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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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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:

 

YEARBOXERSTESTS
2010216
2011229
20129113
201311181
201428310
201535446
201616171
201712105
2018 thru 8/2213130
TOTAL1281,501

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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Khalid Yafai and Roman Gonzalez Meet at the Crossroads in Texas

Matt McGrain

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While the big sell from this weekend’s Texas card is unquestionably the Mikey Garcia-Jessie Vargas fight, it is the chief support from the undercard that most intrigues. The veteran and former pound-for-pound king Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, unquestionably sliding down from a very high peak, meets Kal Yafai, a belt-holder but one who treads the foothills. It is as clearly defined as a crossroads fight can be.

Yafai, a good-looking and clear-spoken British fighter of Yemeni extraction, came to prominence in a genuinely exceptional performance against another veteran in Luis Concepcion, a storied and seasoned fighter who he completely outclassed over twelve in late 2016. Since, he has taken the traditional path of an inexperienced fighter who has come by an alphabet trinket, meeting a series of fringe and borderline contenders in mandatory contests against opponents of moderate status. And to be fair to him, for the most part he has looked the part.

For the most part.

Fleet-footed and armed with a very fine jab, Yafai has added, at contendership level, a whistling lead right that complements a rather lovely left hook to the body. On Saturday he is to be presented with something a little different.

Roman Gonzalez has made a living out of forcing tactical errors and overwhelming ignoring tactical acumen both, punishing opposition planning, whether good or bad. There has been perhaps nobody in my lifetime in boxing so adept at turning a fighter’s own style against him. When fighters ran from him, he bulldozed them with momentum. When fighters stood with him, he out-hit them with some of the most succinct and brutal combination punching in the sport; he kept company, at his absolute apex, with Manny Pacquiao. When fighters box-punched or mixed styles it was he who suddenly seemed fluid rather than wrought.

Roman, for a spell, was the best fighter in the world, one of the finest sportsmen on his continent and a national hero to his Nicaraguan people. Then, and very nearly all at once, it all came clattering down.

I’m aware it’s irritating when boxing writers congratulate themselves on their own predictions, but this one is worth it I think: years before Roman was thought of by what we’ll call the mainstream boxing press, I predicted that he would be a future pound-for-pound number one, but I also predicted that his eventual downfall would be at the hands of an aggressive southpaw, perhaps up at 115lbs. A decade later, Roman’s fantastic multi-divisional reign was brought to a juddering halt by aggressive southpaw superfly Wisaksil Wangek (aka Srisaket Sor Rungvisai).

Another thing I predicted at that time: for Roman Gonzalez, there would be no meaningful second act.

All these years later that sense has deepened as Roman began to find himself rendered upon the wrong side of history. Nicaraguan politics has and will remain beyond the auspices of The Sweet Science – for all that I credit our readership with an attention span above and beyond the 2020 median, there is a limit. Suffice to say that his personal problems have rather dwarfed his professional ones.

He did come back though, a whole year after his loss to Wangek and looked competent if a little puffy at what is a heavy weight division for him, ten pounds north of the 105lbs he cut his teeth in.  The victim was Moises Fuentes and I wrote of that fight that while Roman was “perhaps not quite back, [he was] certainly warming up…and if the division isn’t trembling, it can at least be said to have thrown a quick look over its shoulder.”

If the division did look, and then looked again, it eventually just went about its business as Roman’s fight camp was once again enveloped in silence. A year passed and after a brief tune-up in a glorified exhibition it was announced that he would duel old foe and world champion Juan Francisco Estrada who gave Roman perhaps his toughest fight of his prime years. It was a thrilling proposition, so when Estrada withdrew with an injury, I was miserable. Then Kal Yafai stepped in.

Yafai, ranked the #4 superfly (behind a devastating line up of kingpin Estrada, Wangek, Kazuto Ioka and Jerwin Ancajas), has always been the fight I most wanted Roman, who is ranked #5, to take. It’s a winnable contest for both with a fascinating undertone of the generational clash despite the fact that Yafai, at thirty, is actually only two years younger than Roman. Their respective records of 26-0 and 48-2 tell the true story.

History says we favor the fresher man in this situation, but there are other factors at play here. As stated, Yafai, who himself names this the fight he most desires, has mostly looked the part against ostensibly weaker opposition, and he has. But in late 2018 he had a scare, against Israel Gonzalez out in Monte Carlo. Israel was underrated by the WBA who named him the #14 contender to Yafai’s title making him both a valid defense and a supposed soft touch, an interesting insight into both the failings of an alphabet ranking organization and the complacency such failings can bring. Yafai, perhaps, did not pay Israel the respect he deserved.

