The head of the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) says the Florida Athletic Commission (FAC) could not find sufficient reason to deny the ring return of drug-offender Conor Benn.
Benn, 26, will fight for the first time in 18 months this Saturday in Orlando, Florida, against Rodolfo Orozco on an Eddie Hearn-promoted card headlined by a junior welterweight bout between Richardson Hitchins and Jose Zepeda.
The move has been celebrated by Benn partisans as an act of redemption, while others have lampooned it as the latest shoddy instance of a promoter taking advantage of the fragmented governance structure of professional boxing.
The embattled British welterweight has been out of action ever since it was revealed last year that he failed two separate VADA-administered drug tests for the same banned performance-enhancing drug, clomifene.
The revelation of the second test led to the abrupt cancellation of Benn’s scheduled high-profile pay-per-view fight with Chris Eubank Jr. last October. However, the boxing public did not find out about the existence of the first test until nearly a month later, during which time Benn’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, misled people by suggesting there was only one positive test. Benn, who is not licensed to legally fight in his homeland, has continually maintained his innocence.
Benn’s place on the Orlando fight card on Saturday was apparently secured once he was able to produce a negative test for banned substances to the FAC. The test was administered by VADA, according to a source with knowledge of the proceedings.
But the recent negative test does not take away or absolve the fact that Benn failed two drug tests last year and, furthermore, has never produced a credible explanation for how clomifene entered his body, to say nothing of his hostile and generally uncooperative attitude towards the investigative procedure of the British Boxing Board of Control, the body that governs prizefighting in the UK. (The WBC, in their own probe last year, proposed that Benn had accidentally consumed contaminated eggs, but Benn rejected that line of reasoning.)
In March, Benn was placed under provisional suspension by United Kingdom Anti-Doping. But Benn and his legal team fought that verdict, reportedly on a technicality, and a few months later, in July, the National Anti-Doping Panel lifted Benn’s suspension, paving the way for Benn to pursue fights in foreign jurisdictions. UKAD has appealed the decision.
Asked to respond to these concerns, Michael Mazzulli, the head of the ABC, a non-profit that offers oversight of boxing commissions in the United States, told BoxingScene.com in an interview that the organization no longer had any grounds to advise against Benn’s return to boxing. The ABC lifted its own suspension of Benn after he returned a negative test to the FAC.
“The ABC initially suspended Mr. Benn because of his positive drug tests,” Mazzulli said. “He has since provided the state athletic commission in Florida a negative test related to the drug in question (clomifene). It is Florida’s ability to allow, or not allow, Mr. Benn to fight on the Sept. 23rd card in Orlando. After that negative test came to light, the board of directors of the ABC decided to revoke Mr. Benn’s suspension.”
Mazzulli pointed out that the ABC does not adjudicate but simply provides recommendations.
“The ABC does not have the ability to prevent Benn from fighting after producing a negative test,” Mazzulli said.
In a separate interview held last week, Mazzulli indicated that the FAC would only approve Benn’s appearance on the 9/23 Orlando card if Benn took a drug test that returned a negative result and the BBBofC gave their consent. But the BBBofC never offered their approval per se. Moreover, on Wednesday, Robert Smith, the often taciturn General Secretary of the BBBofC, voiced his opposition to Benn’s ring return in an interview with talkSPORT.
Earlier this summer major commissions, including California and Las Vegas, informed BoxingScene.com that they would refuse to license Benn in their respective jurisdictions so long as his issues with UKAD and BBBofC remained unresolved.
The FAC’s decision to allow Benn to fight in their territory would seem to be in strident opposition to this principle of reciprocity.
When asked to respond to these discrepancies, Mazzulli expressed his frustration with the BBBofC, saying he had never so much as received a phone call from Smith.
Mazzulli then shared a letter that Timothy Shipman, the executive director of combat sports at the FAC, received from Smith, in response to Shipman’s query about any possible objections the BBBofC might have toward Benn’s inclusion on the 9/23 Orlando card. Mazzulli described the letter as indecisive and pointed to a few selections. “I am only able to provide you with limited factual information unfortunately as to ongoing matters…” Smith wrote. “I would urge you to consider carefully any application and do not seek to fetter your decision-making process,” Smith wrote later. Mazzulli said the absence of firm opposition from Smith to Benn’s appearance on the 9/23 card left Shipman with no other credible alternative but to allow Benn to fight.
“The BBBofC has not provided enough information to the ABC for the organization to leave Benn on suspension,” Mazzulli said. “The ABC has had no contact with the British Board.”
“The ABC works hand-in-hand with the BBBofC,” Mazzulli maintained. “But there is nothing the ABC can presently do to deny Benn the ability to earn income from fighting. A test was performed, which returned a negative result.”
But there are dissenters among members of the ABC regarding the decision to allow Benn resume his career.
One head of a prominent state athletic commission, who requested anonymity, told BoxingScene.com that Benn would not be eligible for a license to fight in their state until he had “cleared up” his issues with the BBBofC.
It is also understood that there is at least one other state athletic commission and ABC member that is in vehement opposition to Florida’s decision to allow Benn to fight in its jurisdiction.
Hearn, who originally explored the possibility of having Benn fight in Saudi Arabia in the summer, is hoping to revisit a Eubank-Benn fight for December, in England.
Sean Nam is the author of Murder on Federal Street: Tyrone Everett, the Black Mafia, and the Last Golden Age of Philadelphia Boxing.