by David P. Greisman
Manny Pacquiao had not yet even been resuscitated from unconsciousness before boxing fans and observers began to speculate about what put him there.
And in their minds, it wasn’t just Juan Manuel Marquez.
To them, it was a Marquez who looked better at 143 pounds than his body had ever appeared in three other fights at or slightly above the junior welterweight limit. It was also a Marquez who not only knocked Pacquiao out with a perfect punch, but also had knocked him down earlier in the fight with a single shot.
It was the fact that Marquez’s strength and conditioning coach had admittedly been involved with distributing steroids and other performance enhancing drugs.
It was the fact that this had been a year in which several notable fighters had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. People questioned Marquez even though he passed the tests he took — not just because of the Pacquiao knockout and not just because of his strength and conditioning coach — but also because the testing done in boxing still lags behind where it should be in order to ensure that others aren’t also using banned substances.
This was the year that speculation became suspicion.
This is because of Lamont Peterson and Andre Berto, because of Antonio Tarver and Erik Morales. Other noteworthy fighters either had tested positive for or been implicated in using performance enhancing substances in the past, including Evander Holyfield, Jameel McCline, Shane Mosley, James Toney and Fernando Vargas. But these four positive tests in particular in 2012 were highly publicized, with two of them leading to major bouts being canceled.
Peterson’s team has argued that the boxer’s use of synthetic testosterone was for legitimate medical reasons. Berto’s camp has claimed that the fighter took a tainted supplement. Morales, meanwhile, blamed tainted beef. But a decade after the window into baseball’s steroid problem was first cracked open — and with the countless positive tests that have come since in various sports, and the countless explanations and excuses that have been given for them — the sporting world has become understandably skeptical.
In this post-BALCO, post-Lance Armstrong world, we are long past the days in which someone can claim that they are clean solely because they have passed drug tests.
But we still cannot conclude, without a doubt, that an athlete is dirty unless he has been caught cheating — or named, as with Holyfield, Mosley and McCline, as being clients of companies that distributed these drugs.
That leaves us speculating about the depth of the problem.
That leaves us suspicious about our sport.
It is difficult enough to get Major League Baseball to properly police itself. Though players are still being caught under the league’s testing program, it can easily be argued that those caught are the ones who do not know how to beat a system that still is nowhere near as stringent as it could be and should be.
It is even harder to get those who regulate the Sweet Science to get better policies in place regarding a more shadowy science.
There is no single league — no one body that oversees all of the fights and all of the fighters, no single body that takes in all of the revenue. We are left with athletic commissions in every state, and even tribal commissions with different rules. We are left with various promoters, who are more interested in cleaning up at the box office than they are in cleaning up the sport.
It will take a lot to clean up boxing.
Regulating combat sports can be like regulating business. Promoters, like companies, will go to where it is easier and more profitable to put on a fight. State athletic commissions are left in a conflicted position of striving to oversee that which goes on within their jurisdictions, while also needing big boxing cards to go on in order to support their operations.
Money is the answer. Money is also the problem.
For athletic commissions to expand the scope of their testing — more fighters tested, more testing done, more substances tested for — they will need more money from the boxers and promoters.
Only a small handful of boxing matches have gone on with the stringent testing seen by many as the standard by which the sport should follow. And even that agency — the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association — absorbed the price of testing earlier this year for the canceled Andre Berto-Victor Ortiz rematch and for year-round testing for Nonito Donaire. Those costs were covered through donations to the nonprofit.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency also has been involved with drug testing for recent boxing matches, particularly for Golden Boy Promotions in the wake of a pair of Golden Boy fights being canceled after Peterson and Berto tested positive under VADA.
In lieu of sanctioning bodies being willing or being able to do better drug testing, we are left with outside agencies that are brought in only when the boxers can afford it (sometimes with assistance) or when the promoters pay for it. Yet that leaves large gaps, and not just with the sheer number of major matches that still go on without stringent drug testing.
The nature of drug testing becomes something discussed in — and delayed due to —prolonged negotiations.
And state athletic commissions have not shown the best track record for dealing with the terms of testing done by these independent agencies.
California relicensed Berto, who failed a VADA test, but suspended Tarver, who failed a state test. And the New York State Athletic Commission allowed the rematch between Danny Garcia and Erik Morales to go forward despite the late revelation that Morales had been positive for clenbuterol under USADA’s testing. That bout should have been called off, or held up, until the commission had held a full hearing — Morales may have deserved a chance to explain his case, but he should not have been licensed to fight until the commission had issued a ruling.
Promoters, meanwhile, are not going to invest in something that not only would cost them for testing, but also could cost them if they cancel an entire card should a main event boxer come up positive.
Nor will they be forced to adapt. Major League Baseball’s executives were called before Congress years ago, told either to clean up their own sport or have the federal government do it for them.
That won’t happen in boxing.
That leaves us uncertain about our fighters. There aren’t always going to be telling statistical surges that can only be explained by illicit measures — a fighter using performance enhancing drugs isn’t necessarily going to score more knockouts the way that a batter might hit more home runs.
But we’re also not naïve. We know that athletes in all sports are finding ways to cheat the system. And we know that boxing is no different.
We just don’t know how bad boxing has it.
We do know that we won’t know until boxing fixes itself.
The 10 Count will return next year.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]