What most struck about Yafai’s performance in the first half of that fight, in an underwhelming venue before a small, underwhelmed audience, is how it drifted. He “did boxing”. He moved; he threw his hands; but he appeared to have no underpinning strategy with which to carve out his victory.

He looked more purposeful in the middle to late rounds but continued to absorb punches to the body at a surprising rate though at least in support of a concrete plan, using his jab to bring him inside. Watching this fight of two halves, I felt sure Roman would have his number if ever the two should meet.

Boxing without a concrete plan against Roman Gonzalez is like sitting on your front lawn in a deckchair during clement weather and waiting for lightning to strike: both stupid and pointless.  Even men who have arrived in his ring with detailed accountancy for what they want to do in every minute of the round, world class fighters like Akira Yaegashi and Francisco Rodriguez, have struggled. Men who approach the fight seeking to riff adaptions have been mercilessly butchered.

There is no question of Yafai approaching Roman Gonzalez as casually as he approached Israel Gonzalez but watching him follow Israel around the ring I was struck by his lack of a defining identity, something denied him, perhaps, by a defining fight. This clash is a defining fight but is it possible it comes too soon for Yafai?

This is arguable, though in honesty it is only arguable due to the stage of his career at which Roman finds himself. He’s older now and has suffered at the hands both of savage southpaws, and life. He wears both markers on his face. He is a hangdog version of the youthful warrior that crashed through four divisions in the past fifteen years; still dangerous, still strong, but notably smaller than his natural superfly opponent and notably slower than his 2010 self.  Yafai, meanwhile, is faster of jab (if not of combination) than Gonzalez ever was and has the feet to at least survive the juggernaut that was “Chocolatitito” best-for-best.

A Yafai victory would be best for boxing. That is undeniable. Even if Gonzalez winds it back, he can’t go on much longer.

And I don’t think he will wind it back; but I will predict he will win, not in a stretching of the years but in a straight-up mugging of a marginally superior opponent. Worn-down fighters have been worn by punches. Those punches teach hard lessons. I don’t think Roman has the power at the poundage to deliver a knockout, but I think he has the experience to steal enough rounds on the scorecards to poach a decision.

A late fade might exclude him, but a victory for the older, smaller, slower man is this slower, older writer’s prediction.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 87: Vergil Ortiz and Company and More Fight Notes

David A. Avila

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LOS ANGELES-Not long ago Vergil Ortiz Jr. and female prizefighter Seniesa Estrada were busting heads in a downtown theater that barely fit 400 people if the fire inspector looked the other way.

Next month, Ortiz and Estrada will be co-headlining a Golden Boy Promotions boxing card at the Inglewood Forum that seats more than 18,000.

A lot has changed for the two highly-ranked contenders.

Ortiz (15-0, 15 KOs) defends the WBA Gold welterweight title against Samuel Vargas (31-5-2, 14 KOs) in the main event on March 28 at the spacious arena built in the 1960s. In the female co-main East L.A.’s Estrada (18-0, 7 KOs) fights Mexico’s Jackie Calvo (12-5-2) in defense of a regional title.

From prelims to world title chasers in a matter of two years, the ascent of the two highly-ranked contenders was mercurial.

It was less than two years ago the Dallas area product battered former world champion Juan Carlos Salgado at Belasco Theater. At the time few were certain that the slender built Ortiz was ready for the big tent. He was more than ready and blew out Salgado like Dollar Store candles.

Now it’s merely a matter of time before he gets a crack at one of the welterweight world champions. It’s a talent rich division with the likes of Terence Crawford, Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter and Errol Spence Jr.

“I don’t think I’m the most talented fighter in the room, but I do know that I work the hardest in the game right now,” said Ortiz, 21, who has never won by decision in his professional career. It’s been pure knockouts.

Vargas, a veteran of 38 pro bouts, has faced many of the top welterweights in the world today including Errol Spence Jr. Amir Khan, and Danny Garcia.

“I’ve fought a lot of talented boxers and have had great experiences throughout the years,” said Vargas who trains in Las Vegas with Clarence “Bones” Adams. “I’m confident and I’m ready.”

It’s a talent-rich boxing card featuring many prospects and contenders including super bantamweight Azat “Crazy A” Hovhannisyan (18-3, 15 KOs) who fights Colombia’s Jose Sanmartin (30-5-1, 20 KOs).

“I’m as ready for any champion. I’m in the best shape and have the best trainer,” said Hovhannisyan who is trained by Freddie Roach. “I can’t wait to show everyone a wonderful fight on March 28.”

Another prospect featured on the card, Aaron “The Silencer” McKenna (10-0, 6 KOs) of Ireland, meets Mexico’s Christopher Degollado (13-6, 10 KOs) in a super welterweight clash set for eight rounds.

McKenna has adapted to the pro style after a successful amateur career and also adapted to Southern California living.

“I’ve been here a few years now,” said McKenna who also trains with Freddie Roach. “I have an aggressive style that Mexican fans like.”

Others on the card are Pablo Cano, Rashidi Ellis, Christopher Pearson, Chris Ousley and Raul Curiel. It’s a pretty strong fight lineup.

“There’s a lot of great boxing history at the forum. A lot of famous world champions have fought at this venue, including Oscar De La Hoya, who made his debut back in 1992,” said Eric Gomez, the president of Golden Boy Promotions. “This is a great card and all these fights are going to be exciting, especially Vergil Ortiz Jr.”

It’s always fun to see prospects turn to contenders and then on to champions.

Showtime in Las Vegas

A hefty card in Las Vegas by Mayweather Promotions takes place on Friday Feb. 28, at Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall in Las Vegas. Showtime will televise several of the main bouts.

Super lightweight prospect Keith Hunter (11-0, 7 KOs) meets Uzbekistan’s Sanjarbek Rakhmanov (12-2, 6 KOs) in a rematch of a fight that ended in a split decision. Hunter won.

After the close win, Hunter then defeated always tough Cameron Krael by unanimous decision in a 10-round fight. Now he returns to face Rakhmanov again. It should be a firefight.

It’s a very good boxing card that includes super middleweight Kevin Newman II, Ladarius Miller, and Lanell Bellows.

Burbank

This Saturday, Feb. 29, a boxing card called “Valley Fight Night” features a dozen bouts by Bash Boxing at the Burbank Marriott Events Center in Burbank, California.

Heading the boxing card will be popular welterweight Vlad Panin (7-0) facing Moises Fuentes (4-1). Several other undefeated prospects fill the event calendar including welterweight Aram Amirkhanyan.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and information go to www.Bashboxing.com

Fights to Watch

Fri. Showtime 10:45 p.m. – Keith Hunter (11-0) vs Sanjarbek Rakhmanov (12-2).

Fri. Telemundo 11:35 p.m. – Yomar Alamo (17-0-1) vs Kendo Castaneda (17-0).

Sat. DAZN  5 p.m. – Mikey Garcia (39-1) vs Jessie Vargas (29-2-2); Roman Gonzalez (48-2) vs Khalid Yafai (26-0); Julio Cesar Martinez (15-1) vs Jay Harris (17-0).

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Final Takeaways from Wilder-Fury and a Doleful Dissertation on Riddick Bowe

Arne K. Lang

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Final Takeaways from Wilder-Fury and a Doleful Dissertation on Riddick Bowe

I watched the Wilder-Fury fight from the cheap seats. Actually, I had no seat at all.

My press badge consigned me to the so-called auxiliary press section which was up in the rafters. One can’t work in that environment. There’s no table on which to plop one’s laptop; no power strip to keep it plugged in. And so, I watched the full undercard on the big TV in the press room and then went into the arena to catch the main go and the hoopla that preceded it.

The corridors leading into the arena were jammed with people hoping to score a ticket at the last minute. They were out of luck. The fight was a sellout. It was gridlock and for a moment I feared that the main event would start without me, but I managed to push my way through in time for the ring walks.

The arena was dark and it seemed that every seat in my assigned area was taken. And so, I walked up to the very top of the stairs and stood with my back against the wall, wedged in between two other standees including a friendly guy from New Zealand who, like me, had a press badge dangling from a chain around his neck.

From a reporter’s standpoint, there are certain benefits to being up in the rafters when the house is full. For one, you can get a better feel for the ambience. A boxing crowd skews younger and more boozed-up as one gets higher up in the stands and this translates into more exuberance. And that’s especially true when there are a lot of Brits in the house. They chant and sing in unison. Us poor Yanks just don’t know how to have so much fun.

I’m old school when it comes to ring walks. Spare me the razzmatazz. Mike Tyson didn’t need it. No fancy robe for him, nor tasseled trunks, not even socks. And yet when he walked down the aisle with a simple white towel draped over his bare shoulders, he exuded charisma.

And then, on Saturday, Tyson Fury was carried into the ring on a throne, dressed like a king with a big crown on his head as the PA system played Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” and, I’m forced to admit, it was magical. Talk about a tough act to follow.

I’ve seen boxers walk into the ring with fear unmistakably etched on their countenance as if they were walking to the gallows. Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon could not mask that “tell” when they fought Mike Tyson. More often, a boxer’s expression on his ring walk is inscrutable which I suspect is a way of compensating for his anxiety.

