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`Big Baby’ Mess is Proof of Bigger PEDs Problem Than Most Would Care to Admit

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Big Baby

And then there were 71 … or maybe 710, if the alarmists are to be believed.

With the three positive tests that have served to knock Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller out of his scheduled June 1 challenge of IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden – hopefully, we won’t see Miller in any bout for the foreseeable future – the ugly head of performance-enhancing drugs has again arisen in boxing. Until more drastic steps are taken to correct the problem, such as longer suspensions, hefty fines and even permanent expulsion, cheaters who think they can get away with creating an edge for themselves through chemistry will forever conspire to erode the public’s faith in the notion of legitimate, unsullied competition in the ring.

Almost as disturbing as Miller’s flagrant flouting of the rules of boxing, as well as of common decency – hey, it’s hard to argue that a mistake was made when you test dirty three times in quick succession, and for three different banned substances – is the fact that another certified PEDs violator, Manuel Charr, was quick to nominate himself as the most logical available candidate for replace “Big Baby” in the corner opposite Joshua six weeks hence.

“I have been training since January,” the 37-year-old Charr (31-4, 17 KOs) said when his hoped-for window of opportunity opened after Miller’s boxing license was pulled by the New York State Athletic Commission, itself hardly a bastion of competence and integrity. “I was tested by VADA and can prove that I am clean. I am ready, willing and able to challenge Joshua on June 1 at the Garden.”

But, to my way of thinking, Charr’s claims to have scrubbed off any lingering taint from his recent PEDs past is coming too soon to merit consideration for a high-interest, well-paying (Miller was to make a career-high $4.875 million for the dream shot he may never get again) gig against Joshua. It was barely a year ago that Charr, just a few days before a scheduled fight for the “regular” WBA championship against the aged Fres Oquendo in September 2018, tested positive for Drostanolone and Trenbolone, both banned substances. The fight was called off, and rightly so. If the powers that be were truly serious about eradicating the PEDs problem, a dirty fighter would not be in the mix for a world title bout, and maybe any fight, little more than a year after twice testing positive.

To determine to my own satisfaction how deep the issue goes, I did an Internet search to find out how many fighters had worn or are wearing the scarlet letter “D” for drug violations. The criteria for such a designation is four-fold: 1. Fighters who had been suspended by a sporting body (an international governing body, a national federation or a professional league) for illegal PEDs and/or banned drug use; 2. Publicly admitted such use; 3. Been found to have taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs by a court of law; 4. Been suspended by a sporting body for failure to submit to mandatory drug testing.

There are now 71 names on the list of fighters who met one or more of criteria, 18 of whom are heavyweights. But it’s not just the number of miscreants that is disturbing; it’s the level of their achievement in the sport that casts a long shadow not only in the here and now, but into the future. With the addition of Miller, the Who’s Who of tainted heavyweights includes Evander Holyfield, Vitali Klitschko, Tyson Fury, Tommy Morrison, Francois Botha, Roy Jones Jr. (OK, so he had only one fight as a heavyweight, but it was for a world title and he won), James Toney, Shannon Briggs, Chris Arreola, Alexander Povetkin, Luis Ortiz, Dillian Whyte, Jameel McCline, Bermane Stiverne, Erkan Teper, Mariusz Wach and Andrzej Wawrzyk.

That’s quite a group. It features eight fighters who were heavyweight champions, six more who fought for the title and still another, Miller, who was to have fought for the title until he got caught, in a manner of speaking, holding a dripping syringe.

Boxing greatness, of course, is much harder to tarnish that than in baseball, where Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro have been denied induction into their sport’s Hall of Fame because of proven or even widely suspected PEDs use. Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson also have been denied enshrinement in Cooperstown, N.Y., because of gambling, a vice, including the throwing of fixed fights, that hasn’t kept several standout fighters out of Cooperstown’s equivalent place of honor in Canastota, N.Y. Holyfield and Vitali Klitscko have plaques hanging in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and Jones and Toney almost certainly will have theirs on those hallowed walls as soon as they become eligible, with Fury also a strong candidate for eventually getting there.

But it isn’t the names of fighters who have been associated with PEDs that is as much a concern as the names of countless others that might have crossed over onto the dark side and never been caught. Consider some downright scary numbers. On Sept. 7 on this website, Thomas Hauser authored a story entitled 1,501 Tests, One Reported Positive? What’s Going On With USADA and Boxing? By comparison, Dr. Margaret Goodman, president of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA), reported that close to 4 percent of the tests for illegal PEDs conducted by VADA came back positive. That 4 percent benchmark if applied to the 1,501 tests conducted by the USADA would have resulted in 60 positive tests results.

Although testing for PEDs is more extensive and accurate than ever, it is also true that whenever a better mousetrap is invented, the mice get smarter when it comes to making off with the cheese. New drugs, less easily detectable, are constantly being whipped up in basement laboratories by enterprising chemists, who also busy themselves concocting better masking agents. Victor Conte, disgraced founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) that was a focal point of the late-1990s/early 2000s baseball PEDs scandal, spent four months in 2006 and upon his release he became a crusader not only for cleansing baseball of the scourge of PEDs, but all sports. Whatever victories are achieved on that front, however, are matched by setbacks elsewhere. It should be noted that Conte once noted that boxing, more so than other sports which are more stringently regulated, was the “wild, wild West” of PEDs, a frontier that has yet to be fully tamed.

The task confronting the most relentless and vigilant members of the clean-up crew need only to point to Alexander Povetkin as a reason why fighters like Miller feel it is worth the fairly slim risk of being detected to go the PEDs route.

Povetkin, a Russian, was to have challenged WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder on May 21, 2016, in Moscow until he tested positive for a banned substance, Meldonium. A follow-up, or “B” test, also conducted by VADA came back positive as well and the fight was scrapped, much to the consternation of Team Wilder. The super heavyweight gold medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Povetkin is regarded in some circles as almost a petri dish of chemical enhancement because of Russia’s tacit, and possibly outright, involvement in PEDs in quest for nationalistic glory through sports. Consider the 2014 Winter Olympics staged in Sochi, Russia, the most expensive Olympiad ever at a staggering cost of $51 billion and the pet project of Russian president Vladimir Putin. So pervasive was Russia’s involvement in PEDs that all 389 Olympic athletes from that country initially were banned from competing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics, although the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) eventually relented and allowed 271, including all 11 boxers, to participate.

Despite Povetkin’s twice testing positive, he was given a virtual slap on the wrist by the WBC, which cut his indefinite suspension for doping to one year before reconsidering again and giving him a get-out-of-jail-even-earlier card. Povetkin, a former WBA heavyweight titlist, stopped Johann Duhaupas in six rounds on Dec. 17, 2016, tacked on three victories after that and he again fought for the world championship on Sept. 22 of last year, losing on a seventh-round TKO to Joshua in London’s Wembley Stadium.

Possibly believing that whatever masking agents he might have used would fool VADA testers, Miller – who had weighed 300-plus pounds for his three most recent fights – instead drew a triple whammy. His first failed drug test was for GW1516, which is said to increase aerobic power and endurance in the obese and elderly. Seeing as how Miller doesn’t turn 31 until July 15, it is reasonable to conclude his objective had more to do with his high body-fat percentage than the number of candles on his next birthday cake.

Miller at first vehemently denied partaking of any performance-enhancing drug, but when a subsequent re-testing came up positive for Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and Erythropoietin (EPO), he changed tactics and basically begged for forgiveness in the court of public opinion and from whichever drug-testing entities and sanctioning bodies might be disposed to cut him a Povetkin-sized break.

“This is your boy, `Big Baby’ Miller here,” he said in a video posted on social media. “A lot can be said right now. I gonna get straight to the point. I messed up. I messed up. I made a bad call. A lot of ways to handle a situation, (but) I handled it wrongly and I’m paying the price for it. Missed out on a big opportunity, and I’m hurtin’ on the inside. My heart is bleeding right now.

“I hurt my family, my friends, my team, my supporters. But I’m gonna own up to it, I’m gonna deal with it, I’m gonna correct it and I’m gonna come back better.”

No doubt Miller is sorry – that he got caught. He had been caught doing PEDs before, in 2014, when he was into kickboxing. He sure as hell wouldn’t have been sorry had he somehow masked his PEDs to get past the VADA testers and, as a better boxer through chemistry, upset Joshua. He would have accepted any praise and rewards as his just due.

