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Articles of 2009

Strange Days Indeed: Rivals Promoters Band Together

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The mere fact they could all spend a day in one hotel room without bloodshed or a lawsuit being filed was a breakthrough but the clearest evidence that something was different this time came with about 30 minutes left in an all-day summit meeting of nearly all of boxing’s regular promoters last week.

Through the door of the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan burst Don King himself. As one attendee said, “Five or 10 years ago he would have told us he didn’t need any of us. Even King understand things are different today.’’

What’s different is the business of boxing, which while in ascendancy in many parts of the world is in steep decline in the United States. While major shows continue to gross millions, the lifeblood of the sport, the club shows that are the developmental ground for fighters are struggling and the mid-level promoters are having increasing problems finding ways to showcase young talent.

Eventually, some theorize, this will cause problems for even boxing’s biggest promoters because you can’t make unknowns cable stars very often.

“This was something long overdue,’’ said Lou DiBella, one of the sport’s biggest promoters and a former HBO executive. “Until as an industry we realize all our problems can’t be fixed individually we’re going to struggle.

“It’s encouraging that everybody sent someone to be here. Only top Rank (Bob Arum) and Main Events (Kathy Duva) didn’t attend and that was only because of (Arturo) Gatti’s funeral services. They both signed off on the idea though.

“There’s a lot to do and there will be disagreements but everyone agreed pursing the formation of a trade association was enough for one day but if we don’t follow up it was all for nothing. I don’t expect we’re going to go from all acting for ourselves guys to all working together overnight but finally people recognize a problem.’’

Five or six years ago, DiBella proposed a similar summit and was laughed at. But the economic landscape has changed so radically in the sport that even the biggest companies – Arum’s Top Rank and Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions attended and are likely to return for the next meeting Sept. 14.

“This was the first time every major and small promoter in the country agreed something needs to be done collectively,’’ said Art Pelullo. “I really think things are going to change. We have to do things that help the sport grow because we’re dying.

“Small promoters needed to be more protected from poaching by big promoters. We need to find ways to buy some things with a group discount, like insurance and rates for hotels and from airlines.

“One thing we want to talk about is taking fighters into bankruptcy to break a contract. The guy doesn’t owe me anything and I still lose my contract.

“Frankly, I’ve been fortunate. I make a lot of money. I don’t really need this. But the sport does.’’

Dave Itskowitch, Golden Boy’s CEO of boxing, said he came to the room with trepidation, fearing it would turn into 29 promoters attacking their business model, which is the most successful in the sport. Surprisingly, it was not.

“People checked their egos and their grievances at the door,’’ said DeGuardia, who has been the driving force behind the idea ever since he and Pelullo joined forces to co-promote Demetrius Andrade. “It was a good start.’’

Not everyone in the room has the faith of DeGuardia in the collective process but no one was willing to criticize the effort on the record. In fact, one claimed Golden Boy’s presence was, to him, a sign that no one is big enough in boxing any more to go it alone for long.

“Oscar’s not fighting any more,’’ he said. “They’re not making the money they once did. They’re still doing fine but everybody loses money on ESPN and Versus. They see where King and Main Events are now. They we’re at the top once but not any more and they’re smart enough to know they may not be the flavor of the month for ever either. Then what?’’

Whether a collective can significantly alter the landscape for boxing promoters remains to be seen because this has never been a sport where working together is valued. But times are different and for many promoters desperate and so desperate measure are necessary to stop the marginalization of boxing. Yet skepticism remains.

“The main problem is the guys with horses have no horse tracks to run them at,’’ said Mike Acri, a long-time promoter from Erie, Pa. who has been at all levels of the sport but the apex and so brought deep perspective to the room. “It’s a vicious circle because 80 per cent of club shows don’t make any money but they’re necessary.

“Between 1993 and 2003 I ran 117 shows, 36 co-promotions.  Now I run three or four a year. If you don’t have horses o you don’t have a track to run you don’t race. I’m old school about this. I don’t think these things usually work.

“I don’t mind if it gets a little vicious. The problem is when you get a few greedy guys who want to take everything. What’s the issue if we can’t get along?

“Look. It’s cool. We’ll be socialists if you want but we’re all scratching for a living. We got to eat first.’’

