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

Bernard Fernandez

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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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Fulton Wins Inside War to Win WBO Title and Other Results from Connecticut

David A. Avila

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This time Stephen Fulton passed the Covid-19 test and then out-worked Angelo Leo in a brutal inside war to take the WBO super bantamweight world title by unanimous decision on Saturday.

Philadelphia’s Fulton (19-0, 8 KOs) was supposed to box and move against the body puncher Leo (20-1, 9 KOs) of Las Vegas but instead banged his way to victory with an artful display of inside fighting at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn.

When Leo won the world title during this past summer, he was supposed to fight Fulton, but Fulton showed positive on a Covid-19 test and was forced out of the fight. Not this time. Instead, the Philly fighter would not be denied.

Fulton planted his feet and banged to the body against body shot artist Leo and kept it going toe-to-toe for most of the 12 rounds.

Leo had his moments and was able to start slightly quicker, but by the sixth round it seemed Fulton was the stronger fighter down the stretch.

“He started breathing a little harder,” said Fulton. “I pushed myself to the limit in training.”

It showed.

Fulton took control for the last four rounds and just seemed fresher and more active to win by unanimous decision. Despite fighting primarily inside, the Philly fighter seemed comfortable.

“The game plan was to box at first. But I had to get a little dirty,” Fulton said. “I made it a dog fight.”

All three judges scored it for Fulton: 118-110 and 119-109 twice. TheSweetscience.com scored it 115-113 for Fulton who now holds the WBO super bantamweight world title.

“I’m the only champion Philadelphia has,” said Fulton.

Aleem KOs Pasillas

A battle between undefeated power-hitting super bantamweights saw Ra’eese Aleem (18-0, 12 KOs) knock down East L.A.’s Vic Pasillas (16-1, 9 KOs) multiple times before ending the fight in the 11th round.

“I believe I put an exclamation point in my victory,” said Aleem who trains in Las Vegas but is a native of Michigan.

Aleem showed off his quickness and power in both hands that resulted in knock downs of Pasillas in the second, sixth, ninth and 11th rounds. It seemed that Pasillas never could figure out how to combat the awkward looping blows and quickness of Aleem.

Pasillas had a few moments with his ability to score with counter lefts and right hooks from his southpaw stance. But every time he scored big Aleem would rally back with even more explosive blows.

As Aleem mounted a large lead, Pasillas looked to set up a needed knockout blow but was instead caught with an overhand right to the chin and a finishing left that forced the referee to stop the fight at 1:00 of the 11th round.

Aleem picks up the interim WBA super bantamweight title. It’s basically a title that signifies he is the number one contender.

Lightweights

Rolando Romero (13-0, 11 KOs) floored Avery Sparrow (10-3, 3 KOs) in the first round and then exhibited his boxing skills to win by technical knockout.

It looked like the fight was going to end early when Romero caught Sparrow with a left hook. But Philadelphia’s Sparrow survived the first round and the next few rounds to slow down the attacking Romero. Things settled down but Romero kept winning the rounds.

Sparrow dropped to the floor during an exchange of blows in the sixth round which the referee quickly ruled “no knockdown.” Noticeably in pain Sparrow was under full assault from Romero and resorted to firing low blows. The referee deducted two points from Sparrow for the infraction.

The Philadelphia fighter limped out with a still gimpy knee to compete in the seventh round but within a minute Sparrow’s corner signaled to the referee to stop the fight. The stoppage gave Romero the win by technical knockout at 43 seconds into the round.

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part Two

Ted Sares

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part Two

As mentioned in Part One, the phrase “cherry picking” gained meaningful traction during the time “Money” Mayweather was making his run. A new and very simple business model seemed to fuel it; namely, make the most money the quickest way with the least amount of risk and that translated into fewer fights. The change was almost imperceptible.

WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. (31-1) has fought once a year sine 2014. WBO middleweight king Demetrius Andrade (39-0) started out fast but then fell into a less active mode. Wlad Klitschko began to pick his spots with more caution as he met the likes of Francesco Pianeta and Alex Leapai. Shane Mosley slowed down towards the end and even Guillermo Rigondeaux (20-1) has faded from the headlines after being stopped by Vasyl Lomachenko.

Back to the Future

Suddenly, however, a twist has emerged that suggests a new model may well be in the offing; to wit: make the most money the quickest way but with lesser regard to risk. Perhaps Daniel Dubois fighting Joe Joyce last November was an example. Translated, it could mean that the best will fight the best as they did in days of yore. If so, Mega- possibilities await.

“I Want All The Belts, No Easy Fights, I Want To Face The Best.” –Virgil Ortiz

Ryan “King Ry” Garcia (21-0) has called out everyone and anybody and it appears he might get his wish in Devin “The Dream” Haney (25-0) or maybe the exciting Gervonta “Tank” Davis (24-0).

The new breed of Davis, Garcia, Haney and Teofimo “The Takeover” Lopez is being is being compared to the “Four Kings” (Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, Duran) but a flattered Devin Haney wisely notes “those guys fought each other.”

In this connection, writer James Slater nails it as follows: “Right now, in today’s boxing world, Haney, Lopez, Davis and Garcia could all do well, they could win a title or two and they could pick up some huge paydays, without fighting each other. This is the state the sport is in these days. It’s up to the fighters to really WANT to take take the risks, to take on their most dangerous rivals. The ‘Four Kings’ did it, time and again, and this is what added enormously to their greatness.”

Teofimo Lopez did it. After shocking Richard Commey, he beat Vasyl Lomachenko in an even more shocking outcome and now wants George Kambosos, Jr. to step aside for a Devin Haney fight.

It doesn’t get any better than the specter of Errol Spence Jr. (27-0) fighting “Bud” Crawford (37-0) unless it’s Tyson Fury (30-0-1) meeting Anthony Joshua (24-1.) If Covid 19 is under control, they could do this one in front of 100,000 fans.

Josh Taylor has talked about challenging Lopez even if it means dropping down to lightweight, and then moving up to 147 to challenge Crawford or Spence.

Dillian Whyte rematching with Alexander Povetkin is another highly anticipated fray and has the added dimension of being a crossroads affair. Oleksandr Usyk will likely face off with Joe Joyce in Usyk’s first real test as a heavyweight.

In late February there’s a big domestic showdown in New Zealand between heavyweights Joseph Parker and Junior Fa. On that same date In London, Carl Frampton squares off with slick WBO 130-pound champion Jamel Herring.

And Juan Francisco Estrada rematching with a rejuvenated Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez has everyone’s attention.

Super exciting Joe Smith Jr. meets Russia’s Maxim Vlasov for the vacant WBA light heavyweight belt. What’s not to like?

The showdown between Miguel Berchelt (38-1) and Oscar Valdez (28-0) is the best on the February docket and could end up being a FOTY.

Speaking of FOTY’s, the prospect of Naoya “Monster” Inoue vs. Kazuto Ioka is as mouthwatering as it can get and has global appeal.

Meanwhile, Artur Beterbiev looms and it’s not a question of opponents as much as it’s a question of who wants to contend with his bludgeoning style of destruction.

Claressa Shields, Marie Eve Dicaire, Katie Taylor, Amanda Serrano, Delfine Persoon, Jessica McCaskill, and Layla McCarter are prepared to make female boxing sizzle. In the final analysis,  when Vasyl Lomachenko becomes an opponent, you know something is very different.

You can read Part One HERE

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Vic Pasillas: An East L.A. Fighter

David A. Avila

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When East L.A.’s Vic Pasillas enters the prize ring this weekend he follows a path that many from his area have trod before. Not all were successful, but those that succeed become near legendary.

But it’s definitely not easy being from East L.A.

Pasillas (16-0, 9 KOs) meets Michigan’s Raeese Aleem (17-0, 11 KOs) for the vacant interim WBA featherweight title on Saturday Jan. 23, at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. Showtime will televise live.

Once again, a fighter from East L.A. stands pivoted for greatness. Can Pasillas go all the way?

For the past 130 years, prizefighters from East Los Angeles have developed into some of the best in the world if you can get them into the prize ring. Oscar De La Hoya and Leo Santa Cruz are two who were able to duck drugs, crime, street gangs and longtime allegiances that can often mislead aspiring boxers toward deadly endings.

One of the first featherweight champions in history lived in East L.A. Solly Garcia Smith won the world championship in 1893. He was the first Latino to ever win a world title.

There are many others from “East Los” who were talented prizefighters that were sidetracked into oblivion. Talented pugilists like brothers Panchito Bojado and Angel Bojado were derailed by mysterious obstacles that East Los Angeles presents. Others like Frankie Gomez and Julian Rodriguez showed dazzling promise but disappeared.

It’s almost as if a curse hangs over East L.A. area like a blanket of smog.

Many were surefire champions. But for some reason East L.A. or East Los as it’s called by those living in the 20 square mile radius, seems to have a dark lingering spell that makes it extra difficult for prizefighters to succeed.

Back in the 1950s a supremely talented fighter named Keeny Teran was skyrocketing to fame when heroin dropped him like an invisible left hook. Celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Danny Kaye were his biggest backers. Yet, not even they could help Teran.

Drugs almost took Pasillas too.

