test result to the opposing fighter’s camp or state athletic commission that had oversight responsibility with regard to a given fight.

This is consistent with many of USADA’s contracts, which purport to allow it to adjudicate positive test results without notice to persons and entities with a legitimate interest in the outcome of these tests. However, it runs contrary to the rule in many states that, in the event of a positive drug test, judgments regarding mitigating circumstances must be left to the governing state athletic commission.

As recently as November 23 of this year, Bob Bennett (executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission) stated unequivocally that the NSAC must be notified of any adverse findings related to PED tests in and out of competition and that the NSAC has jurisdiction over all adverse findings for PED’s.

It should also be noted that it appears as though every positive test result adjudicated internally by USADA with regard to a professional boxer was adjudicated in favor of the boxer, since there have been no reported adverse findings other than the acknowledgement, after the news leaked on the internet, that Erik Morales tested positive for clenbutereol in 2012.

Second, and equally significant, it appears as though USADA – for the time being at least – has stopped testing professional boxers for performance enhancing drugs.

According to postings on the USADA website (updated through December 7), the most recent tests conducted on professional boxers by USADA were administered to Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter, who fought each other at Barclay’s Center on September 8, one day after this writer’s investigative report was posted.

In other words, a company that tested more than fifteen hundred professional boxers over the course of eight years appears to have suddenly stopped testing professional boxers.
In recent years, USADA has charged in excess of $30,000 for drug testing for each fight. The amount was $150,000 for Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao. Multiply these numbers by more than 1,500 tests and it’s a lot of money to walk away from. Did USADA decide that the spotlight was getting too bright?

The Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) doesn’t catch all of boxing’s drug cheats any more than the Internal Revenue Service catches all tax cheats. But it catches some of them.
On September 20, 2018, it was announced that a test for performance enhancing drugs conducted on Manuel Charr by VADA had come back positive for epitrenbolone and drostanolone (banned anabolic steroids).

On September 27, it was revealed that a test administered to Billy Joe Saunders by VADA had come back positive for oxilofrine (a banned stimulant).

In other words, VADA reported more positive tests for banned PEDs to supervising state athletic commissions in eight days than USADA has reported in eight years.

Given the fact that USADA charges roughly twice the amount for PED testing that VADA charges, one might ask why anyone in professional boxing would test with USADA. Unless a “get-out-of-jail-free” card comes with the test results.

Andy Foster is executive officer of the California State Athletic Commission. In recent years, he has evinced an admirable commitment to the health and safety of fighters and the integrity of boxing.

Multiple sources say that Foster has made it clear to promoters that he is uncomfortable with the pattern of USADA’s reported test results for boxing and would prefer that promoters use VADA or another reliable testing agency until the issue is resolved. On December 5, Foster told this writer, “It’s the weirdest thing. USADA has reported lots of positive test results for MMA but none for boxing. When it comes to boxing, I feel much more comfortable with VADA.”

The recent PED controversy involving Canelo Alvarez is also instructive.

Alvarez was scheduled to fight a lucrative rematch against Gennady Golovkin in Las Vegas on May 5, 2018. But on March 5, it was revealed that urine samples taken from Canelo by VADA on February 17 and February 20 had tested positive for clenbuterol. Alvarez said that the positive tests were the result of his having inadvertently eaten contaminated meat. But the Golovkin camp refused to let the matter rest and pressed the issue with the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

A March 15 letter sent on behalf of Golovkin to the NSAC and VADA demanded that the commission hold Alvarez to a standard of strict liability insofar as the presence of clenbuterol in his system was concerned. The letter also asked that the NSAC conduct an investigation and hold a full hearing with regard to possible performance enhancing drug use by Canelo.
On March 20, Golovkin raised the ante further when he met with reporters and declared, “I’m a clean athlete. After the first fight, I knew he was not clean. It’s not Mexican meat. Canelo is cheating. They’re using these drugs and everybody is just trying to pretend it’s not happening.”

On March 23, the Nevada State Athletic Commission announced that Alvarez had been temporarily suspended as a consequence of the two positive tests and that the matter would be finally adjudicated at an April 10 commission meeting. On April 3, Canelo announced that he was withdrawing from the fight. Then, on April 18, the NSAC voted unanimously to approve a settlement agreed to by Alvarez that called for Canelo to be suspended for six months retroactive to the date (February 17) of his first positive test for clenbuterol. There was no admission of wrongdoing on Canelo’s part. But there was an acknowledgement that clenbuterol had been present in his system.

On May 15, Alvarez signed up for a full year of VADA testing and paid the $50,000 cost out of his own pocket. His rematch against Golovkin was rescheduled for September 15 and Canelo emerged with a majority-decision triumph.

So let’s look at what happened. A positive test result was properly reported. There was a sanction. Alvarez then came back, tested clean twenty times in an enhanced VADA program, and beat Golovkin.

Now suppose hypothetically that Alvarez had been tested by USADA, not VADA. Suppose USADA advised the Canelo camp of his positive test for clenbuterol and was told, “Canelo says he never used clenbuterol. It must have come from contaminated beef.” And suppose further that USADA said, “That sounds like a reasonable explanation. We’ll adjudicate this internally and give the fighter an inadvertent use waiver. There’s no need to report it to the Golovkin camp and Nevada State Athletic Commission and bring the fight down.”

That would have avoided interfering with a major promotion. But it would also have overlooked the presence of an illegal performance enhancing drug in a fighter’s system.
Unfortunately, some jurisdictions still don’t understand the implications inherent in the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs. Others would rather pay lip service to the issue than deal forcefully with it. And there are significant loopholes in some testing protocols.

Jermall Charlo and Jermell Charlo are two of the most talented fighters in boxing today. Jermall is the World Boxing Council “interim” middleweight champion. Jermell holds the WBC 154-pound belt. As such, the Charlos are subject to the World Boxing Council Clean Boxing Program which requires them to keep VADA apprised of their whereabouts, be reachable by telephone at all times, and be subject to spot testing for performance enhancing drugs at any time.

On November 1, 2018, VADA collection officers went to pick up blood and urine samples from Jermall and Jermell Charlo at their respective homes and were told that neither brother was at home nor would they be at the gym that day. Neither brother picked up his phone at the contact number given to VADA when he was called. And no one could (or would) tell the collection officers where Jermall and Jermell Charlo were.

This is known in drug-testing as a “missed test” or “unsuccessful collection attempt.”
As per the terms of the World Boxing Council Clean Boxing Program, VADA immediately notified the WBC, the Association of Boxing Commissions, and Al Haymon (who represents the Charlos). Because the Charlos are scheduled to fight in separate bouts at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on December 22, VADA also notified Kim Sumbler (executive director of the New York State Athletic Commission) Nitin Sethi (the commission’s chief medical officer), and Tom Brown (who is promoting the December 22 fights).

The WBC Clean Boxing Program is an important initiative. The sanctioning body deserves credit for setting up a PED-testing program with protocols pursuant to which missed tests and positive test results are reported to the governing state athletic commission and other appropriate parties. But the WBC program allows for two missed tests within a one-year period without the imposition of a significant penalty (such as a fighter being stripped of his title).

On November 28, the WBC issued a statement that read in part, “Every single fighter who is enrolled in the WBC Clean Boxing Program is responsible for his acts. It is important for the WBC to clarify that both Charlos have been tested in the past and that the infraction they are facing is a missed test which has been acknowledged and they will be responsible to pay the corresponding fine. It is very simple. If you are chosen for testing and are not available for the collector to test you, you will be incurring a missed test penalty. It is of extreme importance that every fighter updates their whereabouts forms with VADA at all times.”

The WBC declined to reveal the amount of the fine imposed on the Charlos. But in a November 29 email, Alberto Leon (chief legal counsel for the WBC) advised, “In general, for a first whereabouts failure, the fine is limited to the actual costs of collection incurred which so far have fluctuated between $750 and $950 depending on the location of the collection effort.”
In today’s world of microdosing, many illegal PEDs leave an athlete’s system within twenty-four hours. The unfortunate message sent by the WBC regarding the Charlos is, hypothetically speaking, if a fighter takes an illegal performance enhancing drug and, by chance, VADA shows up to test him while the drug is still in his system, the fighter can simply “miss” his test and pay a small fine.

But the matter didn’t end there. On November 27, Jermall Charlo tweeted, “Missed the Test not Failed you idiots. It’s Random and wbc program or Whoever they are Randomly chose a day we were out of town doing promotional stuff on Fox for the Next fight. Get ya facts straight. I like I said Haters must Hate it’s the job.”

As previously noted, the Charlos are scheduled to fight at Barclays Center on December 22. The New York State Athletic Commission acknowledges having been advised of the missed tests but initially maintained in a November 30 email that “The VADA and WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] programs are separate from the New York State Athletic Commission’s Rules & Regulations.”

In other words, according to the New York State Athletic Commission, the missed tests were a matter for the WBC, not the NYSAC, to resolve. That was a ludicrous position and, three days later, the commission backtracked, saying, “The NYSAC is indeed investigating this matter fully and takes it very seriously. We are undertaking specific actions as part of this investigation and are in regular contact with the promoter, the combatants involved, and their seconds.”

These “specific actions” are said to include additional tests administered to the Charlos at the direction of the NYSAC. That’s a case of too little too late given the transitory nature of performance enhancing drugs in a fighter’s system.

The NYSAC should have acted on the Charlos’ situation in early November. Then, if it felt that a remedy similar to Nevada’s handling of Canelo Alvarez was warranted, the December 22 fight card could have been reconfigured. At this late date, no one expects the NYSAC to interfere with the card.

But let’s follow up with a few questions in response to Jermall Charlo’s tweet. Questions that the New York State Athletic Commission should ask at a hearing with Jermall and Jermell Charlo under oath.

Where were the Charlos doing their out-of-town promotional work for Fox? Presumably, there’s a record of their travel. What, specifically, was the promotional work? Who did they meet with? Why didn’t they answer their phones when the VADA collection officers attempted to reach them? VADA could have sent collection officers to collect blood and urine samples in whatever city the Charlos were in. Jermall and Jermell Charlo might be totally innocent of any wrongdoing. But suppose it turns out that they weren’t out of town that day? That would be a problem, wouldn’t it?”

Meanwhile, after Jarrett Hurd knocked out Jason Welborn on the undercard of Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury at Staples Center on December 1, Jermell Charlo climbed into the ring to challenge Hurd. The two men jawed back and forth with Hurd saying, “Answer the phone. I got the date.”

“My phone is always on,” Charlo responded.

Except when a VADA collection officer calls.

As noted earlier, virtually all of the tests that USADA has administered with regard to professional boxing have been in conjunction with fights in which companies controlled by Al Haymon had a vested financial interest. Haymon is known for looking after his fighters’ best financial interests. But he has a fiduciary duty to all of the fighters he represents, not just the A-side fighters. This fiduciary duty should include taking all reasonable steps to ensure that none of his fighters are put in the ring to face opponents who have increased their punching power through the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs.

Like the Charlos, Errol Spence is an Al Haymon fighter. He’s also deservedly near the top of most pound-for-pound lists.

According to postings on the USADA website, Errol Spence has been tested 35 times by USADA. Did any of these tests come back positive? Were there any “missed” tests? Did USADA ever give Spence a therapeutic use exemption or inadvertent use waiver?

One person who’d like to know the answer to these questions is Victor Conte.

Conte was first known to sports fans as the mastermind behind the BALCO scandal. In recent years, he has been a positive force for education and reform and now works with athletes as a conditioner and nutritionist at a facility in San Carlos, California, known as SNAC (an acronym for Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning).

In late-October, Conte agreed to help Mikey Garcia prepare for a scheduled March 16, 2019, fight against Errol Spence. But he made it a precondition to his involvement that both Garcia and Spence enroll in VADA.

“So far,” Conte says, “Mikey has been willing to enroll, and Errol has been dragging his feet. Now I’m told that Errol and Al Haymon will agree to ten weeks of testing starting on January 5th. Ten weeks of VADA testing is better than none. But why the wait?”

“It’s common knowledge,” Conte continues, “that the benefit an athlete retains from using certain performance enhancing drugs carries over for months. In fact, you don’t perform at your best when you’re actually on the drugs. You get maximum benefit after the use stops. It all depends on what an athlete was taking, how much he was taking, how long he was taking, and when he cycled off. So my question is, ‘If Errol Spence and Al Haymon aren’t hiding anything, why couldn’t VADA testing have started in November?'”

“And there’s another point I’d like to make about Errol,” Conte continues. “When a person uses testosterone, part of it converts to dihydrotestosterone and the rest converts to estrogen. And when that happens, it can cause the tissue around the nipples to swell. Technically, the condition is called gynecomastia. Some people who use testosterone get gynecomastia. Others don’t. It depends on one’s genetic disposition. Body-builders treat the condition by using Tamoxifen or Arimidex to shrink the tissue.”

