By Jake Donovan
The upcoming welterweight title fight between unbeaten Keith Thurman and legendary former eight-division titlist Manny Pacquiao is worth the price of admission on its own.
Add to that, a three-fight supporting undercard for the Fox Sports Pay-Per-View event and a major title fight headlining a preceding Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) on Fox prime time telecast, and fans are left with everything you can ask for out of the July 20 event at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Except for sufficient random drug testing.
BoxingScene.com has learned that participants for the biggest boxing event of 2019 to date will be subject to testing standards limited to that provided by Nevada State Athletic Commission. Original plans to secure the services of Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) were called off for reasons that haven’t yet been made clear—and too late in the game to rectify with just four weeks to go before fight night.
VADA representatives declined further comment beyond confirming that they are not involved in any aspect of the July 20 card.
Pacquiao found himself at the forefront of a heated years-long debate regarding drug testing as the issue was first raised by Floyd Mayweather Jr. when the demand grew for a superfight between the sport’s leading welterweights—and boxers in general.
The two would circle each other for more than five years before finally squaring off in May 2015, resulting in the most lucrative event in boxing history. Their fight came with random testing provided by United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), whose services Mayweather used for each of his fights beginning with his May 2010 win over Shane Mosley throughout the rest of his career.
Of course, Pacquiao has proven to be a clean athlete, having been regularly tested through random testing dating back to his Nov. 2013 points win over Brandon Rios. VADA testing was in place for that bout in Macao, China, which actually popped Rios for the banned substance dimenthylamylamine (DMAA).
The Las Vegas-headquartered agency also provided its services for Pacquiao’s most recent ring appearance, a 12-round win over Adrien Broner this past January, also at MGM Grand. The subject came to surface, however, when Broner alleged that he had yet to be tested by late December, less than a month out from the January 19 Showtime PPV event.
VADA has been utilized for every major event in recent years, serving at the forefront of—and in perhaps as the biggest story of the year—Anthony Joshua's planned title defense versus Jarrell Miller. The bout was due to mark the U.S. debut for England's Joshua, which still occurred—just without Miller, who tested positive for multiple banned substances during VADA-conducted pre-fight testing.
Joshua would go on to face Andy Ruiz, whom would score one of the year's biggest upsets in a 7th round stoppage on June 1 to become a unified heavyweight titlist.
Ruiz-Joshua was among the biggest events to be presented by rookie sports streaming platform DAZN-USA, promoting the show as if it were a PPV card. Such treatment was afforded the most watched DAZN-USA telecast to date, when Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez scored a 12-round decision over Daniel Jacobs four weeks prior in Las Vegas. Their May 4 bout carried VADA testing, as Alvarez has been enrolled directly in the program on a year-round basis—a stipulation that came with his own failed drug tests in early 2018, thus postponing his originally scheduled rematch with Gennadiy Golovkin by four months.
VADA testing was utilized for both Alvarez-Golovkin I and II, as well as for Top Rank on ESPN's PPV debut this past April, topped by unbeaten WBO welterweight titlist Terence Crawford's 6th round stoppage of Amir Khan.
The agency's services were also provided for Fox Sports’ first foray into the PPV market in March, when IBF welterweight titlist Errol Spence pitched a 12-round shutout over Mikey Garcia in their battle of unbeaten pound-for-pound entrants. It was also in place for last December’s Showtime PPV show in Los Angeles, where unbeaten heavyweights Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury fought to a 12-round draw.
Wilder has remained among the sport’s most vocal supporters of stringent drug testing, even at the expense of watching three fights fall by the wayside as a result. The trio of Alexander Povetkin, Andrzej Wawrzyk and Luis Ortiz all tested positive for banned substances ahead of their scheduled bouts with the undefeated titlist.
Ortiz was the only one to land a fight with Wilder, his previously scheduled affair postponed by four months despite the event marking his second failed drug test, having served a one year suspension following a failed drug test in 2014. His positive test for this particular occasion came down to a clerical error on his part, failing to disclose medication he was taking to treat high blood pressure.
Wilder is far from alone among PBC athletes who regularly contract the services of VADA for their events.
Recently unified super welterweight titlist Julian ‘J-Rock’ Williams has not only been a longtime supporter of the program but has doubled down on his stance on the subject, recently insisting that any future opponents must agree to a testing period no shorter than 90- days out from fight night.
Spence, Garcia, Shawn Porter, Yordenis Ugas and Caleb Plant are among the many others under the PBC banner who are in full support of the program. Ugas—whose narrow points loss to Porter this past March came complete with VADA testing— and Plant will both appear on the July 20 undercard, with Plant making the first defense of his super middleweight title versus Mike Lee atop the preceding PBC on Fox telecast.
Ugas will face unbeaten former welterweight titlist Omar Figueroa on the PPV undercard in a World Boxing Council (WBC)-sanctioned title eliminator. The WBC is involved in another PPV preliminary bout, with unbeaten bantamweight Luis Nery facing Juan Carlos Payano in a battle of former titlists.
Nery returned to the sport last fall following a troubled past that includes his having produced a positive drug test following his Aug. 2017 bantamweight title winning effort over Shinsuke Yamanaka in Japan. He also showed up well over the bantamweight limit in their March 2018 rematch, also in Japan where he was issued a lifetime ban.
The unbeaten boxer from Mexico was also issued an indefinite suspension by the WBC which was eventually downgraded to six months and allowing for his ring return last October. Nery is enrolled in the WBC Clean Boxing Program, which has often been confused with its participants also actively participating in year-round random drug testing.
Such enrollment merely puts participants in a deep pool of several hundred fighters, with an infinitesimal number of athletes actually selected per month for such testing. The odds pale miserably in comparison to those who directly enlisted the services VADA.
As it relates to the July 20 event, it seems the chances are zero of any of its participants being subjected to anything more than standard commission testing.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox