By Michael Rosenthal
Two deaths and another failed drug test by a well-known fighter. I can’t remember a worse week in boxing.
On Saturday Maxim Dadashev and Hugo Santillan, fighting about 5,000 miles apart, received the blows that would result in their deaths days later. We also learned that heavyweight Dillian Whyte was allowed to fight Oscar Rivas on Saturday even though he had failed a drug test three days earlier, arguably putting Rivas in a vulnerable position.
No one is to blame for the deaths of Dadashev and Santillan, at least not to my knowledge. Every fighter who steps through the ropes understands the risks of exchanging blows with another man or woman regardless of the precautions in place.
Dadashev took a lot of punches from Subriel Matias in Maryland but had possession of his faculties and fought back fiercely until the later rounds, two indications that he was fit to continue fighting. Buddy McGirt, Dadashev’s trainer, finally stopped the fight after the 11th round but it was too late.
I’ll never forget watching McGirt plead with his brave fighter to allow him to stop the bout, although McGirt had already made up his mind.
Santillan, fighting in his native Argentina, battled Eduardo Javier Abreu for 10 rounds and collapsed while the decision was being announced. He too took many punches in a fast-paced brawl but seemed to be fine at the final bell, a which time he raised his hand in hopes he had won. Moments later he lost consciousness.
I don’t know what could be been done differently other than to change our way of thinking about when to save a fighter from himself. Maybe those monitoring the action – the referee, the trainers, the doctors – should focus more on cumulative damage than a boxer’s ability to continue throwing punches.
McGirt said afterward that he became concerned in the ninth round. Maybe that was the time to stop it, when he first realized his fighter was in danger. In other words, perhaps trainers and officials should err more on the side of caution than they do now.
Sure, the fighters themselves, to whom quitting is anathema, will complain. So be it. The alternative can be tragedy, as we saw this week.
And, while I believe the sport has never been safer, those governing it be must continually reevaluate the safety precautions that are in place. For example, Andre Ward, citing evidence that dehydration increases the chances of a brain bleed, suggested via Twitter that fighters be allowed in all jurisdictions to use IVs after weigh-ins. Good idea?
“We cannot send prayers and condolences to the families of fallen fighters, then sit idly and due (sic) nothing to change the way things are done,” Ward Tweeted. “The best way to honor these fallen soldiers is to do everything in our power, to make sure we decrease the chance of this happening again.”
Another logical step is to be certain that the playing field is level, which is where Whyte comes in.
Whtye, a longtime heavyweight contender, defeated Rivas by a unanimous decision Saturday night in London. What we didn’t know at fight time was that Whtye’s “A” sample had tested positive for a banned substance, according to a report by Thomas Hauser on BoxingScene.com.
Hauser reported that Whyte tested positive “for two metabolites of the banned steroid Dianabol.”
The results reportedly came back on July 17, three days before the fight. However, under rules in the U.K., authorities can take no action until a case is fully adjudicated.
A hearing was held on the morning of the fight, before the National Anti-Doping Panel, where Whyte and his legal representatives appeared and he was cleared to move forward. The details of what took place at the hearing is unknown.
Several UK outlets have reported that Whyte's "B" sample is being tested, but there has been no confirmation of that from the boxer or his representatives.
On top of that, Rivas reportedly was not told about the positive result or the hearing. Think about that for a minute. The Colombian entered the ring with no knowledge that there had been a drug testing issue or that a hearing regarding that issue was held earlier that day.
Imagine if, under those circumstances, Rivas had suffered permanent damage – or worse – on the same night that Dadashev and Santillan received the punches that ended their lives.
The British authorities – and those worldwide – can do better. I understand the innocent-until-proven-guilty philosophy. Presumption of innocence is a human right. And I’m sure there were legal issues with which the authorities had to contend. I presume they couldn’t tell Rivas because of privacy laws. And, of course, someone in Whyte’s position could file suit if he or she weren’t allowed to fight only to be proven innocent later.
However, the sacred duty of boxing authorities to protect the physical well being of the fighters should supersede anything else. The British officials should’ve done one of two things: postpone the fight until the result of a “B” sample came back or, at the very least, tell Rivas about the positive test and let him decide whether to fight.
If the British Boxing Board of Control and UK Anti-Doping feel their hands are tied by laws on the books, then they must try to find a way around them or lobby to have them changed as they apply to such a situation. Rivas should not have been in that position.
The Dadashev and Santillan tragedies reminded us again that fighters risk their lives every time they step through the ropes. The authorities can’t do enough to protect them, in terms of both safety and the elimination of drug cheats.
Michael Rosenthal was the 2018 winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism. He has covered boxing in Los Angeles and beyond for almost three decades. Follow him at @mrosenthal_box.