By Alexey Sukachev
Being literally in the epicenter of international boxing warfare doesn’t always mean you are at the informational crossroads too. Sometimes it means completely the opposite – like being at the very eye of the storm, whereas the hood is being completely torn apart just several miles aside. That was exactly the case where I found myself while covering the undercard of what was proposed to be the biggest Russian boxing event in the first half of 2014 (or maybe over the whole year too) – a rematch between reigning WBA cruiserweight champion of the world Denis Lebedev and his bitter Panamanian rival Guillermo Jones.
I have just sent my second update of a quite tedious undercard, when BoxingScene’s powerhouse Rick Reeno informed of the tweets regarding Guillermo Jones’ failed drug test AGAIN. The news was so absurd I could hardly believe it. The most absurd part of this wannabe joke was that Jones, a renowned drug offender at this point, was caught cheating BEFORE the fight, not after it. I continued doing what I do best – reporting the results, while trying to get some news as well.
One who really helped me was Allboxing’s Grigory Stangrit, who was on phone all the time, asking me when he should start his way to the arena, as he wasn’t exactly inspired by a proposed undercard. The last time he got on phone was after the end of the last undercard – a twelve-round minor title fight between Andrey Klimov and Francisco Contreras.
No one really knew at this point the fight was off. First reaction was noticed when Team Lebedev, appeared at ringside. Denis Lebedev himself, his father and Andrey Ryabinskiy followed, while there were no signs of either Panamanian team or Don King. Lebedev, his managers Sergey Bondar and Vadim Kornilov, his coach Marvin Somodio and Ryabinskiy quickly jumped into the ring, the latter taking the spotlight.
“I’d like you to listen to me for a second”, started the boxing tycoon. “I want you to know that I have decided to call this fight off. I have to prevent this fight from happening, as Guillermo Jones’ drug test appeared to be positive. I know that all of us are extremely disappointed. But – and you should agree – we cannot risk our fighter’s health pitting him against a drug-fueled fighter”.
“They were caught cheating the first time around”, added Lebedev, holding his WBA belt with one hand. “They tried to sneak in and repeat this trick but it wasn’t to happen again. “We’ve proven we had knowledge of the game, and we wouldn’t be cheated. We can defend our rights. I will try to do my best to please you again as soon as I can but this time in the optional defense of the WBA title. Once again, thank you and please excuse us for this letdown. I haven’t fought for about a year, but as you see Americans [meant to be Panamanians] just cannot fight honestly”.
Rage was here, and Team Lebedev wasn’t even the most furious about the cancelled fight. People were disappointed but some reporters were upset even more and they unleashed their fury during a presser, not a post-fight presser but just a presser.
“Jones was tested positive for furosemide” – furosemide is a loop diuretic, which is not a prohibited drug itself but can hide traces of the real drug and thus is prohibited the other way. “We’ve got to know about it about an hour or two ago, when the show was well under way. We just cannot risk everything while fighting against a drug-fueled fighter”, once again explained Ryabinskiy.
“We shall compensate expenses to our fans. We’ve got to know about this positive result barely an hour or two ago. But we won't cheat everyone. There would be a chargeback for this cancellation for sure”, added Ryabinskiy. “There will be some legal proceedings, and there definitely will be some sanctions from the World Boxing Association but I don’t want to follow his [Jones] way. We will fight honestly, and our revenge will be totally sportive”.
Denis Lebedev was calm and didn’t look to be gravely disappointed. “I AM disappointed. But what could I do?! Jones and his team – they wanted to fight, came at us asking when we would gonna wrap the hands. But we are for the honest boxing, and they just don’t want to fight frankly. However, I feel uncomfortable now. I owe a debt to Guillermo, and I was so eager to make this a payback time”.
“Would I excuse him? Absolutely! Would I fight him again? Absolutely, as far as he is clean. He wasn’t clean tonight, so sorry but no fight. I had a plan coming into it. It was developed a year ago by Kostya Tszyu but I just haven’t realized it correctly. I should have worked his body more, should have forced him to feel pain. I was ready to execute this plan tonight”.
“Whom will I fight? We have some options but we shall sit down with Andrey [Ryabinskiy] to consider them. I wouldn’t mind fighting Marko Huck another time. I’m ready”, continued Lebedev.
Not surprisingly, Team Jones and Don King personally weren’t in attendance. Meanwhile, another chapter is Jones’ doping profile means his career is virtually ruined and will be forever linked with drug cases. Starting as a welterweight twenty-one years ago, El Felino (now 39-3-2, 31 KOs) firstly rose to prominence in a pair of strong showings against capable WBA light middleweight champion Laurent Boudouani in 1998 (a draw and a split decision loss). He then moved up to super middleweight for four fights in 1999 and 2000, then made another (and final) move to the cruiserweight division.
His second chance came against long-time WBO champion Johnny Nelson in November 2002, and he missed it again – just narrowly on a split draw – only to be tested positive for (reportedly) the same drug as always – furosemide. It was his first drug case. He lost to then-undefeated Steve Cunningham in his next meaningful fight but regrouped well with stoppage wins over former champions Kelvin Davis and Wayne Braithwaite in same 2005, when he lost to Cunningham.
His fourth time proved to be a charm in September 2008, when he impressively scored a road stoppage over tough German Firat Arslan. As the usual case for Don King-promoted fighters, El Felino wasn’t particularly active during his title run, defending his belt just thrice – but every time by way of knockout (TKO 11 over 38-2 Valery Brudov in 2010, TKO 6 against 20-3 Michael Marrone in 2011 and, finally, KO 11 over Lebedev in 2013).
That defense turned to be his last but affected a whole title reign in a bad way, when Jones was caught violating anti-drug rules and regulations soon after the May 17 fight. However, a number of corresponding scandals and inconsistencies, coupled with some WADA allegations and subsequent activities and a fog of war between the camps, resulted in an unprecedented decision by the WBA, which preserved the title itself (and the champion’s belt) for Lebedev, while an official victory was awarded to Jones.
No controversy is expected this time though. Jones was reportedly forced into a WADA-style pre-fight drug test by the independent Swiss laboratory, and it returned a positive flag, meaning Jones was caught again, effectively erasing his (and his promoter’s) claims of innocence. It will also affect his general ledger, making his first two title defenses (as well as earlier wins) very iffy. All in all, three drug cases in a row usually mean a lifetime ban for the sport, if it’s being guided by the WADA.
Prizefighting is a different story but at almost 42 years of age and with drug offenses in his past, the Panamanian’s career looks to be all but done.
However, the Russian party was powerfully hit by this setback as well. The first and the most evident loser of this situation is Lebedev (25-2, 19 KOs), who hasn’t fought for well over the year, and needs a new opponent right away – at least to stay busy. Totally not his fault but it doesn’t make the whole story less disappointing.
Secondly, Lebedev’s career still looks to be quite stagnating. After his split decision loss to Marko Huck in 2010, Denis fought and won over former champions Roy Jones Jr. and James Toney to a mixed reaction (specifically following his brutal stoppage of the former icon I Jones), then was criticized (also unfairly) for his wins over Shawn Cox and Santander Silgado. Now he will still be considered a paper champion by some hot-headed hardcore junkies for that he has never defended his newly acquired belt in the ring.
Andrey Ryabinskiy suffered even a bigger blow. His promising start into the Russian prizefighting was marred with bitter losses of Denis Lebedev, Rakhim Chakhkiev and Alexander Povetkin in 2013. The only one to help his cause was another cruiserweight Grigory Drozd, who stopped talented Pole Mateusz Masternak in October 2013.
Drozd was also the most impressive fighter in the recent card at the same venue in March, with a brutal stoppage of Frenchman Jeremy Ouanna in the very first round. However, an entire show wasn’t really meaningful. It could have been had the contest between Richar Abril and Eduard “Troya” Troyanovskiy landed there. However, that fight had never been done and is questionable even now despite a newly set date. The same goes to the fight of the WBA interim middleweight champion Dmitry Chudinov, which has been postponed twice too. And now Lebedev – this year is yet to produce something really meaningful on behalf of the “World of Boxing” Promotion.