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1,501 Tests, One Reported Positive? What’s Going On with USADA and Boxing?

On October 18, 2012, Halestorm Sports reported that Erik Morales had tested positive with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for clenbuterol

Thomas Hauser

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clenbuterol

By THOMAS HAUSER — On October 18, 2012, Halestorm Sports (a small website that no longer exists) reported that Erik Morales had tested positive with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for clenbuterol, a banned substance. Morales was scheduled to fight Danny Garcia at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on October 20. More significantly, it was later confirmed by the New York State Athletic Commission that USADA hadn’t reported the violation to the NYSAC until after the internet disclosure.

USADA has been testing professional boxers for performance enhancing drugs since 2010. Its website states that it has administered 1,501 tests on 128 professional boxers through August 22 of this year. Yet it appears as though, in all these years, USADA has reported only one adverse finding regarding a professional boxer (its belated report of Morales to the NYSAC) to a governing state athletic commission.

Is it possible that USADA has administered 1,501 tests to 128 professional boxers and that only one of these tests has come back positive? Yes. It’s also possible that a giant asteroid will obliterate life as we know it on earth tomorrow. But it’s statistically implausible and highly unlikely.

In the past, I’ve written extensively about USADA’s involvement with professional boxing. Most notably, in a 2015 article entitled “Can Boxing Trust USADA?”, I explored how the agency handled the intravenous administration of what was said to be a mixture of saline and vitamins to Floyd Mayweather hours after Mayweather weighed in for his May 2, 2015, fight against Manny Pacquiao. As outlined in this article, the evidence strongly supports the conclusion that USADA’s actions with regard to Mayweather’s IV violated both Nevada State Athletic Commission protocols and the World Anti-Doping Code. The article can be found at:

https://www.sbnation.com/longform/2015/9/9/9271811/can-boxing-trust-usada

USADA responded to these allegations with a lengthy media release:

https://usada.org/wp-content/uploads/USADAs-Detailed-Correction-to-SB-Nation-Article-by-Tom-Hauser.pdf

My response to the USADA media release can be found at: https://www.boxnation.com/boxing-news/was-floyd-mayweather-really-dehydrated-the-fallout-from-can-boxing-trust-usada/

Now, in 2018, there’s still reason to question USADA’s commitment to “clean sport” insofar as professional boxing is concerned. As noted above, USADA reports having conducted 1,501 tests for banned substances on 128 professional boxers from January 1, 2010, through August 22, 2018. Yet it appears as though only one of these tests (that of Erik Morales) resulted in an adverse finding that was communicated to a 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) reports 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 expect that 60 of the 1,501 tests conducted by USADA from 2010 to date would have yielded a positive result.

Broken down by year, the numbers reported by USADA on its website are as follows:

 

YEAR BOXERS TESTS
2010 2 16
2011 2 29
2012 9 113
2013 11 181
2014 28 310
2015 35 446
2016 16 171
2017 12 105
2018 thru 8/22 13 130
TOTAL 128 1,501

Virtually all of these 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.

On August 21, 2018, Bob Bennett (executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission) told this writer, “I don’t recall ever being advised that a boxer who was tested by USADA for one of our fights tested positive for a banned substance. MMA combatants, yes; but no boxers.”

One day later, Andy Foster (executive officer for the California State Athletic Commission) acknowledged, “I can’t recall an instance when USADA reported a positive test finding for a professional boxer here in California. I know that VADA has, but not USADA.”

Multiple sources at the New York State Athletic Commission say that they are unaware of USADA communicating any adverse finding with regard to a professional boxer to the NYSAC other than its belated reporting of Erik Morales for the presence of clenbuterol in his system in 2012.

It should be further noted that three of the professional boxers who tested clean with USADA during the period in question – Andre Berto, Lamont Peterson, and Canelo Alvarez – tested positive with VADA on other occasions. Indeed, it was VADA’s finding that Alvarez had clenbuterol in his system that forced the rescheduling of his rematch against Gennady Golovkin from May 5 to September 15 of this year.

Despite its name, USADA is neither a government agency nor part of the United States Olympic Committee. It’s an independent “not-for-profit” corporation headquartered in Colorado Springs that offers drug-testing services for a fee. Most notably, the United States Olympic and Paralympic movement utilize its services. Because of this role, USADA receives in excess of ten million dollars annually in Congressional funding.

