By Jake Donovan
Merely winning his first major title isn’t enough for Jessie Vargas, who sees more belts and conquests in his future.
Nor does the unbeaten super lightweight wish to toe the line when it comes to the current state of drug testing in boxing. The first defense of his 140 lb. title reign – versus unbeaten Anton Novikov on August 2 in his Las Vegas hometown – will come with the security of random drug testing as conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA).
At least for one fighter.
“I always looked up to top fighters who want to clean up the sport,” Vargas (24-0, 9KOs) said of the decision to enroll in 24/7/365 random drug testing. “It's something to admire. In a sport like this, it needs to be clean. It's a very fun, yet competitive and physical combat sport.
“The fighters should be clean. Any fighter who chooses to do steroids, they're cowards. They don't have confidence in their own talent. They can't rely on their own physical attributes so they look for ways to get that advantage.”
The decision comes shortly after dethroning previously unbeaten Khabib Allakhverdiev this past April. The feat came on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao’s return to welterweight prominence, handing Tim Bradley his first loss to avenge a controversial defeat from nearly two years ago.
For his past three bouts, Bradley has been enrolled in the VADA program and serving as an activist for improved drug testing standards within the sport. The list of fighters who share his passion on the subject is extremely short, though slowing growing. Vargas becomes the latest who hopes to help clean up the sport, even if for the moment his cause is more lead by example than follow the leader.
”This is the hurt business. We're here to look good and beat up the other fighter with style. it should be a clean sport. Me being associated with Victor Conte, who has been part of this movement, we spoke about it and decided I need to be a part of it.”
The VADA program was founded in 2011 by Dr. Margaret Goodman, a former ringside physician for the Nevada State Athletic Commission, with the intention of casting light on a subject that has remained in the dark for far too long. VADA is the only organization connected to boxing to use Carbon Isotope Ratio (CIR) testing, key in detecting synthetic testosterone and flagging any results that exceed a 4-to-1 T/E (testosterone to epitestosterone) ratio.
Nonito Donaire was the first boxer to enroll in year-round drug testing under VADA’s watch (European promoter Sauerland Event requires all of its fighters to submit to year-round drug testing). His movement came as part of a fantastic 2012 ring campaign that saw four wins in as many fights, with his in-ring accomplishments combined with confirmation of his drug-free existence made him a slam dunk choice for Fighter of the Year.
Since then, Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov have both also joined the program under the same year-round conditions. Their enrollment began with their March ’13 12-round war, which served as Fight of the Year. Both fighters have completed random drug testing cycles for each of their past three fights.
Bradley went solo in his submission to VADA for fights with Juan Manuel Marquez and the rematch with Pacquiao. Provodnikov was joined by his most recent opponent Chris Algieri in full commitment to VADA testing. Algieri, a college-educated clinical nutritionist, went on to win a controversial split decision in their bout last month in Brooklyn.
It was hoped that Vargas would be joined by his opponent, who carries a checkered past. Novikov failed a drug test following a 12-round points win over Karlo Tabaghua, which – had the win come under clean circumstances – would’ve guaranteed the Russian southpaw a shot at one of the welterweight belts currently in the possession of boxing pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather.
Following the win-turned-no-contest, Novikov – who just four years ago was campaigning as a middleweight – decided to drop down to the super lightweight division. Three wins later, he now contends for his first major title.
An invitation was extended to join Vargas in random drug testing. While never flat out rejecting, Novikov never signed off on the paperwork. Efforts by Boxingscene.com to reach his team to find out the reason(s) have proven unsuccessful, leaving Vargas equally puzzled – though ultimately not concerned about anyone’s clean bill of health but his own.
“Sponsors are covering both sides of testing, so it’s not about cost,” Vargas points out, as VADA makes it commonplace to secure as much sponsorship as possible to minimize out-of-pocket expense to the fighters or their teams. “But it doesn’t bother me. Everyone I’ve fought so far, none of them have been tested beyond the regular state commission tests.
“That’s not an implication about any of my opponents or even (Novikov). Maybe he just doesn’t want to be a part of it. Given his past, yes it does raise suspicion. But I’m not going to worry about what he does or doesn’t do with testing. If he chooses not to agree to additional testing, I’m still going to take him down. He doesn’t know who he’s messing with.”
Vargas proved his mettle in his win over Allakhverdiev, his first fight back at (or at least near) the super lightweight limit since a narrow points win over Josesito Lopez in Sept. 2011. There was concern about dropping back down from welterweight, but Vargas found himself erring on the side of caution when it came to making the 140 lb. limit.
Confident that weight is not an issue, this camp has now been about naturally adding strength and putting more pop behind his punches. With new training methods often comes change in diet and workout routines. Vargas wants to make sure the world knows he’s exploring new territory while remaining on the straight and narrow.
”Sometimes maybe I think there are cases where fighters take something they didn't have the knowledge of. This is why fighters need to join these programs, so we can learn and known what we can and can't use,” Vargas believes. “Not only that, but we come in clean and show the world you are the more talented of the two. It's the way it should be.
“Unfortunately, we have a lot of cowards who try to gain the upper hand. They're not looking at the big picture. No matter what, those cowards will fall. Those fighters, I will whoop all (of them).”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox.