In Diriyah later today we'll see the latest Matchroom card, headlined by a Heavyweight title rematch between Andy Ruiz and Anthony Joshua. The bout is one of the biggest of the year. It's on a bumper Sky Box Office PPV, it's on DAZN in the US WOWOW in Japan and various other broadcasters around the globe. It is one of boxing's biggest spectaculars of the year and likely to be the most profitable fight of the year, with a massive site fee to go with all the broadcasting rights.
Whilst the show has multiple issues with it, some of which have been gone over by better writers than I including the human rights issues with Saudi Arabia, and we have previously stated our case on the increase in pricing in the UK, the one that is perhaps the most irritating right now, and follows on from what I wrote in last weeks Hot Take, is the number of fighters on the show with failed drugs tests to their names.
We're not going to go in depth on the various complications of drug testing or the ineffectiveness of the Clean Boxing Program and he VADA tests, both of which are better than nothing but neither is close to good enough for the sport, and both should only be seen as the bare minimum expected of fighters. My guess is that the future of drug testing will be 365 day a year round testing, not a random test here and there, but daily tests, measuring not just for the chemicals we know can be taken, but also for elevated levels and changes. This will be the gold standard in the future, and although still not impossible to beat, will really make it significantly tougher.
Instead of blaming the testing agencies, which are not yet fully fit for purpose, and are in some cases quite toothless when it comes to the suspensions they can hand out, we are going to focus on promoters, and how the buck really does stop with them. Contrary to what some might think. At the end of the day the promoters, essentially, decide who gets to be on their shows, who fights, what they get paid and where the fights take place. If the promoters refuse to play ball with those who get caught with illicit substances in their system then the fighters will have to either self fund shows, or get out of the sport.
Hearn himself seems to actually agree with the point I've made above, with their not being enough testing. He himself has pointed out that "The testing is too sporadic in the US. There is simply not enough of it carried out." The truth is that it's not the US that that's a problem in, but a global problem. The entire sport needs to see a massive increase in testing for world class fighters.
Hearrn himself has stated also stated "Anthony (Joshua) insists on VADA testing for himself and his opponents from 14 weeks out from a fight and the cost comes out of the promotional budget." For a fighter fighting twice a year, as Joshua has this year, it means he and his opponent, in this case Andy Ruiz for both fights, spend just over half of the year in some form of testing program. Given we still don't really understand how good long term effects of drugs are, this simply isn't good enough. It's better than nothing, sure, but still isn't good enough. It's been suggested in research that benefit from testosterone can give benefits an athlete's entire career, and taking that outside of the 14 week window could give significant long term benefits. There's then the slippery slope with Testostrone Replacement Therapy (TRT) and the Therapuetic Ues Exceptions (TUE's).
Staying with Hearn's own words in regards to the WBC, and their Clean Boxing Program, “I’ve got guys who have signed with me and signed up to WBC testing, they’ve never been tested". There appears to be no point to the WBC's CBP until they actually give you a regular series of random test when you move into their rankings. In our eyes the program simply isn't good enough, or fit for purpose. As we've seen in the past, they sometimes allow people to just fight anyway, or give them such insignificant punishments that they are meaningless. Luis Nery failed a test but was allowed to keep the title he won, so what was the point in the CBP there?
So with WBC not testing enough and the drug testing bodies not yet catching up to the level of testing needed, we need someone to stand up for the sport. Why not have it be the man who said “Something is going to happen, someone is going to die, someone is going to get hurt for life, someone is going to get paralysed by a drugs cheat, what happens then? Is that murder?"
At the end of the day a promoter putting 4 fighters, that's 40% of the fighters on the poster above, on a show who have failed a drugs test suggests that he's okay with drugs cheats in boxing. In fact it suggests he's happy to pay them, potentially rewarding them, for taking substances that are banned. With the card having Alexander Povetkin, Dillian Whyte, Mariusz Wach and Eric Molina it seems very much like someone getting "hurt for life" is a price Mr Hearn is happy with.
Of course it's boxing, this is one show among many that Mr Hearn will put on this year, and these are but a handful of his fighters. But lets not overlook that he has other fighters who have failed drug tests, with a variety of excuses, among his stable. Including Billy Joe Saunders, Hughie Fury, Kid Galahad. He has also signed for Joshua to fight Jarrell Miller, who had failed a drugs test. It seems that whilst drugs cheats are bad, they aren't that bad...
I am, for the sake of this article, putting all fighters that fail drug tests under the same banner. The reality is that they aren't the same. What Miller did, by essentially being a human cocktail of drugs, is much worse than testing positive for a chemical in a nasal spray or on a skin cream. One is deliberately cheating the other, perhaps ignorantly breaking the rules, but at the end of the day the athlete needs to take responsibility for their body, what's in it and what they take. Going back to the long term benefits for something like testosterone, whilst not everything will give such stark long term improvements things that help prolong the amount of training, speeding up recovery time are also helping an athlete get an unfair advantage. The advantage of something in a cold medicine being able to aid training, is still giving an advantage to an athlete.
Whilst the argument is that promoters aren't the police of boxing might be true, they are the ones with the power to truly punish fighters who fail tests. They are they ones who can blackball fighters, refuse to work with them, and make it clear the sport is going to a zero tolerance model. The problem is no promoter wants to take the risk of letting one of the fighters make money for someone else, so maybe a collective promotional code of conduct needs to be brought in, and signed up to by promoters, to alleviate the fear that is Hearn doesn't use Dillian Whyte, neither will Bob Arum, Lou DiBella, Oscar De La Hoya or Frank Warren. Rather than freezing a fighter out independently, you freeze them out as a collective, you finally all get on the same page on something and move forward with a clear vision of a drug free sport. If a fighter breaches the agreement it would allow the others to freeze them out of any joint promotional work.
Looking back over the murder quote above, it does leave the question, if a known drugs cheat does kill someone in the ring will the promoter be an accomplice to murder?
At the end of the day being a professional sports person is not a right, it's an honour. As sports fans we have become accustomed to people doing bad, then, eventually, being welcomed back to the sport. The reality however is that boxing, and MMA and other combat sports, aren't the same as cycling. This is a sport where advantages you have can have untold medical affects on other competitors. In cycling and tennis cheating is punished because you are cheating the sport. In combat sports it needs to be punished more severely as fighter is risking someone else's health.
Note - For those suggesting day by day testing is unworkable for costs, it's worth noting that in 2018 the University of Waterloo sent out a press releases stating they were close to developing a test that would cost a fraction of current tests, work incredibly quickly, and work as a flagging system before a more in depth confirmatory test was done. This would allow day by day testing, and where a test is flag a full test would then be needed. This is certainly a workable model in boxing, and whilst it might still be some time away from hitting the market, so to speak, it seems the future is almost here.
This is just an opinion, maaaan! It's easy to share our opinions, and that's what you'll find here, some random opinion pieces