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NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: MY PEDS COLUMN

By Paul Magno | August 21, 2023
NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: MY PEDS COLUMN

Unified super featherweight champ Alycia Baumgardner reportedly tested positive for the banned substances Mesterolone and Androsterone three days before her July 15 unanimous decision over Christina Linardatou. 

To make matters worse, the fight would go ahead as planned-- showcasing an allegedly juiced fighter beating on a non-juiced fighter-- with the results not being made public until last week, more than a month after the fight. Shit. 

So, I guess I’m due for my once-a-year PEDs column. Ugh. 

It’s not that I don’t think screening for the use of performance enhancing drugs is important. Obviously it is-- especially in combat sports where a chemically-enhanced edge could result in somebody being beaten to death. The problem is that very few people-- fans, media, management, promoters, even commissions-- actually want to do anything about it. And, so, when I jump into the abyss of PEDs talk, it’s about as productive as taking sides in a domestic dispute between a husband and wife who are mutually abusive. There’s a lot of fighting, a lot of fighting about the fighting, and a lot of blind stabs at being right. Then, ultimately, everyone moves on to go about their business as usual while I’m standing there, amped up with nowhere to go, looking like a gigantic dipshit. 

The truth is that, in boxing, not a whole lot of people really want an answer when it comes to dealing with PEDs. Like with many things in this sport, the go-to goal is the APPEARANCE of propriety and not actual propriety, which can be messy, costly, and a real buzzkill to running a business in an industry at least partially founded on hustle and con. 

If boxing people WERE serious about addressing the PEDs issue, the best stab at an answer wouldn’t be the current take of “let the promoters/fighters handle their own testing.”

The issue of doping is clearly a big public relations deal, but with standard commission testing being insufficient, even if there really were a desire to be “clean,” event organizers have taken to hiring their own agencies to conduct testing. This kills two proverbial birds with one proverbial stone-- it gives the bossmen the appearance of propriety and it also allows sufficient wriggle room for their athletes to not get busted if they ARE on anything. 

In other words, nothing is really accomplished with most of this. Aside from a few token busts here and there, this “kids in charge of the candy shop” testing is mostly for show. 

With voluntary advanced testing, above and beyond the weak tea commission testing, fighters are tested as camp starts, usually between 6 and 9 weeks before a fight. This offers the cheat-minded athlete and his/her team plenty of time to cycle off anything they may be using while still getting full benefit from that particular drug.

In a Yahoo! Sports piece from 2021, Jeff Novitzky, the UFC’s Senior Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance and the lead investigator for the IRS in the 2002 Victor Conte/BALCO PEDs case, which caught several high profile athletes (including boxer Shane Mosley), spoke about the fatal flaw with voluntary in-camp testing.

“I’m going to go back to when I was doing these investigations in track and field almost 20 years ago,” Novitzky said. “I think track and field has a lot of similarities to boxing in that they’re training for one event. You have a camp and it’s all focused on getting prepared for this one event.

“Many of those athletes told me they felt their performances peaked weeks after discontinuing their use of the drugs. There’s some research out there to support this...So the thought that you have to be on something and it has to be in your system to be getting the benefit is not the case. If you know with any reasonable certainty when drug testing is starting, it’s pretty simple these days to figure the clearance times of drugs.”

In my jaded boxing mind, anything less than 24/7/365 random testing conducted via an agency with the bite to impose sanctions and the investigative power to track down dopers/suppliers/middlemen is essentially useless. 

The Baumgardner testing was done by Drug Free Sport, which, on the surface, appears to have botched things in an ejaculate-inside-your-girlfriend-and-then-put-a-condom-on kind of way. The thought that a failed doping test could go unreported until AFTER the event takes place is absurd-- absurd to the point of making me suspicious.  

I honestly have no idea how or why things played out the way they did in this latest case, but it definitely got me thinking about how advanced PEDs testing, if it stays on its current all-voluntary path, could be manipulated to the point where, maybe, popping dirty could be kept under wraps for the sake of keeping a fight date. Maybe it’s already happening. This Baumgardner incident isn’t the first time a dirty fighter was allowed to compete against a clean fighter. 

Dr. Margaret Goodman, President of VADA (Voluntary Anti-Doping Association) assured me in a recent conversation that her organization does not and would not participate in any testing where a commission and/or the appropriate sanctioning body would not be informed of adverse findings.

“When fighters enter VADA pursuant to a direct contract with us, all results (whether negative, atypical, or adverse) go at a minimum to both fighters, their designated representatives, the supervising commission for the bout), any world sanctioning organization that is sanctioning the fight, the ABC, and the promoter(s) for the fight,” Goodman said.

“We do not conduct testing where results would only go to the fighter or a promotional entity that might contract with us.”

That’s the right answer, of course, but VADA isn’t the only agency out there and there’s also no guarantee that VADA, at some point (again, my jaded boxing mind is speaking), may relax their standards. After all, as so many people say, SOME testing is better than NO testing and it IS entirely voluntary, put together via confidential contract. Absent a leak to media, we’d never know if the process was compromised. In short, I just don’t trust boxing people. 

Boxing’s entire PEDs testing protocol is godawful. State commission testing is weak, advanced voluntary testing conducted via private company can be corruptible. And even when the private testing does catch dirty fighters, the very vital sanctioning/punishment aspect of testing gets kicked back to the commission that couldn’t guarantee proper testing or deterrence in the first place. It’s a fucking mess. 

Despite its affinity for jumbled regulatory messes, though, boxing did have a brief chance at getting it’s PEDs testing shit together. 

Back around 2010-ish, when Floyd Mayweather was making a stink about “Olympic-style testing” as a requisite for facing Manny Pacquiao, there was the slightest of movements towards, perhaps, applying that 24/7/365-type of vigilance to the sport. Promoters and fighters, however, quickly moved to kill that movement by embracing much more amenable voluntary testing measures, instead. 

Not surprisingly, the boxing media, which fell all over itself to self-righteously champion the cause of PEDs testing reform at the time, would end up paving the road AWAY from effective PEDs testing reform. Romanced behind the scenes by exclusives, leaks, and sweet talk from guys like convicted BALCO cheat Victor Conte, certain grandstanding media members, who fancied themselves “PEDs Experts,” were steered away from binding, “Olympic-style” testing and into this current “we’ll govern ourselves” approach.

This has resulted in lots of talk about PEDs testing, but little evidence that the sport is any cleaner than before.

But let’s get back to Alycia Baumgardner.

The unified champ maintains her innocence and she has taken to social media with the inspirational quotes and Biblical verses to be expected from a guilty or not guilty martyr. She claims samples provided immediately after her fight and a month prior to the fight came up clean. Her plight-- smack dab in the middle of a slow boxing news cycle-- has also brought out the cuck auto-defenders and the conspiracy theorists, as well as the impotent, angry men of the He-man, Woman-Haters Club with the “they should let women take PEDs, so they wouldn’t suck at fighting so much” quips. Social media is beyond predictable.

Baumgardner deserves the presumption of innocence until fully proven guilty. However, as we all know, most everyone has already formed an unbudging take on whether she’s guilty or innocent. The reality is that we probably won’t get any sort of real, definitive answer on what happened, how it happened, or her role in any of it. What ultimately happens to her will either be grossly unfair or grossly insufficient-- and we’ll never know which. 

And this is why I try to stay out of PEDs talk as much as possible. 

When it comes to all things PEDs-related in boxing, all we have is confusion, illusion, misdirection, and pointless posturing. I’ll get back to the issue when boxing people are serious about this stuff (or when I’m dragged into commenting again by some big PEDs story people won’t stop asking me about).

Got something for Magno? Send it here: paulmagno@theboxingtribune.com

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