And what does that have to do with Spence?

“I was in Las Vegas on September 15 and went to something called the Boxing Fan Expo,” Conte answers. “Errol was there. I got within a few feet of him. He was wearing a white shirt, and I saw what I believe were signs of gynecomastia. If you’ve seen a fighter in the past without gynecomastia and then you see him with it, it causes suspicion. Errol is a hell of a fighter. I have no reason to not like him and I’m not saying that Errol is using anything inappropriate. But I’m suspicious, and Errol knows it.”

At present, many state athletic commissions are reluctant to push hard on the issue of performance enhancing drugs because they fear that doing so will lead promoters to take big fights to other jurisdictions. But illegal PED use is analogous to fighting with loaded gloves. In each instance, the aim is to gain a competitive advantage and inflict more physical damage on an opponent by cheating. Everyone in boxing who lets this issue slide is complicit.

It’s ridiculous to think that Margaret Goodman and VADA can put a thumb in the dike and stop the flow of illegal performance enhancing drugs in boxing. Accomplishing this end will take a concerted effort by state athletic commission officials, sanctioning body officials, promoters, managers, fighters, members of the media, and law enforcement authorities.
Meanwhile, as an interim step, the New York, California, and Nevada state athletic commissions should ask USADA for the following:

(1) Copies of all contracts entered into by USADA for the testing of any professional boxer in conjunction with any fight that has taken place in their jurisdiction since January 1, 2016.

(2) Copies of all test results (complete test results, not just summaries) and all other documents that embody the results of tests conducted pursuant to these contracts.

(3) Copies of all documents that relate to instances, if any, where USADA, pursuant to these contracts, adjudicated issues that arose in conjunction with a positive test for one or more substances that are prohibited under the WADA code.

(4) Copies of all documents that relate to any instance where, pursuant to these contracts, USADA departed from World Anti-Doping Agency standards in adjusting the permissible level of any drug that might be found, or was found, in a professional boxer.

To help evaluate this data, USADA should also be asked with regard to all fights that have taken place in each respective state since January 1, 2016:

(1) On how many occasions has the “A” sample of a professional boxer tested by USADA come back positive for a substance that is prohibited under the WADA code?

(2) On how many occasions has a professional boxer “missed” a test?

USADA is skating on thin ice when it comes to boxing. An exploration of its conduct here might provide a window onto its testing of other athletes. For example, United States Olympic athletes.

If a government entity with subpoena power decides to seriously investigate, the implications could extend far beyond boxing. Maybe USADA will test clean. Maybe not.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His next book – Protect Yourself At All Times – was published by the University of Arkansas Press this past autumn. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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Ralph `Tiger’ Jones, Conqueror of Sugar Ray Robinson, was the Ultimate Gatekeeper

Bernard Fernandez

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Ralph "Tiger" Jones

Being a gatekeeper, especially in boxing, can be a lonely and underappreciated function. And in the 1950s, a golden age for the sport, that might have been especially true for a highly competent but not-quite-elite middleweight named Ralph “Tiger” Jones, who fought so often on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports’ Friday Night Fights that he came to be known as “Mr. Television,” a sobriquet he shared with another frequent face of the relatively new medium, comedian Milton Berle.

Jones, who was 66 when he passed away on July 17, 1994, is not enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The Brooklyn-born, Yonkers, N.Y.-based scrapper has never even appeared on the IBHOF ballot. Then again, why should he have been? His career record of 52-32-5, with only 13 victories inside the distance, isn’t particularly impressive, unless you take a closer look at the who’s who list of guys with whom he shared the ring. He holds victories over, among others, IBHOF Hall of Famers Sugar Ray Robinson, Joey Giardello and Kid Gavilan (Giardello and Gavilan each defeated him twice), and he gave such capable and even world-class fighters as Gene Fullmer (twice), Laszlo Papp, Bobo Olson, Johnny Saxton (twice), Joey Giambra (twice), Rocky Castellani (twice), Paul Pender, Johnny Bratton, Rory Calhoun (twice), Joe DeNucci (thrice), Bobby Dykes, Chico Vejar, Charlie Humez (twice), Victor Salazar, Ernie Durando and Del Flanagan all they could handle.

Given the high level of competition he so routinely faced, it is remarkable that the Tiger was stopped only once, and even that was a bit of an outlier, a one-round TKO against someone named Henry Burroughs on Jan. 13, 1951. Burroughs, who went 3-4 in an abbreviated professional career, quickly vanished from the fight scene, but for Jones, who had come in 9-0, the shocking defeat might have had the effect of instantly downgrading him from hot prospect to “opponent” and, ultimately, gatekeeper of a loaded 160-pound weight class. Interestingly, Jones had virtually toyed with Burroughs in winning a four-round unanimous decision only two months earlier.

There are those who insist that Jones’ most shining moment inside the ropes came when he stopped Dykes (career record: 120-23-8, with 57 KOs) on March 8, 1954, in Brooklyn when, well behind on points, he rallied to register two emphatic, outcome-shifting knockdowns in the 10th and final round. But even that keepsake triumph pales in comparison to what took place in Chicago Stadium on Jan. 19, 1955, when he presumably was served up as a sacrificial offering to the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson. Sugar Ray, then 33, was in the early stages of a comeback after he failed to make it big as a tap dancer on a tour of Europe. Fighting for the first time in 2½ years, Robinson had stopped journeyman Joe Rindone in six rounds on Jan. 5, 1955, in Detroit, and the bout against Jones, an 8-1 underdog, was widely viewed as merely another step forward in the former welterweight and middleweight champion’s graduated path back to the superstar status he once held and almost everyone believed he would soon reclaim.

But the outcome that was anticipated by the in-house turnout of 7,282 and a national TV audience underwent a quick rewrite when Jones, who had lost his previous five bouts, was the aggressor in the opening stanza of the scheduled 10-rounder, which ended with the great Sugar Ray — who had come in with an incredible 132-3-2 record — bleeding from a cut to his nose. It was more of the same in round two, Jones adding to Robinson’s seepage when the living legend went back to his corner with another cut, to his right eyelid.

It should have been apparent to everyone, even then, that this was not going to be Sugar Ray’s night, and it wasn’t. Referee Frank Sikora submitted a scorecard favoring Jones by a 99-94 margin, with judges Ed Hintz and Howard Walsh seeing it as an even bigger rout for Jones, at 100-88 and 98-89. Years later, the punch-counters for CompuBox reviewed tape of the fight and determined that Tiger had connected on 322 of 407 (57 percent) to just 176 of 514 (34 percent) for Robinson.

But as is often the case when a legendary fighter is made to look something less than superhuman, the big story was not that Ralph “Tiger” Jones had won, but that a humbled Sugar Ray Robinson was now on his last legs, his nimble feet and fast hands left behind somewhere on nightclub stages in a far-away continent.

New York Journal American columnist Jimmy Cannon for all intents and purposes authored Sugar Ray’s boxing obituary in his paper’s Jan. 20 editions, opining that “There is no language spoken on the face of the earth in which you can be kind when you tell a man he is old and should stop pretending he is young … Old fighters, who go beyond the limits of their age, resent it when you tell them they’re through … what he had is gone. The pride isn’t. The gameness isn’t. The insolent faith in himself is still there … but the pride and the gameness and that insolent faith get in his way … He was marvelous, but he isn’t anymore.”

And this, from The Associated Press report of the fight: “The former welterweight and middleweight titleholder … who started his comeback after 30 months as a song-and-dance entertainer by kayoing Joe Rindone two weeks ago, was handed the worst beating of his career by Jones … Time and again Tiger drove Robinson into the ropes and mauled him pitifully.”

But as was the case with the false rumor in 1897 that novelist/humorist Samuel Clemens – better known by his pen name, Mark Twain — had passed away, any suggestion that Sugar Ray Robinson was finished as a top-tier fighter proved to be premature. The Sugar man held the middleweight championship five times in all, three of his title reigns coming after Cannon advised him in print that he was washed up.

“I never figure to win them all,” the battered Robinson said after taking his licking from Jones. “You’ve got to figure you’ll get beat somewhere along the line. I don’t want to quit. This was a test. Like my manager said, it was just too tough for a second fight on a comeback.”

And Jones?

He continued to get regular TV gigs because he was more skilled than many, doggedly determined to put on a good show and no day at the beach for any of the six world champions he fought on 10 different occasions. But he never got a shot at a world title, a cruel twist of fate for someone who not only had paid his membership dues in the school of hard knocks, but continued to pay them right up to the end, a 10-round, unanimous-decision loss to IBHOF Hall of Famer and three-time Olympic gold medalist Laszlo Papp of Hungary on March 21, 1962. Tiger was floored in three separate rounds, but true to his unyielding code of honor, he gutted it out to the final bell. His pride would not allow him to do otherwise.

As a child growing up in New Orleans and the son of police captain Jack Fernandez (career record: 4-1-1, 1 KO), a former welterweight of scant pro accomplishment whom I idolized as if he had been a world champion, it seemed to me that, if Tiger Jones didn’t appear every week on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, he was in the featured bout at least every month or so. The best of the gatekeepers from that glorious era deserve at least some reflected glory for hanging in with their betters, and Jones holds a special place in my recollections along with, among others, Florentino Fernandez (I liked to pretend we were somehow related), Holly Mims and “Hammerin’” Henry Hank, the Detroit middleweight and light heavyweight who fought so often in New Orleans (18 times) that I chose to believe he was almost as local as Willie Pastrano, Ralph Dupas, Percy Pugh and Jerry Pellegrini. Hank, who was 62-30-4 with 40 KOs in a career that spanned from 1953 to ’72, was a virtual replica of the never-say-die Jones, never fighting for a widely recognized world title (he did drop a 15-round decision to Eddie Cotton for the Michigan version of the light heavyweight championship) and losing just once inside the distance, on a ninth-round stoppage by Bob Foster on Dec. 11, 1964, in Norfolk, Va.

Yeah, that would be the same Bob Foster who would go on to become one of the most accomplished 175-pound champions ever and was inducted into the IBHOF in 1990.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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The Avila Perspective Chap. 30: A Day in L.A., Plant, Pacquiao, and More

David A. Avila

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L.A.

Every time it rains in L.A. I think about the Doors song “Riders in the Storm.”

On Sunday a brief window of dryness blanketed as I drove to downtown L.A. on freeways that were slightly emptier than normal with the L.A. Chargers playing the New England Patriots. I guess some people stayed home to watch it.

Freeway traffic plays a big part in any Californian’s life. But it’s rare that a boxing event is held on a Sunday. My destination that day was LA Live across the street from the Staples Center.

LA Live has a skating rink in the middle of the courtyard and people were milling around an hour before the boxing card was to begin at Microsoft Theater. The theater is a swanky building across the skating rink from the ESPN structure.

A guy resembling my nephew Giovanni is talking to a few people next to the Starbucks. As I walk closer the person is gone. Later, I would see that the same kid resembling my nephew is actually fighting on the large boxing card. About a dozen fights are listed on the boxing bout sheet.

The Microsoft Theater has gone through a name change since it was first opened in 2007. It used to be called the Nokia Theater. The large theater hosts the ESPYs, EMMYs, Grammys and American Music Awards. But it’s no stranger to boxing events. A few fight cards have been held in its confine.

Crowds gathered early for the Premier Boxing Champions boxing card and by 5 p.m. it filled up pretty good.

One of the earliest boxing champions to arrive as a viewer was Mikey Garcia with several other young boxers and their entourages. The four division world champ has a date with Errol Spence Jr. in a couple of months. Spence arrived to watch the LA fight card a little later.

Title Fight

The main event featured Caleb Plant challenging the dangerous IBF super middleweight titlist Jose Uzcategui.

Plant has always shown he had skills and athleticism inside the boxing ring. But you can have all the tools in the world and it doesn’t mean a thing. What it really comes down to is can you take a punch from a puncher? Uzcategui can punch.

The Tennessee native has a pretty hefty following and they were loud in support of the slick fighting Plant. During the first six rounds it was like watching a concert with girls standing and cheering. But when the tide turned and Uzcategui began finding the antidote for Plant’s slickness, the same crowd was deadly quiet.

Plant is an entertainer. He can’t help himself. But he’s a classy kind of guy and fans genuinely like him. He can also fight.

Despite an undefeated record Plant had never truly established he belonged on the A list. He has A list skills but had never beaten an elite fighter until Sunday. He beat a good one and fans were thoroughly engrossed.

After their entertaining bloody clash you would have thought the two warriors would be red hot with anger. But instead, the two were like old chums and gracious after their 12-round battle. It kind of reminded me of long ago when two late greats Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello battled twice in the early 1980s. Those two great warriors became great friends and propelled the sport of boxing to greater heights and awareness. Later, Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward did the same in the early 2000s. It’s the beauty of boxing.

In the locker room Plant told Uzcategui they ought to share some Modelos soon. That got a big laugh and hug from the Venezuelan fighter who trains in Mexico. There were no hard feelings, just a lot of bruises and cuts.

Super middleweights may be the new showcase division.

A few possible opponents were in the crowd including David Benavidez, the current WBC titlist. A match with Plant or even a rematch with Uzcategui would bring an even bigger crowd. The super middleweights are heating up. There’s a lot of talent now in the 168-pound division including James DeGale, Callum Smith and George Groves in the United Kingdom and Gilberto Ramirez of Mexico. Hey, it’s even possible to see Gennady “GGG” Golovkin in the super middleweight division if the money is right.

I can’t wait to see the next super middleweight world title matchup.

El Cholos

When the fight card was over we walked across Figueroa Avenue to the Mexican restaurant famous for its margaritas. El Cholos has been around since the 1920s and has expanded to almost a dozen eateries in Southern California. I wish they had one in Las Vegas which does not have a good sit down Mexican restaurant.

El Cholos has become a favorite destination for me following boxing cards in L.A. After the fights several boxing reporters joined me for dinner including Muhammad Mubarak, Anthony Saldana and his wife Cynthia Saldana, Nancy Rodriguez from Supreme Boxing and Daniel who works with them and others. Usually my good friends from the Japanese press join us and long-time photographer Al Applerose, but not on this occasion. Still, we spent a couple of hours there and even ran into an old friend, Liz Quevedo Parr. As an amateur fighter she dominated two divisions for Team USA and now owns a gym in Long Beach called Guv’Nors Boxing Club. She recently had a cover page write up in OC Weekly.

At El Cholos we talked about Plant, Spence, Garcia and Benavidez. We also talked about women’s boxing especially Maricela Cornejo who is managed by Nancy Rodriguez. Both have movie star looks. Cornejo will be fighting in about 12 days in Hollywood at the Avalon Theater. Another female we discussed is Kenia Enriquez who fights out of Tijuana, Mexico. She’s very good.

The Lakers were playing across the street and I expected a rush of fans following the game. But the Lakers lost that night so fans must have been disgruntled and left quickly to their respective homes. Rain was threatening too. We can’t drive in the rain.

Eating and drinking with other journalists is one of the joys of being a fight reporter. Who better to talk about boxing than people that actually know the sport? Only in L.A., New York or Philadelphia can you find plenty of fans that actually know boxing and its politics. Over the years I’ve met some truly knowledgeable fight fans throughout Southern California.

Pacman and Broner

We’re heading to Las Vegas on Thursday, first to see Layla McCarter headline a Mayweather Promotions card that night at the MGM Grand. Tickets are free and it’s a hefty boxing card featuring many fighters from Floyd Mayweather’s stable.

McCarter is the best female fighter in the world pound for pound. Nobody has beaten her in 11 years and she’s fought in numerous countries around the world. Do you know how hard that is to accomplish? Ask any fighter.

Friday is a weigh-in for the Showtime pay-per-view card and I’m curious to see how many fans show up.

It’s been a while since Manny Pacquiao last fought in Las Vegas. Back on November 2016 he battled Jessie Vargas at the Thomas & Mack Center. On Saturday, Pacquiao will face Adrien Broner for the WBA welterweight world title at the MGM Grand. Showtime will have it on pay-per-view.

Every time I see Pacquiao I remember first watching him at the Wild Card gym almost 20 years ago. Freddie Roach kept telling a few of us to watch out for the lefty Filipino kid. Right from the start he proved to be deadly accurate. Pacquiao, now 40, has exceeded all my expectations and out-lasted everyone from that era.

I remember years ago in 2003 talking outside on the parking lot of the Olympic Auditorium. It was still light outside on a summer night and Freddie saw me and a couple of reporters and walked up to talk about his first experience in the Philippines training Pacquiao. He was still overwhelmed by the experience. Later that night Pacquiao would obliterate Emmanuel Lucero in the third round with a vicious uppercut. Even though I knew Pacman was very good I would have never predicted his longevity in a sport that usually spits out good fighters in 10 years.

On Saturday we will see how much the Filipino super star still has left in his legs. Hopefully on the drive to Las Vegas it won’t rain or snow.

Photo credit: Luis Mejia / TCB Promotions

Fights to watch

Fri. 5 p.m. PT DAZN – Jorge Linares vs Pablo Cano; Amanda Serrano vs Eva Voraberger; Demetrius Andrade vs Artur Akavov.

