By Tris Dixon
It has become a popular refrain in recent years, how we want the best to fight the best.
Part of the reason for that is because, on our chaotic Planet Boxing, it is hard to find out who the leader is in each division given the amount of world titles on offer and subsequent mandatory obligations that interfere with the seemingly easy job of belt holders facing one another to work out a number one.
Another reason is that when you have two-top tier fighters, it often results in even contests, not the mismatches we are so frequently treated to.
Thirdly, those superfights have the ability to create superstars, fighters who cross over and into the mainstream, lending the boxing brand important credibility with fans who would otherwise scarcely visit the boxing page of a sports website.
Credibility is a great thing. And boxing is the home of heroes because the very act of stepping into the ring takes unusual heart.
To answer the call in the locker-room when the door knocks and to be told ‘You’re up’ after weeks and months of preparation might well be a fighter’s destiny, but it is also a terrifying moment.
The ring walk is not much better. Only when the bell goes and one is left alone with their opponent does a kind of soothing understanding descend.
Realisation dawns and business can be tended to, but unless you have done it the emotion of pre-fight fear – the same feeling George Foreman and Mike Tyson, to name two, have spoken so colourfully about – is difficult to comprehend. For fighters, it is a challenge to control and confront.
As a sport, boxing appreciates its heroes. We admire their gallantry, their journey, their pride and their determination. We tip our hats to the honesty and integrity that a one-on-one sport commands, a noble cross between last man standing and survival of the fittest.
We like it that boxing offers an escape, for the poor to become rich, for the lost to become famous and for those without hope to become hopeful.
On May 5 boxing delivers something that should offer both its loyal fans and their more casual counterparts a special evening in Las Vegas.
And we may get fireworks, though we will be watching through stained glasses in the knowledge that one of the protagonists in the still-anticipated megafight rematch between Gennady Golovkin and Saul Alvarez flunked a pre-fight drug test.
In February, Mexican ‘Canelo’ tested positive for Clenbuterol, a substance those in boxing have since been scrambling to become experts in.
Alvarez says ‘traces’ were found in his system from contaminated meat. The head of SNAC Victor Conte, who knows a thing or two about illegal substances and anti-doping, says that, yes, the traces could have come from contaminated meat. He also reckons that anyone who cycles performance enhancing drugs between fights and thus between testing schedules, could post positive results if they get their dates wrong. He has said, of this test, that Alvarez, or at least his team, should explain where the meat came from, when it was consumed and how the mistakes have been made given that a large percentage (around 30 per cent) of Mexican slaughterhouses have been found to trade in contaminated meat.
For what it is worth, Golovkin has played a relatively straight bat. “My first reaction was, really, are you serious? I know he's good boxer, you know,” he said.
“I believe he doesn’t need medical or drugs like that. Right now, test positive – it’s terrible for the sport. I respect my sport. I love clean sport.”
But Clenbuterol is a performance enhancing substance, aids weight cutting and it was found in Alvarez’s body.
Canelo went on to post two negative tests – March 3 and 5 – and Nevada, who will host the Las Vegas event, will have their athletic commission ‘investigating’ the February failure.
So botched test aside, it is business as usual in sport’s red light district. Sweep it under the carpet. Pretend it never happened. As you were. Keep testing until everything is legal and above board.
On May 5, the world will watch wondering whether one of boxing’s golden boys and supposed role models is a cheat or not, and we are left neither knowing nor being able to prove anything otherwise.
So when the best face each other it is important, of course, but only if the playing field is level and there is no reasonable doubt about any of the other circumstances surrounding the contest.
The best fighting the best allows us to showcase our wares to the world, to share the drama and excitement that top line boxing can deliver. It allows us to brag of intelligence, nobility, courage and bravery. If that is compromised, what do we have? What have other sports been left with when their idols have fallen foul at the very highest level, be it sprinting with Ben Johnson or cycling with Lance Armstrong? One person can tarnish an industry for more than a generation.
For a sport that struggles with its image at the best of times, the Canelo Clenbuterol test is not welcome. It’s a cataclysmic screw up. It’s a disgrace. Whether it is denied, proven or unfounded the collateral damage will be in the headlines from now until after the fight. The bout has been smeared, the sport stained.
Those who fight to try and give their loved ones a better life, who try to put food on the table, should have to be accountable for what is in the food on their own tables.
Credibility is a great thing for the sport, but it must be earned. Heroes do not fail drug tests.