Travis Tygart, USADA’s chief executive officer, spearheaded his organization’s expansion into professional boxing. That opportunity arose in late-2009, when drug testing became an issue in the first round of negotiations for a proposed fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Thereafter, Tygart moved aggressively to expand USADA’s footprint in professional boxing and forged a working relationship with Richard Schaefer, who until 2014 served as CEO of Golden Boy Promotions. USADA also became the drug-testing agency of choice for fighters advised by Al Haymon.

At present, no state requires as a matter of course that drug testing contracts entered into by USADA or VADA be filed with the state athletic commission. In some states, USADA and VADA aren’t even required to report positive test results (although VADA always does).

By and large, state athletic commissions tend to defer to USADA and VADA because of their expertise and because it saves the governing commission money if someone else does the PED testing.

Often, when USADA sends reports to a state athletic commission, it sends only test summaries, not full laboratory test results.

Even when USADA and VADA are uninvolved, some states still don’t test for performance enhancing drugs.

It’s a haphazard system that’s ripe for abuse. And it leads to the question, “How can USADA administer 1,501 tests for banned substances to professional boxers and report only a single violation of anti-doping rules to a governing state athletic commission?”

USADA has shown that it knows how to catch drug cheats. In 2015, it entered into a contract to test mixed martial arts combatants for UFC. UFC wanted USADA to catch the drug cheats. In part, that might have been because a multi-billion-dollar sale of UFC’s parent company was in the works and prospective buyers wanted a clean sport. It’s also possible that Dana White and the rest of the UFC leadership understand the difference between right and wrong when it comes to illegal PED use in a combat sport.

Since then, some of the biggest names in UFC have been suspended pursuant to tests administered by USADA. This includes Brock Lesnar, Chad Mendes, Junior Dos Santos, Francisco Rivera, Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, Josh Barnett, and Nick Diaz.

Similarly, USADA has issued numerous press releases with regard to positive test results and the resulting suspension of amateur boxers (for example, Paul Koon, Michael Hunter, Damon Allen Jr, Jesus Gomez, and Jerren Cochran).

So why the absence of reported positive test resuts with regard to professional boxers?

Let’s start with the fact that USADA is often hired by, and contracts with, representatives of the very boxers it’s supposed to be testing.

A Major League Baseball team or National Football League player can’t choose the drug-testing agency that will conduct tests and then negotiate a fee with that agency. But this is what happens frequently with USADA. Indeed, there are times when it seems as though USADA collects drug-testing payments the way boxing’s world sanctioning organizations collect sanctioning fees. It has been known to charge as much as $150,000 to administer tests for a particular fight. By contrast, VADA charges as little as $16,000 for a complete drug-testing program for a given fight.

Also, if one is looking for loopholes, there are many ways to rationalize throwing out an adverse test result: “The collection process was flawed . . . The chain of custody for the sample was improper . . . The sample was somehow contaminated . . . The boxer tested positive for clenbuterol because he ate contaminated beef . . . I know he tested positive, but we’re granting him a retroactive therapeutic use exemption.”

Judgments regarding mitigating circumstances are properly left to governing state athletic commissions. USADA should test and report the results of these tests to the governing state athletic commission and certain other contractually-designated parties. It should not adjudicate or grant retroactive therapeutic use exemptions. That’s what got it in trouble in Nevada in 2015 when it unilaterally granted a retroactive therapeutic use exemption to Floyd Mayweather and later conceded that, without this retroactive TUE, Mayweather would have been in violation of the World Anti-Doping Agency code.

But it appears as though some of USADA’s PED-testing contracts for professional boxers don’t require it to report violations to the governing state athletic commission. And some of its contracts allow it to adjudicate matters that should be left to other decision-makers.

Here, the contract for PED testing entered into by USADA with Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao is instructive. Paragraph 30 of this contract states, “If any rule or regulation whatsoever incorporated or referenced herein conflicts in any respect with the terms of this Agreement, this Agreement shall in all such respects control. Such rules and regulations include, but are not limited to: the Code [the World Anti-Doping Code]; the USADA Protocol; the WADA Prohibited List; the ISTUE [WADA International Standard for Therapeutic Use Exemptions]; and the ISTI [WADA International Standard for Testing and Investigations].”

In other words, USADA was not bound by the drug testing protocols that one might have expected it to follow in conjunction with Mayweather-Pacquiao.

Indeed, at one point in the negotiations, USADA presented the Pacquiao camp with a contract that would have allowed USADA to grant a retroactive therapeutic use exemption to either fighter in the event that the fighter tested positive for a prohibited drug. And this TUE could have been granted without notifying the Nevada State Athletic Commission or the opposing fighter’s camp. Team Pacquiao thought this was outrageous and refused to sign the contract. Thereafter, Mayweather and USADA agreed to mutual notification and the limitation of retroactive therapeutic use exemptions to certain circumstances.

On August 14, 2015, in the aftermath of the Mayweather IV controversy, Annie Skinner (then a public relations spokesperson for USADA) acknowledged, “At this time, the only professional boxer under USADA’s program who has been found to have committed an anti-doping rule violation is Erik Morales.”

At that time, USADA, by its own count, had administered 915 tests to professional boxers. Think about that for a minute! VADA’s four-percent positive-test-result rate would have yielded 36 positive test results at that point in time. And since then, there appear to have been zero reports by USADA of adverse findings regarding a professional boxer to a governing state athletic commission.

Here it should be noted that, as stated earlier in this article, the USADA website says that USADA conducted 105 tests on professional boxers in 2017. But USADA’s 2017 annual report states that USADA conducted 109 tests on professional boxers in 2017.

Drug-testing is a detail-oriented endeavor. Statistics have to be precisely calculated. How does USADA account for the four missing tests?

Victor Conte was the founder and president of BALCO and at the vortex of several well-publicized PED scandals. He spent four months in prison after pleading guilty to illegal steroid distribution and tax fraud in 2005. Since then, Conte has become a forceful advocate for clean sport. What makes him a particularly valuable asset is his knowledge of how the performance enhancing drugs game is played.

Asked about USADA’s PED test numbers for professional boxers, Conte declares, “Numbers like this for professional boxing don’t make sense. It’s just not credible. You have to ask whether there’s a genuine interest on the part of USADA in catching these athletes.”

“One reason VADA testing is effective,” Conte continues, “is that Margaret Goodman uses CIR [carbon isotope ratio] testing on every urine sample that VADA collects from a boxer. CIR testing can increase the number of positive tests in a given situation from one percent to five percent. To my knowledge, USADA doesn’t use CIR testing on every sample. But it’s common sense. To be successful in any endeavor, you do more of what works and less of what doesn’t work.”

On multiple occasions in August, this writer requested of USADA that it provide answers to the following questions:

(1) Other than Erik Morales in 2012, has USADA ever reported a positive drug test result with regard to a professional boxer to a state athletic commission? And if so, on how many occasions and to which commission(s).

(2) On how many occasions has the “A” sample of a professional boxer tested by USADA come back positive for a prohibited substance?

(3) On how many occasions has the “B” sample of a professional boxer tested by USADA come back positive for a prohibited substance?

On August 28, Danielle Eurich (a media relations specialist for UDADA) responded as follows: “Hi Thomas, Given your previous inaccurate reporting on USADA’s role in professional boxing and refusal to correct the record when given the opportunity, our only comment at this time is that we will not be providing you with the requested information as we have no confidence that anything we offer in response to your questions would be used accurately. We believe readers deserve an honest, fact-based account of the state of anti-doping in boxing, but regrettably that need has not been met with your past reporting. We’re sure you understand the reasons why we are unable to offer any further comment at this time.”

This is known as avoiding the issue. Other writers, news organizations, and government entities (including the Association of Boxing Commissions) are urged to press USADA for answers to the questions above.

Meanwhile, where should boxing go from here?

As I wrote three years ago, the presence of performance enhancing drugs in boxing cries out for action. To ensure a level playing field, a national solution with uniform national testing standards is essential. A year-round testing program is necessary. It should be a condition of being granted a boxing license in this country that any fighter is subject to blood and urine testing at any time. While logistics and cost would make mandatory testing on a broad scale impractical, unannounced spot testing could be implemented, particularly on elite fighters.

Without additional federal legislation, the Association of Boxing Commissions can’t require PED testing. But the individual states can. Each state should require that:

(1) All contracts for drug testing be filed with the governing state athletic commission within seven days of execution.

(2) All test results be forwarded to the governing state athletic commission within three days of receipt by USADA, VADA, or any other testing agency. Such filings should include (a) the name of the boxer who was tested; (b) a summary of the results from each test; and (c) copies of the complete test results. A commission doctor should review all test results as they come in.

The Association of Boxing Commissions could serve as a repository for this information as it’s received by the individual states. In today’s computer age, that wouldn’t be hard to do. This registry would ensure the free flow of information from state to state and also provide a baseline against which future tests for performance enhancing drugs could be evaluated.

Given the amount of money that USADA receives annually from the federal government, it would also be appropriate for Congress to conduct an inquiry into USADA’s practices with regard to professional boxing.

Meanwhile, the point can’t be made often enough. This isn’t about running faster or hitting a baseball further. It’s about hitting someone in the head harder in a sport where the aim is to knock an opponent unconscious.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His next book – Protect Yourself at All Times – will be published by the University of Arkansas Press this 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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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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Lomachenko – Pedraza and More

Thomas Hauser

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Lomachenko - Pedraza

Boxing returned to the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on December 1. Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Jose Pedraza in the main event drew a sellout crowd of 5,312. The non-televised undercard was respectable. And the three-fight telecast that followed the Heisman Trophy presentation on ESPN had moments of drama.

The first televised bout of the evening showcased Teofimo Lopez (10-0, 8 KOs), a 21-year-old lightweight who’s rapidly moving from prospect to contender status. Mason Menard (34-3, 24 KOs) was Lopez’s designated victim. All three of Menard’s losses had been by knockout and this was expected to be the fourth “KO by” on his record.

Lopez has all the confidence and arrogance of a young fighter with a big punch who’s on the rise. It took him all of 44 seconds to blast Menard into oblivion.

Next up, 24-year-old Isaac Dogboe (20-0, 14 KOs) sought to defend his WBO 122-pound title against Emanuel Navarrete (25-1, 22 KOs) of Mexico. Dogboe was born in Ghana but grew up in England. He claimed his belt with an eleventh-round stoppage of Jessie Magdaleno in April of this year and was considered a fighter who doesn’t need protecting.

Navarrete was fighting outside of Mexico for the first time, which is often a sign of a padded record.

Dogboe entered the bout as a 7-to-1 betting favorite and mounted a two-fisted assault to the head and body in the first stanza. But Navarrete had come to fight and began landing shots of his own in round two, at which point Issaac’s chin seemed a bit suspect. As the bout wore on, Dogboe did his best work on the inside. When he gave Navarrete room to punch, Emanuel obliged him.

It was a spirited, back-and forth, action encounter that was even after eight rounds. Then Navarrete picked up the pace and won the final four frames going away. By the end, Dogboe’s face was badly swollen; his left eye was almost shut; and he was trying simply to survive. He made it to the final bell but was dethroned by a 116-112, 116-112, 115-113 margin.

Good fight, good decision.

Lomachenko (11, 9 KOs) vs. Pedraza (25-1, 12 KOs) was promoted on the basis of both men having titles, which is a little like promoting a title-unification football game between the Big Ten and Ivy League champions.

Lomachenko’s ring prowess has been amply catalogued. Twelve of his professional bouts have been contested for world titles. He’s an elite fighter while Pedraza is a good one. In match ups like that, the elite fighter almost always wins.

Top Rank had planned to match Lomachenko (the WBO 135-pound champion) against Raymundo Beltran (the WBA beltholder) as part of an “immigrant-from-Mexico-gets-citizenship” feel-good story. But Pedraza upset the apple cart in August of this year by winning a unanimous-decision over Beltran.

Lomachenko was returning to the ring after surgery to repair a torn labrum suffered in his right shoulder during a May 12 victory over Jorge Linares. Still, Vasyl was an early 12-to-1 favorite over Pedraza and the odds moved as high as 20-to-1 reflecting the fighters’ respective ring skills.

The crowd was highly-partisan in favor of Lomachenko. Fighters from Puerto Rico are rarely booed in New York during pre-fight introductions, but it happened here.

It was an interesting exercise for boxing purists. The early rounds were tactically fought. Then Lomachenko figured out what he had to do to beat Pedraza down and did it. Many of the early rounds were close enough that the judges could have given them to whichever fighter they wanted to. But Lomachenko pulled away late, putting an exclamation mark on his performance with two eleventh-round knockdowns that came close to ending matters short of the 119-107, 117-112, 117-112 judges’ verdict in his favor.

Lomachenko looked a bit less “high tech” against Pedraza than he has in the past. He didn’t exploit angles as effectively and control the range as well as in some of his earlier fights. Part of that was because Pedraza is fast on his feet and spent long portions of the evening jabbing and moving away. Another reason might be that Lomachenko’s best fighting weight by his own evaluation is 130 pounds. There were times when he had trouble with Jorge Linares’s height and reach when he fought Linares seven months ago. And that was true for stretches of time against the taller Pedraza. Mikey Garcia might be a bit too big for Lomachenko.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

Thomas Hauser’s new email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Protect Yourself at All Times– was published by the University of Arkansas Press. 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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Cecilia Braekhus, Claressa Shields Win at the StubHub plus Undercard Results

David A. Avila

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Braekhus

LOS ANGELES-A farewell show by boxing network HBO showcased two dominant women in the boxing world as Cecilia Braekhus and Claressa Shields mowed through their respective opponents with little resistance on Saturday.

Braekhus (35-0, 9 KOs) tried hard to put another knockout on her ledger but Aleksandra Magdziak-Lopes showed enough resistance to go the distance in front of a sparse and cold crowd numbering less than 1,000 at the StubHub Center.

The Norwegian fighter Braekhus won by unanimous decision after 10 rounds and retains her hold on the undisputed welterweight championship that includes the WBA, WBC, WBO, IBF and IBO world titles.

Braekhus started slowly and patiently in the first two rounds but was able to rifle right hands and left hooks through the slower Lopes guard. But she never could put that finishing touch.

In the fifth round a counter right cross staggered Lopes but she remained upright though visibly hurt. A follow up attack proved unsuccessful by the welterweight champion.

“I wanted to knock out the girl who also beat Kali Reis,” said Braekhus “I might have pushed it too much. I got a little bit eager. That normally shouldn’t happen but this is a historical night.”

It was the final show of HBO’s 45 year reign as one of boxing’s premier networks.

“I’m just so honored to be on HBO,” said Braekhus

El Gallo

Mexico’s Juan “El Gallo” Francisco Estrada (38-3, 26 KOs) won by stoppage at the end of round seven against fellow hometown fighter Victor Mendez (28-4-2, 20 KOs) at the end of the seventh round in their super flyweight clash.

Both fighters hail from Hermosillo, Mexico but there was no hometown comradery as Estrada broke down Mendez more and more each round. Each round seemed to incite more blows from Estrada who fired five and six-punch combinations with ease to the body and head.

Mendez tried to fight his way out of the onslaught but his blows did not seem to have the effect desired. Instead, Estrada would open up even more with left hook to the body and left uppercut to the chin.

Finally, after one particularly rough one-sided round, Mendez’s corner stopped the fight.

Claressa

In less than a month Claressa Shields (8-0, 2 KOs) wiped out another middleweight contender, this time Belgium’s Femke Hermans (9-2, 3 KOs) by unanimous decision after 10 one-side rounds.

Three weeks ago Shields had dominated Scotland’s Hannah Rankin in similar fashion and had few problems with either European fighter. But sitting front row in the audience was Christina Hammer who holds the WBO version. She will be next.

Shields powered through Hermans with her amped up aggressive style and was especially effective with the check left hook. She also rocked the Belgian fighter with over hand rights but could not drop the European fighter who holds a super middleweight world title.

Hermans learned in the first two rounds she couldn’t match the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s speed, so she settled into a defensive counter punching style. It did not work.

Though Shields tried luring the European fighter into some traps, the Belgian boxer refused to lead. The fight was Shields to take. She began pummeling the body especially in the fourth and fifth rounds. In one volley she unloaded seven consecutive body shots and easily slipped a counter right.

Shields wobbled Hermans in the ninth round with a left hook and staggered her with a pair of shots in the 10th round. But the Belgian fighter stayed on her feet. All three judges scored the fight 100-90 for Shields who retains the WBA, WBC and IBF world titles.

Now Shields is set to face Hammer who has the WBO middleweight title in the early spring. Showtime will televise.

Hammer spoke to the media before the Shields-Hermans fight.

“I move around very well, I have better movement,” said Hammer whose fight with Shields was postponed in November due to a stomach illness suffered by the tall German boxer. “I want to be the undisputed world champion.”

Bang Bang

Australia’s Louisa “Bang Bang” Hawton (9-2, 3 KOs) stopped Lorraine Villalobos (2-2-1) of Los Angeles at the end of fifth round in an atomweight fight set for 10 rounds.

Hawton and Villalobos exchanged furiously for three rounds with each connecting with big blows. But by the fourth round Villalobos slowed considerably and Hawton took over the fight.

The Aussie fighter was supposed to meet interim WBC atomweight titlist Brenda Flores who won a split decision last September. But Flores was forced to pull out.

Other Bouts

Serhii Bohachuk (12-0, 12 KOs) won by KO in the fifth round of a middleweight bout over Puerto Rico’s Carlos Garcia Hernandez (15-19-1)

Mario Ramos (7-0, 7 KOs) knocked out Elliott Brown in the fifth round of a 6-round lightweight fight.

Light flyweight Shukichi Iwata won his pro debut with a fourth round KO of Joel Bermudez (0-2)

Lightweight Reno Moreno floored David Courtney with a body shot to win by KO in round four of a lightweight match.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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