What struck me about Tyson Fury’s ring entrance was that it betrayed no such apprehension; to the contrary, he oozed confidence as if this were nothing more than a tune-up fight. I swear, he looked like a chap who was headed off to a Halloween ball and had stopped for a few pints on the way to get a head start on the jollity. I couldn’t pick a winner in this fight, tilted toward Wilder, but as I watched Tyson Fury’s ring walk, I sensed that I had missed a great opportunity by failing to get down a wager on the Gypsy King.

Many years ago, when I was first credentialed for a fight (Larry Holmes vs. Tim Witherspoon was the headliner), they planted me in the third row. Since returning to boxing after a decade in which I busied myself writing college football annuals and such, it seems as if my career is in reverse gear. The next time there’s a really big fight in town, I may be consigned to the corridor with all those folks effectively left out in the rain.

Oh, well, it’s been a fun ride.

—-

Prior to the ring walks, three great heavyweight champions of recent vintage – Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, and Mike Tyson – were honored in the ring. Conspicuous by his absence was Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe, a 1990s-era contemporary.

royalty

Granted, this ceremony was the handiwork of WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman who presented each of the honorees with a medal and Riddick Bowe was no friend of the WBC. In 1992, he famously dumped his WBC world title belt in the trash rather than comply with the organization’s mandate that he fight top contender Lennox Lewis. But Bowe, whose lone setback in 45 pro fights came in chapter two of a storied trilogy with Holyfield, was no less formidable at his peak than the other three.

Having said that, it was better that he wasn’t included. His presence would have put a damper on the proceedings.

At age 52, Riddick Bowe is younger than Tyson, Holyfield, or Lewis. But in terms of how far he has slipped since his fighting days, he’s a lot older. Making his story more discouraging, he believes that he can still compete at a high level and actually has a manager out there banging the drums on his behalf.

Bowe’s last meaningful fight was way back in 1996 when he fought the second of back-to-back fights with Andrew Golota. After those two unruly scrums, he was inactive for almost eight full years. During this period, he joined the U.S. Marines but was discharged after only 11 days and served 17 months in prison for interstate domestic violence and kidnapping after a bizarre attempt to repair his fractured relationship with his wife Judy and their five children.

Bowe returned to boxing after his long absence and had three more fights, the last of which transpired in December of 2008 when he won an 8-round decision over a third-rater in Germany. More recently, he tried his hand at Muay Thai. On June 14, 2013, carrying 300 pounds on his flabby frame, he was stopped in the second round on a show in Thailand in which he failed to land a single blow, whether a punch or a kick. ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who watched the fight on YouTube, wrote that anyone who watched it “saw an old man with no remaining discernible skills.”

Bowe never transcended the sport like Tyson or Holyfield in large part because of his limited vocabulary. Of course, he never had a chance to develop that vocabulary because his loquacious manager Rock Newman insisted on doing all the talking. And now it appears that history has repeated. By all accounts, Bowe’s new manager is cut from the same mold. Meet Eli Karabell.

On his web site, Eli Karabell, a fellow in his early 20’s, informs us that he is a “Businessman, Investor, Public Servant, Innovator, Community Leader, Entrepreneur, Politician, Social Activist and President and CEO of the American Boxing Association, a post to which he was appointed (presumably by himself). In his hometown of St. Louis, he is quite the gadfly. According to an article in the Jan. 20, 2018 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Karabell antagonized former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens to such an extent that Greitens’ press secretary had to block his calls.

Since Nov. 23, a certain web site that we won’t name has run five ‘EXCLUSIVE’ stories quoting Karabell about Riddick Bowe’s comeback. In an early story, Karabell said, “I believe Mr. Bowe is the best fighter in the heavyweight division right now, bare none.” As for Bowe beginning his comeback with exhibitions, Karabell said that what he had in mind for him was proceeding directly into a series of 12-round fights.

More recently, Karabell expressed his frustration about failing to induce a top promoter into helping him facilitate Bowe’s comeback. Regarding Eddie Hearn, he said, “He has not read the contract (we sent him), will not respond to our offer and we believe he is trying to obstruct the process.”

Why wouldn’t he? In the immediate aftermath of his second fight with Andrew Golota, Bowe was slurring his words. During the trial that sent him to prison, Bowe’s attorneys argued that his conduct resulted from brain damage. A forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Neil Blumberg, testified that Bowe had suffered irreversible damage to the frontal lobe in his brain. More recently, a New York Times story by Alex Vadukul, published in 2015 – the year that Riddick Bowe was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame – noted that his voice “had warped into a slur.”

The nicest thing we can say about Eli Karabell is that he is pixilated. We have nothing nice to say about anyone in the boxing media who would give him a soapbox.

MGM Grand Garden photo compliments of Joe Santoliquito

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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