The names Eubank and Benn are not just associated with British pop culture and nostalgic wars, but they provoke dark memories of tragedies.
Chris Eubank Sr had a fight with Michael Watson that left Watson with terrible life-changing injuries, and Nigel Benn had the same thing with Gerald McClellan.
Even a generation on, Chris Eubank Jr fought Nick Blackwell in a bout from which the latter emerged a different man.
This weekend’s huge main event at the O2 Arena in London between their sons, Chris Eubank Jr and Conor Benn, fell apart at the 11th hour after it was uncovered by the Daily Mail that Benn had tested positive through a collection given to VADA.
Benn has not been suspended. Benn maintains his innocence. Hearn insisted his client has not been given due process – and he has not. Due process is seeing this through to its conclusion; good or bad.
All we know now is those closely involved with the fight were made aware of the findings last month, yet the news only broke earlier this week and the contest was only officially terminated on Thursday afternoon.
Benn’s positive test contained clomifene and it was detected by VADA (Voluntary Anti-Doping Association). Clomifene is a drug that was designed to help women with infertility. However, it is also a known masking agent and can increase testosterone levels in men.
The testing of UKAD, who work with the British Boxing Board of Control, all but makes VADA redundant in England, even if it was down to the promoters and boxers to enlist voluntarily in VADA. VADA can’t suspend or punish boxers. UKAD can advise the BBB of C about suspensions and bans but Benn’s UKAD tests were clean, so no action has been taken.
It has been a surreal week for British boxing, and not in a good way.
We might need due process, but who’s to say any processes are even being gone through?
If this had been the 100m Olympic sprint final on Saturday, an athlete with a positive finding would not have been allowed to compete. They would be provisionally suspended but by the time the findings of the B sample had come about and due process had been completed, the final would have come and gone.
Boxing is different. The 100m final would still go ahead. Here, the whole show fell apart. And if it was athletics people would be discussing a three-year ban and not fighting three days later.
But that’s is boxing. It’s also what happens when an event is top heavy with one feature contest and when the rest of the bill is not strong enough to carry it commercially.
DAZN have clearly done a lot to please fans since their inception. They have produced high-end shows, hired a team many wanted in front of and behind cameras to try to grow the sport from an app. They have thrown the kitchen sink at boxing, but their efforts have been snakebit, too, from losing out on Premier League rights, not landing the BT merger, superstar Canelo Alvarez losing to Dmitriy Bivol, Anthony Joshua being announced as a DAZN fighter and then losing to Oleksandr Usyk on Sky and now this. And that is all after trying to launch through a global pandemic.
The battle we saw as organizers fought to keep the show alive this week, however, was depressing, desperate but thankfully futile.
Now, nobody wants to talk about it.
What some are still talking about is how they can get the fight back on track as quickly as possible. But surely we need this ‘due process’ Hearn has talked about.
The B-sample needs to be tested. Benn needs to have the opportunity to explain why something found in a women’s fertility drug was discovered in his sample, and a hearing must take place.
There are troubling questions to ask that might well be impossible to answer, which is perhaps why I’ve been greeted by a wall of silence by Matchroom, the WBC – who have Benn in their Clean Boxing Program – and the British Boxing Board of Control.
“Complicated legalities” was one of the explanations of silence.
Hearn said on a DAZN interview that a lot of people have been “righteous” this week. That is correct. But others have been shameless.
And are the others righteous or are they just normal?
If this was the Olympic 100m final, would Hearn want the athlete in question to race and the matter to be dealt with after the event?
Sadly, there are far more questions than answers. Tragically, for the integrity of the sport and its public image, they are likely to remain unanswered.
But here are some pertinent ones I’m thinking about:
1. Why were trace amounts of clomifene discovered in a VADA test and how did it get there?
2. Why did it take the Daily Mail to break the story for anyone to find out what had been happening when all parties had been informed of the positive test last month?
3. Who ‘leaked’ the story?
4. Why didn’t the British Boxing Board of Control act immediately?
5. Who is pressing for the B sample to be tested?
6. Who is Dr Usman Sajjad, the nutritionist and doctor who claims to have been working with Benn, and other high-profile fighters, and why has his social media presence been deactivated this week?
7. Why won’t Mauricio Sulaiman, always wanting to be considered a force for good in the sport, discuss anything about Benn’s role in the Clean Boxing Program?
8. Why won’t the British Boxing Board of Control release any kind of statement about the tests or what is going on, other than “prohibiting” the fight?
9. Why pay for VADA testing if you don’t want the results that the most thorough testing brings?
10. Where is the energy from the investigators and authorities trying to find guilt that matches the energy of Benn and his team trying to find innocence?
In boxing, if you’re a big earner and are seen to be taking PEDs there’s no remorse, punishment or sanctions. It’s find a suitable excuse, tainted meat, supplements etc and carry on from where you left off. The tolerance of it in boxing is ridiculous, and one fears the prevalence of it could be similar.
Is this something that happens often? Was it just that the Daily Mail found out about it this time?
Each year the Hall of Fame adds another fighter who has failed a test to its ranks. Even if you’re suspended somewhere, someone else will take let you fight. They will want their licensing fee and you can crack on with your career.
One only needs to look at Jarrell Miller and how some figures within this battered sport were calling for him to fight Anthony Joshua next because of the ‘backstory’ between the two, not even factoring in whether drug cheats should be rewarded and given high profile assignments ahead of clean fighters waiting for a chance. But these people are among us in boxing.
And this week it was unpleasant to see the split, all be it lop-sided division, between those in the minority who wanted to press on and those who had been looking forward to the fight but glumly admitted that, under the circumstances, it should not be going ahead.
Waiting for the official decision on Thursday was akin to watching a relative die in hospital. Their respiratory organs had failed, but everyone still waited for doctors to switch the ventilator off. Some raced around for a miracle cure while others just wanted the patient out of its misery.
But instead of a period of mourning following the whole toxic mess, forensic investigations are required.
Boxing has always needed greater transparency, with its politics, and most definitely with drug testing. But these are murky waters, and the murkier they are made, the harder it is to find the truth or get to the bottom of anything.
Boxing’s scrap heap of wrecked old fighters is matched only by the rug that is continually pulled over the sport’s grubby little secrets and scandals.
Anyone who wanted the fight to go ahead did do for their own agenda and to grease their own wheels, not for the good of the sport they laughably care to be passionate about. Their passion is for the parts that suit them.
Some used Eubank Jr still wanting to fight as a reason the bout should have gone ahead. With all due respect to Chris Eubank Jr, it should not matter what he wants. Fighters often need protecting from themselves. That is nothing new.
Kevin Mitchell’s book on the Nigel Benn-Gerald McClellan fight, War, Baby, is about the Glamour of Violence. Yes, there’s glamour in this sport but there’s also brutality and danger and, quite frankly, the end goal should be trying to minimize risk to the fighters and making sure both boxers have been cleared of any alleged wrongdoing beyond reasonable doubt. Fighter safety should never be compromised, it should never be negotiated, it should be paramount in this the most dangerous of all sports.
Maybe I am one of the “righteous” ones, but after spending four years writing a book designed to help fighters live safer lives before, during and boxing, I’ll have to be excused for caring.
We can’t just have a positive test through VADA – known to be the most reputable testing agency – and carry on regardless, can we?
Scarily, we probably can in boxing. There is a ticking timebomb lurking in this sport and when it blows the resulting fallout will be catastrophic. This week it was defused at the last minute but boxing is only going one way. Look at the amateur code.
Without federal oversight, national governance or a strong moral compass to guide it, it will stagger blindly on towards the end of the cliff.
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