Although Top Rank was unable to have a representative present because Carl Moretti attended Gatti’s funeral in Montreal that day, Arum signed off on a declaration calling for the formation of a trade association and continued efforts to work collectively for the common good. Yet Top Rank president Todd duBoef needs to see much more before he’s sold on the idea of a boxing collective.

“Could it be good for the sport? Yes,’’ said duBoef, who has been recruited to become part of the organization’s executive committee. “Globally boxing is enormous but here it’s star driven. We have to promote the sport not just the individuals.

“Other sports have stars but the sport is what’s paramount. Baseball, football, basketball, soccer. Pele is gone but the World Cup is still the World Cup. That’s one thing we need to do in boxing.

“We have to do a better PR job too. It is not a dormant sport, as people seem to think in the U.S. In the month of May it was the No. 1 searched item on ESPN.com because we had big events going on.

“Could this be the first step toward controlling some things in boxing under one umbrella? It could but I don’t believe the promoters are the problem. The promoter wars of 40 years ago between Arum and King are over. It isn’t that way any more. So I want to see more of what they really want to do.’’

Long-time Philadelphia promoter J. Russell Peltz continues to run successful shows often without television and has for years partnered with veteran California promoter Don Chargin on shows around the country, attended and admits he “vacillates’’ between being for the idea and wondering if it could ever work.

“Don’s more optimistic,’’ Peltz said. “Just getting everybody in one room was more cooperation than we’ve had in the past but what happens when individual interests are at odds with the greater good? That’s always been where the problem came up.

“So we’ll see. Personally I think the biggest problem we have is that promoters don’t promote fights any more. They promote fighters and the fan suffers. They don’t get good fights. They get one-sided fights for $50 to pad some young guys record and they don’t come back.

“We’ve made fans suffer through some of the worst shows in history. How can you expect to maintain a fan base doing that?’’

Chargin, for one, is hopeful a trade association would curb the long-held tradition of poaching, where promoters lure fighters away form one promoter with promises both true and false. He feels if a trade organization can simply find a way to control that it will be a positive step.

“It depends on what kind of teeth we give the organization,’’ Peltz said.

In the 1940s and ‘50s there was a similar organization called the managers’ guild, which tried to regulate such rustling of talent. It was successful for a time but eventually was legally toppled as a restraint of trade. To avoid those problems, the group is looking for an attorney to draw up potential by-laws and may eventually hire a public relations agent whose job would be to work to promote the sport in the way leagues like the NFL, NBA and major league baseball do, rather than simply an individual, the idea being boxing itself has never had its own advocate but in these troubled economic times desperately needs one.

“Let’s see how many of the 32 guys who signed put up some money to pay for that,’’ one skeptic who wanted to remain anonymous said. “We’ll see if they’re willing to go into their individual pocket for the common good. That will tell you a lot about how far this goes.’’

When the group meets again on Sept. 14 talks will become more specific and as President Obama is learning it is in the details that problems arise. What seemed clear last week in New York however is that all 32 of the promoters who signed the declaration calling for the creation of a trade association for boxing promoters understand one thing – the status quo has to change.

“It tells you something that every promoter in the country was there on their own dime,’’ Itskowitch said. “From the smaller promoters, like Aaron Jacobs in Florida and Jimmy Burchfield in New England, to the biggest ones. Can it lead to something? I don’t know but the sentiment was there. Everybody has the same problems, just on different scales. People realize something needs to be done. We all sat in a room and didn’t rip each others’ heads off. There wasn’t much ill will in the room. That’s a big first step.’’

The question is, toward what?

Articles of 2009

UFC 108 Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva

David A. Avila

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Former champion Rashad Evans meets Brazil’s venerable Thiago Silva in a non-title belt that can lead to a return match with the current champ, but first things first.

Evans (15-1-1) and Silva (14-1) meet in Ultimate Fighting Championship 108 in a light heavyweight bout on Saturday Jan. 2, at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. A win by either fighter could result in a world title bid. The fight card is being shown on pay-per-view television.

Events can change quickly in the Octagon and anybody can beat anybody in the 205-pound weight division. Just ask Silva or Evans.

Silva and Evans are both experienced and can vouch firsthand about the capriciousness of fighting in MMA and especially as a light heavyweight. On one day this man can beat that man and on another day, that man can beat this man. It can make you absolutely daffy.

Evans, 30, is the former UFC light heavyweight world champion who only defended his title on one occasion and lost by vicious knockout to current champion Lyoto Machida of Brazil. It’s the only defeat on his record.

Silva, 27, is a well-rounded MMA fighter from Sao Paolo, Brazil who is versed in jujitsu, Muy Thai and boxing. He can end a fight quickly in a choke hold just as easily as with a kick or a punch. His only loss came to who else: Machida.

Evans and Silva know a win can push open the door to a rematch with current UFC light heavyweight champion Machida.

“A win against Rashad would put me in the track against Lyoto,” said Silva, in a telephone conference call. “That's what – what I want to do.”

When Silva fought Machida the two Brazilians were both undefeated and feared in the MMA world. The fight took place in Las Vegas and with one second remaining in the first round a perfectly timed punch knocked Silva unconscious.

“I was humbled big time, man,” says Silva who fought Machida in January 2009. “I learned a lot from that fight.  I think I can correct the mistakes from that fight, not overlooking anything else right now, but just I want to get the chance to fight him again.”

For Evans it was a different circumstance. The upstate New Yorker held the UFC title and was defending it after stopping then champion Forrest Griffin by knockout. Still, many felt Machida was far too technically versed. Evans was stopped brutally in the second round.

“I've made it a point to not – to not get distracted on what I want to do, because you know Thiago (Silva) is a very hungry fighter,” said Evans who has not fought since losing the title to Machida last May. “My focus is just on Thiago so much.  You know I don't want to overlook him, you know, not even a little bit.”

Dana White, president of UFC, says the winner of this fight could conceivably fight Machida in the near future. Evans and especially Silva are motivated by the open window.

“I learned a lot from that fight. I think I can correct the mistakes from that fight,” says Silva. “Not overlooking anything else right now, but I just want to get the chance to fight him again.”

What a prize. The winner gets to face the man who beat him: Machida.

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Articles of 2009

No One Is Leaving This Stage Of Negotiations Looking GOLDEN

George Kimball

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Early in his political career, the young Lyndon Baines Johnson served as a congressional aide to Rep. Richard Kleberg, the wealthy owner of the King Ranch who was elected to seven consecutive terms in the House of Representatives, at least in part because he often ran unopposed.

One year an upstart rival politician we'll call Joe Bob had the temerity to challenge Kleberg in the Democratic primary, resulting in the convocation of the Texas congressman's staff to plot an election strategy. Several ideas were kicked around before Kleberg himself came up with a brainstorm.

“Why don't we start a rumor that he [copulates with] sheep?” proposed the politician.

This was a bit over the top, even for Lyndon Johnson. The future president leapt to his feet and said, incredulously, “But you know Joe Bob don't [copulate with] sheep!”

“Yeah,” replied the congressman, “but watch what happens when the son of a bitch has to stand up and deny it!”

******

Events of the past week or two have seen the Floyd Mayweather camp adopt a similar tactic with regard to Manny Pacquiao.  But if introducing what would appear to be a red-herring issue — the debate over drug-testing procedures — to the negotiating process was intended as a negotiating ploy, it would appear for the moment to have backfired.  The idea might have been to force Pacquiao to go on the defensive, but Pac-Man instead responded with his stock in trade, the counterpunch — in this case the multi-million dollar defamation suit he filed against the Mayweathers, pere et fils,, with the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

In boxing even more than in life, you never say never, but you'd have to say that Pacquiao-Mayweather is a dead issue right now, at least in its March 13 incarnation. Bob Arum says Pacquiao is prepared to move along to another opponent, and Mayweather is supposedly looking at Matthew Hatton in England.

We'll believe that when we see it, for at least three reasons: (1) There would hardly seem to be enough money in that one to make it worth Floyd's time, (2) He's going to have to put so much into preparing a defense to this lawsuit that he mightn't have time to train and (3) He'd get a better workout if he stayed in Vegas and boxed one of Uncle Roger's girl opponents.

