By John Hively
Now that Roy Jones has gone over the hill on us, and quite rapidly at that, the former champion’s achievements and his standing as an all time great are being assessed. Finely balanced treatments are provided by various boxing writers concerning his speed, power, ring savvy and career highlights, and how his skills and achievements likely stack up against former greats of the squared circle. “Steroids,” however, are rarely—if ever—mentioned in the same sentence with “Roy Jones,” but perhaps they should be.
Typically, in these glowing assessments, there is not even a faint whisper of the fact that Jones tested positive for steroids in his fight against Richard Hall. It’s as if to speak or write of such a dark and terrible sin would lead to instantaneous and painful death.
Nor is it ever mentioned that the name of Roy Jones was linked to the BALCO drug lab scandal, as were numerous other athletes throughout the world of sports. BALCO produced a designer drug called THG, which was designed to hide the use of anabolic steroids.
When Jones signed to fight John Ruiz back in 2003, I already knew he had tested positive for the Hall fight. Five months after scaling 175 pounds, the light heavyweight champ officially weighed in at 193, but some said he was 199. He was well muscled, cut and chiseled to the max.
In the squared circle, as the fighters anxiously waited for the bell to ring and begin the contest, I wondered if this was Natural Roy or Artificial Roy. I thought it was possible for him to gain so much pure muscle naturally in such a short time, but my twenty plus years of experience at lifting weights aroused in me suspicion that I might be looking at an artificially enhanced version of Roy.
I also wondered if there had ever been a Natural Roy. If he tested positive for Hall, who wasn’t all that talented compared to others Junior had fought, why wouldn’t he have used the stuff against more dangerous opposition, before and afterwards? There’s definitely room for speculation on this issue, especially if the champ had access to THG or other drugs that hide the use of steroids. Was it Jones or steroids that broke the nose of Ruiz? Was it Roy or steroids that had broken Virgil Hill’s rib two years prior to the Hall fight? Was it Jones or steroids that enable him to drop Reggie Johnson with a punch that could be heard on impact throughout the arena only eleven months prior to the Hall fight? Where did the man obtain all that speed and power that made him an invincible superman? And why did it all suddenly evaporate within a few months after his greatest triumph, that being the decision over the much larger Ruiz.
With the exception of Jones, I can’t recall any great champion who went from their superhuman peak to being ordinary from one fight to their next, and within a matter of months, and without conspicuous injuries or illegal drug or alcohol problems. Even with those three caveats, I cannot think of any great fighter who has gone through such a rapid transformation.
In his first fight after the BALCO scandal broke in September 2003, which prompted the federal government to shut the company down, Jones received a hard earned and extremely close decision over Antonio Tarver. That’s the fight in which Joe Calzaghe made the comment that Jones looked human for a change.
Where was the speed and power he had showed just eight months earlier against Ruiz? Why couldn’t he break Tarver’s nose or ribs, as in the past? Sure, he had shed any where from eighteen to twenty-four pounds in eight months, and it was claimed this feat weakened him. On the other hand, I just lost four pounds in five days without exercise, and Jones had eight months to lose all of that extra weight he’d packed on for Ruiz. So was it the weight loss that weakened Jones or something else?
The former champ was blasted out in two rounds in a rematch with Tarver, and then he looked listless, slow and powerless in getting starched by Glen Johnson. In a rematch with Tarver, Jones ran for his life in lasting the distance. The power, speed and durability he had always exhibited were gone, disappeared, nearly instantaneously—as if by magic. In 2004, writing for blackathlete.com, Elisa Harrison strongly suggested the loss of superman’s powers might have been linked to BALCO, and she might very well have been correct.
The BALCO link and the positive test for steroids in Indiana have spawned a dark cloud of dubious legitimacy and legality over all of the victories ever achieved by Jones, with the exception of his last four fights. Those last four were fought with a fair degree of certainty that Jones was in his natural state, and not in some artificially enhanced condition, as was the case during the Hall fight. Because there exists such a striking contrast between Jones before BALCO was busted by the Feds and the fighter who emerged just two months afterwards, perhaps it is best to regard those earlier victories with very large and bold question marks. This is not without precedent.