The fighter known as “Vicious” Vic Pasillas could have tripped into one of those sad stories from East L.A. you often hear about from your abuelitas. The streets can easily claim you if you let your guard down. Who is a friend and who is a foe are not often clear as the colors brown or white. It’s a potholed journey to navigate the barrio streets that look tame during the day, but ominous when the darkness arrives.

Barrio Life

Growing up with parents who were incarcerated led Pasillas to find loyalty from the vatos on the street. They treated him well and gave him protection and a sense of family, but often led to being involved in petty and major crimes.

“I moved out of the neighborhood. I had to get away from my friends. No disrespect to them but I knew that I would end up in jail,” said Pasillas who moved to Riverside, Calif. which is 60 miles east of East L.A. “Nobody knew where I was.”

One thing certain: prizefighting was his gift. All that he encountered recognized his boxing ability.

“He was always a gifted fighter,” said Joe Estrada, who would often take him to tournaments around California or in other states. “Every tournament he entered he won. He has always had speed, power, and defense. He’s always been a great boxer, but trouble was always around him.”

Gangs had always been a part of Pasillas life. He was born into gangs in South El Monte and even after moving to East L.A. it was not an escape. It was vatos locos that took him under their wing and showed him love and respect. They took care of him; some were also boxers.

East L.A. is an area much like a spider web. You can travel a quarter mile in one direction and suddenly you are in enemy turf. Gangs are everywhere. If you are an adult male you can’t simply walk outside a door without looking in all directions. It makes you razor sharp in recognizing danger. You always look out for danger.

Pasillas loved boxing and loved his friends, the big homies, but cutting off one for the other was the most difficult decision. He would train, fight, and win but then hang with the homies and end up being arrested with the rest of them.

“The cops would come and everybody would run so I would run,” said Pasillas. “I didn’t do anything, but I would get busted with everybody else for trying to evade the police.”

Things remained the same until he met his wife. The streets never had a chance. Once married he moved to the Riverside area. It was 2011 and newly married he needed to make a decision on whether to try and make the Olympic team or turn professional.

“I was ready to go to the Olympics. First, I was going to smash everybody but my wife got pregnant at 2011. It forced me to get a job at a warehouse. I was making 50 dollars a week. Pennies,” said Pasillas. “I got a call from Cameron Dunkin and Top Rank. They offered me a fight on the third Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez fight. That was my pro debut.”

Sadly, the streets reclaimed him again.

Reckoning

A move to northern California seemed to change things but the struggle to stay outside the grasp of the streets remained real even hundreds of miles away. Despite the dark times Pasillas still had friends and admirers.

Seniesa Estrada, who holds the interim WBA flyweight title and is poised to fight for a world title in March, remembers sparring with Pasillas when she could not find girls to spar.

“Vic was always very good. He would take it easy on me, of course, but I would learn so much from sparring with guys like him and Jojo Diaz and Frankie Gomez,” said Estrada, who grew up and still lives in East L.A.

Pasillas, 28, had more than 300 amateur fights. He lost only eight times. Anyone who ever saw him fight immediately recognized his immense talent.

“Vic is one of the best fighters I ever saw,” said Joe Estrada. “Everyone knew that when he’s in shape he can’t be beat. Just so much talent.”

That talent will be tested on Saturday when he meets Michigan’s undefeated Aleem. Whoever wins their battle will meet the winner between Angelo Leo and Stephen Fulton who fight for the WBO super bantamweight title.

“I want to fight the best now, and Pasillas is one of the best fighters in the division. I’m not ducking or dodging anyone. I’m going to be a world champion by all means necessary,” said Aleem who now fights out of Las Vegas.

Pasillas doesn’t doubt that Aleem has talent.

“I don’t want to give up my game plan but best believe I’m going to do whatever it takes to win this fight. If he wants to bang, then we’ll bang, if he wants to box, we’ll box. I’ve seen so many different styles in the amateurs, there is nothing that he brings that I haven’t seen. My power is what he’s going to have to deal with,” Pasillas said.

It’s been an incredible up and down journey so far for Pasillas; a lifetime of dealing with hidden traps on East L.A. streets that have toppled many previous fighters now long forgotten.

Or will those same streets show the way to glittering success as former champions De La Hoya, Santa Cruz, Joey Olivo, Richie Lemos, Newsboy Brown and Solly Garcia Smith discovered.

One thing Pasillas already discovered was his own family.

“People invite me all the time to events and parties but I tell them I already have plans with my family,” said Pasillas who has a wife and two elementary age children. “I never really had a family like other people.”

Now he has his own family. Something he didn’t have during his youth due to drugs and the streets.

“It’s just a domino effect. I’m making sure I’m going to stop that s—t,” says Pasillas. “It’s going to be good for East Los. I’m a born and bred fighter from East Los.”

Sometimes the streets can break you or make you.

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