*****

Colleagues on this site have already done a good job of dissecting this process. Ron Borges is absolutely correct in noting that in the midst of all the posturing that's gone on, you'd be a fool to accept at face value anything coming out of any of the parties' mouths. And Frank Lotierzo is spot on in noting that if you had absolutely no desire to actually get in the ring with Manny Pacquiao but were still looking to save face, you'd do pretty much exactly what Mayweather has done. Which is to say, talk tough while you get others to run interference with a series of actions seemingly calculated to ensure that the fight doesn't come off.

But left almost unscathed in all of this heretofore has been the convoluted role played by Golden Boy — by CEO Richard Schaefer, by the company's namesake Oscar the Blogger, GBP's subsidiary enterprise, The Ring, and at least a few of the lap-dogs and lackeys whose favor GPB has cultivated elsewhere in the media.

In late March of 2008, Shane Mosley and Zab Judah appeared at a New York press conference to announce a fight between them in Las Vegas two months later. As it happened, the BALCO trial had gotten underway out in California that week. That day I sat with Judah and his attorney Richard Shinefield as they explained that they intended to ask that both boxers agree to blood testing in the runup to the fight. Citing Mosley's history with BALCO and its products The Cream and The Clear (which Shane claimed Victor Conte had slipped him when he wasn't looking), Shinefield and Zab, noting that Nevada drug tests were limited to urinalysis, proposed that the supplementary tests be administered by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Want to know what Richard Schaefer's response to that was?

“Whatever tests [the NSAC] wants them to take, we will submit to, but we are not going to do other tests than the Nevada commission requires,” said Schaefer. “The fact is, Shane is not a cheater and he does not need to be treated like one.”

But the fact is that Mosley had a confirmed history as a cheater. Manny Pacquiao does not. Yet in the absence of a scintilla of evidence or probable cause, less than two years later Schaefer was howling that the very integrity of the sport would be at risk unless Pacquiao submitted to precisely the same sort of testing he had rejected for Mosley.

And you thought it was Arum who was famous for saying “Yeah, but yesterday I was lying. Today I'm telling the truth!”

Schaefer, by the way, defended his 180-degree turnabout by saying he is now better educated on the issue. He couldn't resist aiming a harpoon at the media by adding that many sportswriters “don't know the difference between blood and urine testing.”

Don't know how to break this to you, Richard, but sportswriters, who have had to deal with this stuff for the past twenty years, probably know more about drug-testing procedures than any other group you could name.

*****

Now, the reasonable assumption would be that by assuming the role of the point man in this unseemly mess, Schaefer was insulating his boss (De La Hoya) and his fighter (PBF) by keeping their fingerprints off it while he made a fool of himself publicly conducting this snide little campaign.  

And yes, Money would have stayed out of the line of fire had not a two-month old, expletive-filled rant in which he described the Philippines as the world's foremost producer of performance-enhancing drugs not exploded on the internet at the most inopportune moment. That the lawsuit was filed less than 24 hours after “Floyd Meets the Rugged Man” overtook the Tiger Watch probably wasn't a coincidence.

And we're assuming that this Dan Petrocelli, the lawyer who filed Pacquiao's suit, knows what he's doing, because if there were an even one-zillionth chance that somebody could credibly link Manny to PEDs, then it was a pretty dumb thing to do. You could ask Roger Clemens about that.  Clemens' transformation from Hall of Famer-in-waiting to nationwide laughingstock didn't come from the Mitchell Report. It came from his wrongheaded decision to file a lawsuit against Brian McNamee, which in turn threw everything open to the discovery process.

*****

De La Hoya, in the meantime, was playing both sides of the fence. He let Schaefer play Bad Cop as he distanced himself from the negotiating process, but simultaneously was sniping away at Pacquiao from his First Amendment-protected perch as a Ring.com blogger.

“If Pacquiao, the toughest guy on the planet, is afraid of needles and having a few tablespoons of blood drawn from his system, then something is wrong…  I'm just saying that now people have to wonder: 'Why doesn't he want to do this?' Why is [blood testing] such a big deal?' wrote Oscar the Blogger. “A lot of eyebrows have been raised. And this is not good.”

Ask yourself this: Exactly what caused those eyebrows to be raised, other than the innuendo coming straight from Oscar's company?

Providing De La Hoya with a forum from which to dispense propaganda  only begins to illustrate the hopelessly compromised position from which The Ring continues to operate. They might as well give Schaefer a column, too, while they're at it.

Nearly seven months have elapsed since we last visited the Ring/Golden Boy relationship, and at the risk of winding Nigel up, it might be useful here to note that in the midst of last June's discourse, The Ring's editor offered a laundry list of the magazine's covers since the De La Hoya takeover as a demonstration of Golden Boy's restraint.

After listing them, Nigel Collins wrote “that's 28 covers over the course of 21 issues, of which Top Rank had 12 fighters, as opposed to eight for Golden Boy and eight for other promotional entities. Obviously, The Ring has shown no bias to Golden Boy when it comes to magazine covers.”

It had never even been suggested that the conflict of interest extended to the magazine playing favorites in choosing its cover subjects, but since Nigel brought it up it is probably worth noting now that of those eight covers given over to “other promotional entities,” two were of David Haye, whose promoter was properly listed as “Hayemaker,” but who had also signed a promotional deal with Golden Boy in May of 2008. (Just last month GBP issued a release in De La Hoya's name in which it described itself as “Golden Boy Promotions, the United States promoter of World Boxing Association Heavyweight World Champion David Haye.”)

And even more to the point, in four other issues Nigel Collins offered in evidence the cover subject was Floyd Mayweather (Independent), although what has transpired with regard to the Pacquiao fight doesn't make Money look very independent at all, does it?

We don't regularly keep track of these things, but in making sure we didn't misquote  Oscar's Blog we also came across a representation of the January 2010 issue on The Ring's website.  The picture on the cover of the Bible of Boxing is of the Golden Boy himself, and the cover story “De La Hoya: The Retirement Interview.”

Wow! Now there's a hot topic for crusading journalists.

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Articles of 2009

Paul Malignaggi Explains Why He Thinks Manny Has Used PEDs

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In theory and in practice I am vehemently opposed to people tossing out unfounded allegations against someone. Supply evidence, then we can talk. But saying someone is using steroids, or EPO, or HGH, based on a theory, or your gut instinct….I have to consider, what if the allegation were thrown at me, and I was 100% innocent. I'd be mightily irked. And so too would you be.

Manny Pacquaio has been hammered from all sides with folks insinuating and coming right out with the contention that they think he's been cheating, that he's been using illegal performance enhancers to give him an edge in competition. Floyd Mayweather Sr, Paulie Malignaggi, Miguel Cotto and Kermit Cintron have either accused Manny, or insinuated that he's been using PEDs. One has to wonder, where's all this smoke coming from? Is it possible that there's fire lurking? That these folks aren't just lobbing unfounded barbs at Manny, that their allegations and hints aren't just sour grapes, or posturing, or a ploy to lure Manny into a fight?

By and large, there hasn't been much in the way of coverage from the standpoint of: what if Manny is using PEDs, or was using PEDs? I think that is rightly so; I'd be more comfortable if none of us trafficked in the innuendo and speculation, and worked within the realm of evidence, and facts. But it's out there, and a topic of conversation and speculation. Perhaps it's a symptom and sign of the times we live in…

TSS reached out to Malignaggi, just off a solid win in his Dec. 12 rematch with Juan Diaz. The Brooklyn-based pugilist has never been shy about speaking his peace (I picture him exiting his mom's womb and barking at the labor and delivery crew to get the room cleaned up, stat!), and he shared with TSS what he bases his allegations, which he's careful to label opinion, upon.

First off, Malignaggi is of the belief that if the Pacquiao-Mayweather negotiations are at a fatal impasse, Yuri Foreman, and not he, will get the coveted date with Pacquiao. Malignaggi has been mentioned as stand-in for Mayweather.

He started off by insisting that ” I have nothing against Pacquiao” but then went from mellow to madman in a 30 second span.

First off, the boxer wonders why Team Pacquiao isn't going after big-time newspapers, with deep pocketed owners, for libel, for insinuating that Pacquiao is drug cheat.

“If Pacquiao's so sue happy, why not sue the New York Daily News?” he asked. “Maybe they know the steroid allegations are true.”

By and large, Malignaggi thinks it is impossible, utterly impossible, for a boxer to put on 15 or more pounds between March 15, 2008, when he fought Juan Manuel Marquez and weighed 129 pounds at the weigh in, and Nov. 14, 2009 when he fought Miguel Cotto and was 144 pounds at the weigh in, and more on fight night.