Track and field athletes linked to BALCO have been suspended and their records officially wiped clean from the record books without ever having tested positive for steroids or THG.
It would be interesting to discover exactly why and for how long Jones was linked to BALCO, if only to eliminate uncertainty such an association gives to the dubious legitimacy of his victories.
Otherwise, such suspicions may suggest that the ex-champ has only one win, a decision loss and two knockout defeats (since the government closed down BALCO), and this is hardly the record of a great fighter.
Jones is not the only pugilist who has been caught using steroids. Fernando Vargas, Frans Botha and James Toney have been ensnared. In her article, Harrison noted that Shane Mosley had also been linked with BALCO. Richard Hall tested positive for steroids when he fought Roy.
During a 2003 interview, Indiana State Boxing Commissioner Jacob Hall said that Jones “was five or six times over an acceptable level” of steroid use, while Hall “was about ten times above an acceptable level.” What’s really bizarre about his description of the two artificial warriors is that there is “an acceptable level” of steroid use in such a dangerous sport as boxing.
Steroids enhance a users punching power and this is quite similar to fighting with loaded gloves, with but some other big differences. Boxers that are steroid junkies also enhance their speed artificially, and this allows them to deliver their much improved punching power with greater velocities, and this makes it that much more deadly to the recipients of such punches than would normally be the case. Even more frustrating for purely natural fighters, the steroid junkies can use their artificial speed to move out of harms way more so than when they were just products of hard work.
We also can’t forget that steroids enhance the durability of boxers, and so in this department the steroid junkie has an artificial advantage over natural pugilists, which means they enter the ring with the equivalent of body and face armor. After BALCO went down for the count, so too did Jones rest peacefully at the feet of Tarver and Johnson, his durability a thing of the past.
Some writers have suggested that steroids don't really give fighters any big advantage over their naturally produced opponents, and they point out the fact that a naturally produced Oscar De La Hoya stopped a souped-up Fernando Vargas in eleven rounds. What they fail to understand is that Vargas lasted several rounds longer, and landed quite a few more artificially enhanced punches to the head and body of his opponent, than would otherwise have been the case. Oscar likely would have stopped Vargas much sooner, and the process would have been less painful.
We all know that James Toney is a highly skilled ring mechanic, expert at avoiding punches, and then craftily countering his opponents. We also know he tested positive for steroid use after his fight with John Ruiz. Toney was faster, stronger, and more durable than he would have been had he not imbibed that nasty and banned substance called nandrolone.
What really irritates me is that, for the most part, officials and writers throughout the world of Fistiania are giving nothing but lip service to the issue of steroids in boxing. Recently, a boxing writing sneered at Ruiz for suing James Toney for ten million dollars just because Toney entered their contest loaded with nandrolone and proceeded to give Ruiz an artificially enhanced beating over twelve rounds.
Can or even should a fighter sue another if one of them fights with horseshoes hidden in their gloves? If so, we should cheer Ruiz’s lawsuit, not just because of the artificial pain and suffering he received, but because somebody ought to make the use of steroids very painful, at least financially.
According to Commissioner Hall, the majority of states don’t have any “’drug testing laws.’” So when they do test, they don’t do anything except send the results to the sanctioning boxing organizations. Referring to the positive test results from the Jones/Hall fight, the commissioner commented, “”What do the sanctioning bodies do when they get positive test results? Suspend? Fine? They didn't in this case. And there's no way you're going to know about it.’”
If the commissioner is correct, perhaps because of the big bucks involved, it seems few people really take the issue seriously at all; but they should, because as the plague of steroids continues to expand throughout the world of boxing, more and more fighters, sooner or later, are going to receive permanent injuries. Boxing deaths and brain damage may become more common as this scourge envelops the fistic landscape.
So what can be done to reverse this ever growing plague? A national boxing commission with uniform rules that the states and sanctioning bodies need to comply with would be of assistance.
Stiff penalties would help. For example, fighters who test positive for steroids or drugs used to hide the use of steroids should forfeit their purses to their opponents. In addition, the offenders should pay an additional fine equal to his or her winnings, and they should be banned from boxing anywhere on Earth for two years with no parole for good behavior. Offenders caught a second time should be fined in the same way, and they should be banned for life from fighting in the squared circle, with no possibility of a shortened sentence.
If both participants are caught using steroids, they should forfeit their purses, pay fines equal to their winnings to the national commission, and be banned in the same way outlined above.
Some people may suggest these penalties are overly harsh, especially since boxers allegedly ingest steroids accidentally.
But it seems that all boxers caught using steroids consume them accidentally, or so they claim. But these are not little boys consuming whatever their mommies give them to eat. Professional boxers are grown men after all. Stiff penalties would ensure that this inane excuse would be dropped by encouraging our boxing heroes to determine what it is they are putting into their bodies, rather than allegedly relying upon the honesty of bad guys determined to sneak steroids into their daily consumption routines.
It’s not uncommon for one sport to ban a known steroid while another sport continues to make its use legal. The use of all steroids and steroid maskers should be banned in all sports. Consequently, a national boxing commission should bring together all ruling organizations from all sports and insist upon uniform rules banning these products.
Furthermore, the United States government should confront the companies producing steroids, as well as other drugs used to mask their use, the development of which appears to be ongoing. These companies need to be put out of business, and these entrepreneurs need to spend ten to twenty years in a nice comfy cell for their capitalist efforts.
This plague on all sports should be fought, not only for the safety of boxers, and to ensure a level playing field for all competitors, but also to defend the credibility of the heroes of the squared circle.
Ezzard Charles weighed all of 175 pounds when he invaded the heavyweight division and stopped contenders Elmer Ray (193 lbs) and Joe Baksi (220). Archie Moore rarely weighed more than 190 pounds, and he looked chunky at that weight, but he defeated numerous heavyweights, including Bob Baker (208) and Nino Valdes (211). Earlier in his career, in the mid nineteen-forties, Moore defeated heavyweights and he was barely out of the middleweight class. Light heavyweight Tommy Loughran defeated numerous quality fighters from the heaviest class. Mickey Walker barely scaled 170 pounds when he defeated heavyweights such as Aruther DeKuh, Bearcat Wright, Paolino Uzcudun, and so many others. Harry Greb fought formidable heavyweights and he typically weighed no more than a 170 pounds. Sugar Ray Robinson was a welterweight fighting middleweights throughout much of the nineteen-forties. At one time, Henry Armstrong was a featherweight fighting welterweights. These guys didn’t need extra artificial muscles to defeat heavier fighters. They just needed God given talent.
Now we have James Toney invading the heavyweight division hog-fat and testing positive for steroids. How is it that he is so fast for such a fat guy? Shouldn’t he be losing speed and power from gaining so much excess weight? How is it that he couldn’t stop cruiserweights Vassily Jirov or Sione Asipeli, but he was able to use Evander Holyfield as a punching bag for nine rounds before stopping him. The Real Deal had gone twenty-four rounds with a vicious hitter named Lennox Lewis, and in two fights with Mike Tyson, one of the greatest punchers of all time, Evander stood right in front of his opponent, took everything he had to offer, and then stopped him in one fight and forced him to foul out in another. When Holyfield fought Toney he was a shot fighter, but neither of his two previous opponents, Chris Byrd and Hasim Rahman, could put him down, and we know Rahman is a real hefty banger with both mitts. When Toney tested positive for the Ruiz fight, it made me wonder about the legitimacy of that earlier triumph over Evander.
Nowadays, with the development of drugs that hide the use of steroids, we have a right to be suspicious of the achievements of boxers who have wonderful physical gifts, especially those who develop enhanced speed or power all of a sudden, but who still have no record of steroid use. For the health of the sport and for the legacies of our fistic heroes, we should always be wary of steroids and the drugs that hide them.
The time has come for the people of Fistiania to take the use of steroids quite a bit more seriously, because the sport is losing its credibility as more and more fighters may be forced to use the drugs to stay competitive with their rivals. Somebody is going to get hurt because their opponent used steroids, so the time to take action is before this happens—if it has not already occurred. And I am suspicious that it has already happened.