Here’s hoping Miller, a Brooklyn native, gets hit with a minimum two-year suspension that sticks, and he comes away with the realization that just because a lot of people cheat and cut corners that doesn’t make it right.

Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport, told ESPN that his fighter will go ahead and make his U.S. debut as scheduled on June 1 against a yet-unnamed opponent whose qualifications must include one absolutely essential attribute.

“It worried me that fighters feel the only way they can beat AJ is by taking banned substances,” Hearn said. “One thing we know is Miller is out. AJ’s new opponent for June 1 will be announced (this) week. Clean fighters only need apply.”

Here’s hoping also that there is a lesson to be learned here, and more fighters come to understand that PEDs are not their ticket to dream fulfillment. Sometimes the flip side of a dream is a very real nightmare.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A Travesty of a Heavyweight ‘Title Fight’ Jake Paul and More

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It’s official. On Wednesday, Feb. 22, a formal press conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, to announce the forthcoming fight between Mahmoud Charr, formerly known as Manuel Charr, and Kubrat Pulev. They will meet in Bulgaria’s capital city on March 30 at a 12,000-seat arena.

Charr vs Kubrat bears the imprimatur of a world heavyweight title fight (WBA version). Charr is considered the champion, notwithstanding the fact that others have held the title since he first laid claim to it more than six years ago.

The WBA, as we know, recognizes two champions in some weight classes, a “super” champion and a “regular” champion. The “super” designation was created in 2000. It was designed to segregate title-holders into levels of accomplishment. In theory, a “super” champion has made five successful defenses and is recognized as a world title-holder by at least one of the three other major sanctioning bodies. “Super” champions are allowed certain liberties with respect to mandatory title defenses.

The bifurcation was greeted with hoots of derision. The Panama-based WBA trivialized the sport.

Mahmoud Charr

Mahmoud Charr was born in Beirut but has resided in Germany since he was a little boy. He won the vacant title with a 12-round decision over unexceptional Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany.  It was a close fight. TSS ringside correspondent Phil Woolever had Ustinov winning 7 rounds to 5, but conceded that the verdict could not be called an injustice.

The title that Charr won was vacated by Ruslan Chagaev who won the belt from Fres Oquendo, lost it to Lucas Browne, and got it back by decree when Browne’s post-fight urine tests showed evidence of banned substances. But Chagaev never fought again. His fight with Browne was his last.

Charr’s first defense was to come against Fres Oquendo. Slated for March 23, 2019 in Cologne after being pushed back from September of the previous year, the match never came to fruition when Charr tested positive for two banned substances. Things get really muddled from here with Charr pushed to the sideline by legal battles complicated by Don King’s shenanigans. King arranged a fight in Florida between Charr and his fighter Trevor Bryan and succeeded in getting Bryan the WBA belt when Charr was unable to get a visa. The belt is vacant again after Bryan was knocked out by Daniel Dubois who, in turn, was knocked out by “super” champion Oleksandr Usyk.

There are more threads to this saga but let’s not go there. Suffice it to say that after defeating Ustinov, Charr was out of action for the next three-and-a-half years. He’s had only three fights since 2017 and to say that his opponents were men of low repute would be giving them the best of it. In his most recent assignment, in December of 2022, he scored a second-round stoppage over 46-year-old Swiss-Albanian slug Nuri Seferi. That brought his record to 34-4 (20). He has been stopped three times, most recently in 2015 when he was halted in five frames by future cruiserweight champion Maris Briedis.

Kubrat Pulev

Kubrat Pulev will have the home field advantage in Sofia. Charr will have youth on his side. He’s 39; Pulev is 42.

Pulev sports a 30-3 record. The losses came at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko (L KO 5), Anthony Joshua (L KO 9), and Derek Chisora (L SD 12). He last fought in December at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, CA, where he won a lopsided decision over Polish journeyman Andrzej Wawrzyk.

In a previous engagement here at the Hangar, a concert hall that seats a shade over 3,000, he TKOed Bogdan Dinu. That bout is remembered mostly for what happened after it ended. In an incident that went viral on social media, Pulev surprised Jennifer Ravalo, a self-styled journalist, with a kiss on the lips. That animated women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and led to an 8-page spread in Playboy (of Ravalo, not Allred). The California State Athletic Commission fined and suspended Pulev and mandated that he undergo sexual harassment training. The suspension lasted 120 days.