“It's not natural looking,” Malignaggi said. But, I countered, what if Manny's supremely blessed, that unlike some other fighters who go up in weight, and look a bit bloated, and lack definition, he's just a special creature?

“He's not supremely blessed,” Maliganngi said. “I know body builders. They can't put on 17 or whatever pounds of muscle in a year. It's not doable, in my opinion. These are my speculations, my opinions based on certain factual evidence. Does his weight gain look normal to you? And his head looks like it has blown up in size, too.”

I offered to Malignaggi that perhaps we should be attacking the system, if we believe it to be lacking, rather than the individual.

“We can blame the system a little bit, but if you were Manny, wouldn't you want to leave no doubt? Or speculation?” said Maliganngi, who believes that by not agreeing to the terms set forth by Team Mayweather, and opposing a blood test within 30 days of the bout, Pacquaio appears guilty.

Pacquiao has agreed to take 3 blood tests: the first during the week of the kickoff news conference in early January, the second random test to be conducted no later than 30 days before the fight, and a final test after the bout. A video making the rounds from the HBO 24/7 series shows Pacquiao submitting to a blood test two or three weeks before he was due to fight Ricky Hatton, and that has cast doubt on Team Pacquiao's stance that Manny is disinclined to get a blood test too close to a bout, for fear he may be weakened. Originally, it was reported in error that that test was taken 14 days before the Hatton bout, but subsequent reports pegged the test as being taken 24 days before the scrap. Malignaggi feels Pacquiao has been caught lying, that the report from Team Pacquiao that he “has difficulty taking blood” is a cover story. “Why is he effing lying?” Malignaggi said, heatedly.

The New Yorker doesn't believe too many fighters in the lighter weight classes are using PEDs, but thinks usage isn't uncommon in the heavyweight division. “That's hard to do and make weight,” he said.

The question is asked of Malignaggi: why does the issue make him so steamed?

“I don't like cheaters,” he said. “This is not baseball. You're not just hitting home runs. You have to worry about peoples' lives. Miguel Cotto in my opinion has been beaten by two cheaters. Manny if he's cheating is taking away from guys who are doing things the right way. His team is reneging on their words.”

And what if you're wrong, Malignaggi? What if Manny is clean, and you are hurting his rep with these allegations?

“I bet everything I own that I'm not,” he said. “But we'll never find out. Hey, I would take the test in a heartbeat. I would want people to know I'm clean. He wants to leave doubts!?? His entire legacy is being questioned, he's willing to hurt his legacy and leave $40 million on the table?”

Maliganngi, after reminding TSS that he was correct in predicting he'd be gamed by judges in the first fight with Diaz, insisted that he isn't singling out Pacquiao for a personal vendetta. “”I've never had anything against him. But that's enough now. I call it like I see it.”

What about those who'd say he's just trying to anger Pacquiao, to lure him into a fight?

“No. I expected he'd take the random tests to get this fight. No way I thought he'd throw away everything. That blew me away. It was cool to have my name mentioned.”

Malignaggi thinks the boxing media has dropped the ball, and not exercised due diligence in examining the possibility that Manny has used PEDs.

“I understand most people like Manny, and not Floyd. Just cause that's the case doesn't mean Manny might not be cheating. It's nothing to do with him personally. But I call a spade a spade. Too many people avoid the possibilities because Manny's a likable person. He's got that front, his country loves him. That front works like crazy. Floyd plays the bad guy, but he's natural. Just don't downplay the fact that Manny might be cheating. You have to open your eyes and at least be willing to look at it. This is bigger than me. The fact that the fight is not being made, you have to question the integrity of Pacquiao.”

Malignaggi then offered an analogy to the Manny-refusing-to-be-subjected-to multiple-random-drug-tests prior-to-a-fight-with-Mayweather deal. “It reminds me of the drunk guy who's pulled over at 3 AM. He has a field sobriety test, the cop knows he's drunk, he looks and acts drunk. But he refuses a breathalyzer test. That don't mean the cop don't haul him to the police station.”

I reiterate…I don't think anyone should be casting aspersions based on circumstantial evidence. But with so many people ganging up on Manny, I think fight fans are owed some details on why people are accusing Pacman of using PEDs.

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