Fri. 6:30 p.m. PT/9:30 PM ET ESPN* Bryant Jennings (24-2) vs Oscar Rivas (25-0).

Sat. 6 p.m. PT Showtime pay-per-view – Manny Pacquiao vs Adrien Broner; Badou Jack vs. Marcus Browne; Rau’shee Warren vs Nordine Oubaali; Jhack Tepora vs Hugo Ruiz.

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Terence Crawford vs. Amir Khan on April 20th…Let the Hype Begin

Arne K. Lang

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Crawford vs Khan

Co-promoters Bob Arum and Eddie Hearn staged a press conference today (Tuesday, Jan. 15) at London’s elegant Landmark Hotel to announce that Terence Crawford will defend his WBO welterweight title on April 20 against Amir Khan. The timing was rather odd as the venue is unsettled — Madison Square Garden and the MGM Grand are the frontrunners – but as Arum would likely tell you, it’s never too early to marinate the hype. The bout will mark ESPN’s initial foray into the world of solo event pay-per-view.

Amir Khan first came to the fore at the 2004 Beijing Olympics where at the tender age of 17 he advanced to the gold medal round in the lightweight division. In the finals he met Mario Kindelan, a 33-year-old Cuban who was described by the British coach Terry Edwards as “the best pound for pound fighter in the world, maybe amateur and professional.”

Khan was outpointed but that didn’t diminish his stature. “Britain has lost its tether over him,” wrote Mark Whicker in the Orange County Register who noted that the Khan-Kindelan match was shown on the big screen at Trafalgar Square under a sign that read Amir-zing.

Khan went on to defeat Kindelan twice in amateur bouts before turning pro amidst great fanfare in July of 2005. Two years later, almost to the day, he climbed off the deck to wrest the British Empire lightweight title from Scotland’s Willie Limond.

Needless to say, Khan, who is of Pakistani descent, has had his ups and downs since that moment. The first thud came in September of 2008 in Manchester when Columbia’s unheralded Breidis Prescott (who by the way has lost seven of his last eight) knocked him out in the first round. Khan was knocked down hard 30 seconds into the fight and it was all over in 54 seconds.

The fight, wrote Tom Cary in the London Telegraph, “confirmed the suspicion that the most hyped boxer in Britain since Prince Naseem Hamed cannot take a punch….This defeat was an accident waiting to happen.”

Khan rebounded nicely. He won the WBA 140-pound title with a 76-second blowout of Dmitriy Salita and defended it four times before losing the belt on a controversial decision to Lamont Peterson. But since the Peterson fight he has been stopped twice, first by Danny Garcia and then Canelo Alvarez.

The Kahn-Canelo fight, contested at the catchweight of 155 pounds, was the first boxing event at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena. And it played out as many expected with Khan having his moments before he was betrayed by a soft beard. Canelo, the bigger man although both came in at the same weight, lowered the boom in round six with a devastating right hand, a classic one-punch knockout that left Khan on the canvas for several minutes before he was removed to a hospital as a precaution.

Khan took 23 months off after this setback and during this hiatus he became even more famous in England. He hired a publicist who booked him on the TV show “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me out of Here,” a British version of the TV show “Survivor,” and fed the tabloids and gossip magazines a steady stream of folderol regarding Amir’s supposedly tempestuous relationship with his attractive Brooklyn-born wife, the former Faryal Makhdoom. Khan’s conservative Muslim parents were horrified by Faryal’s westernized ways and both accused the other of infidelity. They toned it down when Faryal became pregnant with their second child, a daughter born in April of last year.

That same month, Khan returned to the ring with a 33-second knockout of Toronto’s overmatched Phil Lo Greco. In September he took on another Toronto-based fighter, Samuel Vargas, against whom he won a wide 12-round decision. Those wins pumped up his record to 33-4 (20).

Unlike Amir Khan, it’s doubtful that Terence Crawford will ever transcend his sport, but you don’t have to sell Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs) to knowledgeable boxing fans who recognize that he is something special, arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport today.

This fight will be a nice payday for Khan who lives lavishly and we suspect it will be an interesting fight for as long as it lasts. Against Canelo Alvarez, Khan was ahead in the eyes of most ringsiders and in the eyes of one of the judges through the five completed rounds. But the operative phrase here is “as long as it lasts.”

Let the hype begin.

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