The match between Charr and Pulev, says a blurb about it, is an “eagerly anticipated” clash between “two evergreen living legends.” We will let you provide the punchline, The winner is expected to fight Martin Bakole who was knocked out by Michael Hunter.

Jake Paul

Jake Paul, the enfant terrible of prizefighting, returns this Saturday on a card in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that will air on DAZN. Paul, an influencer who brought his big social media following with him when he took up fisticuffing, is coming off a first-round stoppage of Andre August, a no-name fighter from Texas. Saturday’s sacrificial lamb is a fellow from Dickinson, North Dakota (by way of Benicia, California) named Ryan Bourland.

Bourland, who is reportedly 35 years old but looks older, scored his signature win in 2018 when he avenged a previous defeat with a 10-round majority decision over Jose Hernandez. He has fought only one since then, TKOing a fighter with a losing record in a 6-rounder at a lodge on a remote Indian reservation in North Dakota. That improved his ledger to 17-2 (6 KOs).

Regarding Jake Paul, Thomas Hauser once wrote that he’s worked hard to become a better boxer and is “certainly better than a Golden Gloves novice.” There was a time when this reporter, perhaps naively, thought that Jake had the potential to become a legitimate top-15 cruiserweight, but his recent choice of opponents suggests that he is comfortable just spinning his wheels.

His bout with Bourland will play second fiddle to Amanda Serrano’s featherweight title defense against Germany’s Nina Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs). Although Amanda has a lot of mileage on her odometer, she is expected to have little difficulty with Meinke. In another bout of note, Puerto Rican campaigners Jonathan Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14 KOs) and Rene Santiago (12-3, 9 KOs) will meet in a 12-rounder with Gonzalez’s WBO light flyweight title at stake.

—-

Let’s conclude this write-up on an upbeat note. Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a frequent TSS contributor, informs us that his fifth and presumably final anthology is nearing completion with a likely release date of April or May. “Championship Rounds, Round 5” includes a foreword by Gerry Cooney and has drawn glowing reviews from the likes of Dave Kindred and Dr. Gordon Marino who both had an early peek at the manuscript. Kindred, a renowned sportswriter and author, was the subject of a 2021 piece on “60 Minutes.” Marino, a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, has written extensively about boxing for the Wall Street Journal.

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Results from Orlando where Berlanga KOed McCrory in a Possible Prelude to Canelo

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Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organization was at the Caribe Royale tonight, a non-gaming resort near Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Unbeaten super middleweights Edgar Berlanga and Padraig McCrory squared off in the main event.

The fight started slow, but it soon became apparent that McCrory, a 35-year-old father of three from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a domestic-level fighter, notwithstanding his undefeated (18-0) record. Berlanga, whose last five fights had gone the distance, roughed him up with some dirty tactics before taking him out in the sixth round with a crunching right hand that sent the Irishman face-first to the canvas. As McCrory pulled himself upright on rubbery legs, the towel flew in from his corner. The official time was 2:44.

As well-documented, Berlanga opened his pro career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts. Nonetheless, he was let go by Top Rank in what purportedly was an amicable divorce. This was his second fight under the Matchroom banner. Eddie Hearn signed him with an eye on scoring a big-money match with Canelo Alvarez. The red-headed Mexican superstar is committed to returning to the ring in May on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, but hasn’t yet locked in an opponent.

If Berlanga gets the nod, he would be a heavy underdog, but the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico angle (coupled with Berlanga’s new-found reputation as a dirty fighter) would make it an easy sell.

Co-Feature

In only his third professional fight, Cuban defector Andy Cruz was bumped into the co-feature. That was in recognition of his amateur pedigree. Among his accomplishments, he was 4-0 vs. Keyshawn Davis with the last win coming in the gold medal round of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cruz, 28, was expected to win as he pleased against his Mexican opponent, Bryan Zamarripa, and he did win all 10 rounds on all three scorecards, but in common with many great Cuban amateurs, he seemed to lack something in the power department. Zamarripa was 14-2 heading in.

Other Bouts of Note

In a 12-round welterweight contest that was devoid of drama, Uzbekistan native Shakhram Giyasov, an Olympic silver medalist who has lost precious few rounds as a pro, won a lopsided technical decision over well-recycled 34-year-old Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano.

Giyasov (15-0, 9 KOs) sent Cano (35-9-1) to the canvas in the third round with a body punch. At the end of round 11, as their feet were tangled, he pushed Cano to the canvas and the Mexican ostensibly suffered a broken ankle when he fell. That sent the bout to the scorecards where the decision (109-99 x3) was a formality. With the victory, Giyasov earned a shot at WBA belt-holder Eimantas Stanionis.

The 12-round bantamweight match between Antonio Vargas and Jonathan Rodriguez, two fighters of Puerto Rican descent, was framed as a WBA bantamweight title eliminator. Rodriguez, the underdog, floored Vargas in the opening stanza. He had scored a stunning first-round knockout of 27-1 Khalid Yafai in his previous start and it appeared that another upset was brewing. But the match quickly turned one-sided in favor of Vargas who put Rodriguez on the canvas in the very next frame (and had two points deducted for hitting him after the bell) and then put him down again at the end of round seven with a sweeping left hook after which Rodriguez’s corner properly pulled him out.

Vargas, a 2016 Olympian who had home field advantage in Florida, improved to 18-1 (10 KOs) and became the mandatory opponent for Takuma Inoue who won earlier today in Tokyo. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Rodriguez declined to 17-2-1.

The opening bout on the TV portion of the card was a 10-round flyweight affair that looked like a runaway for showboating Yankiel Rivera until gritty Andy Dominguez made things interesting.

Rivera, who improved to 5-0 (2), was Puerto Rico’s lone representative in the Tokyo Olympics. In Mexico-born Andy Dominguez, he was fighting a former three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion who was also unbeaten (10-0 heading in). Rivera dominated the match but was caught napping in round nine and Dominguez, although all busted-up, hurt him and almost put him down. That was most lopsided round of the fight, but also the only round that Dominguez won in the eyes of the judges.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Junto Nakatani Turns in Another Masterclass on Saturday’s Tripleheader in Tokyo

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In a rather odd juxtaposition, several of boxing’s best little men were on display today at Japan’s National Sumo Arena in Tokyo. The best of the lot, Junto Nakatani, improved to 27-0 (20 KOs) while tearing away the WBC world bantamweight title from Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (28-4-5) who was making the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in May when he upset Nonito Donaire.

It was a one-sided beatdown. Nakatani, who had a 5-inch height advantage, won every round before ending the contest in the sixth. The end came at the 1:12 mark when Nakatani terminated the affair with his second knockdown. The first came earlier in the round, the result of a straight left hand. The finisher was a big right hook.

With the victory, Nakatani became a world title-holder in a third weight class. He’s an outstanding talent, worthy of pound-for-pound consideration, and would be favored in a unification fight with Takuma Inoue.

Inoue, the younger brother of pound-for-pound king Naoya “Monster” Inoue, did his part to bring the match to fruition with a ninth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jerwin Ancajas in the main event. Inoue (19-1, 5 KOs) was making the first defense of the WBA diadem he won with a wide decision over Venezuela’s mildewed Liborio Solis. That title was conveniently vacated by Takuma’s renowned brother.

This figured to be the most competitive match on the card and Ancajas (34-4-2) had his moments before Inoue ended the contest at the 0:44 mark of round nine with a four-punch combination climaxed by a shot to the liver. Heading in, Ancajas, who had a long title reign at 115, was 9-2-1 in world title fights and hadn’t previously been stopped.

In the first of the three title fights, 29-year-old Kosei Tanaka became a four-weight belt-holder in record time with a unanimous decision over Mexicali’s stubborn but out-classed Christian Bacasegua “Rocky” Rangel. At stake was the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Tanaka, who previously held belts at 105, 108, and 112, started slow but the outcome was never in doubt after he knocked “Rocky” to the canvas in the eighth frame. The judges had it 119-108, 117-110, and 116-111. With the victory, Tanaka improved to 20-1 (11). In his only defeat, he was stopped by countryman Kazuto Ioka. He hunkers for a rematch but, if it happens, he might wish that it hadn’t. Ioka is long in the tooth – he turns 35 next month – but is very good and shows no signs of slowing down. Rangel (22-5-2) had won nine straight heading in, but against questionable opposition and was making his first start outside Mexico.

The Teiken Promotions card was presented in association with Top Rank and aired in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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