Blood test issue turns to test of will
The hotly anticipated fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao was teetering on the brink of collapse on Wednesday over a dispute regarding drug testing procedures, a debate that has some experts standing on Mayweather’s side.
On Wednesday, Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank proposed a drug testing schedule that would include three blood draws and an unlimited number of urine tests in an attempt to salvage the bout that hit a negotiating snag on Tuesday, when Mayweather’s side insisted on random Olympic-style drug testing administered by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The world’s top two boxers had agreed to meet on March 13 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas for what is expected to become the largest-grossing bout in the sport’s history.
Arum said frequent urine testing is sufficient in the final 30 days to prevent either fighter from using performance-enhancing drugs. He said Pacquiao is willing to submit blood samples in early January, in mid-February around 30 days prior to the fight and then again in the locker room immediately upon conclusion of the fight.
In the interim, Arum insisted urine testing would be sufficient.
“Everything can be picked up by urinalysis,” Arum said. “Everything.”
Travis Tygart, the CEO of USADA, disputed Arum’s contention and said a combination of blood and urine testing is required to be effective. He also said that to be most effective, athletes would have to be subject to random testing while out of competition.
If any testing is conducted in the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight outside of what is mandated by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, it would be during competition since the fighters are scheduled to start training in early January.
“To have an effective program, you have to collect blood and urine,” Tygart said. “The reason for that is that there are some things that are only detected in urine and there are some prohibited drugs that are both very lethal and potent from a performance-enhancing standpoint that are only detected in blood. One of those, for example, is human-growth hormone (HGH). There is no urine-based tested for human-growth hormone. It doesn’t show up in the urine. It’s only a blood-based test. That’s true of a number of prohibited substances, particularly those that would enhance and aid a boxer.”
Experts told Yahoo! Sports that the amount of blood the fighters would be required to give is minimal and would have no impact upon their performance.
Pacquiao is reticent to give blood within days of a fight because he believes it weakens him, his adviser, Michael Koncz, told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday by telephone from Manila, The Philippines, where he has been meeting with Pacquiao.
An extraordinarily angry Arum, who had harsh words for Mayweather’s camp, which includes the boxer’s father, Floyd Mayweather Sr., and Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer, said a deal would have to be reached Thursday in order to salvage the show.
Mayweather Jr. released a statement on Tuesday in which he demanded the testing be conducted and that it be administered by USADA. That didn’t sit well with Arum, who said he wanted whatever testing was done to be conducted by the Kansas City, Mo.,-based National Center for Drug Free Sports.
“The fight is definitely off,” Arum said. “I read their statement and we’re not acceding to it. Unless they pull that statement and call me, they can go screw themselves.”
Victor Conte, the founder and president of the Bay-Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO), said that while Pacquiao might be affected mentally by having his blood drawn, the draws would have no impact upon his performance in the fight.
Pacquiao, though, isn’t the only high-profile athlete who has expressed reservations about giving blood near or at the time of competition. Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell complained he was tested excessively during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, in which he won a gold medal as a member of his nation’s 4 x 100 meter relay team.
“I got pretty upset two days ago because since I have been here, they have tested me four times,” Powell said during the 2008 Games. “They’ve taken so much blood from us we’re going to be very weak before the final.”
Conte said to do comprehensive testing, drawing three tubes of blood with three milliliters in each would be sufficient.
“That amount would be less than one-half of one percent [of the total blood in the body],” Conte said. “It’s not going to have any effect, the drawing of blood. Could it have some mental effect? It possibly could and that’s what Asafa Powell did complain about in Beijing. And now we have this complaint from the Pacquiao side.
“That’s the only down side of that. It’s certainly not going to have any physical effect, giving blood before a fight.”
Mayweather’s statement indicated that several elite athletes, like basketball players LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, swimmer Michael Phelps and cyclist Lance Armstrong, have submitted to the testing that he is requesting.
Arum said Wednesday that none of those athletes provided blood and that each gave only urine samples. However, Schaefer, who is representing Mayweather in negotiations, said each of them competed under USADA requirements in Beijing, which includes random blood and urine sampling.
“We asked and we were told that Kobe, LeBron and Michael Phelps all submitted themselves to the same policies, which includes the right of USADA to test for blood,” Schaefer said.
Schaefer, though, said he didn’t know independently whether any of them had given blood.
Arum vehemently insisted none of them gave blood and said Pacquiao would not do so any closer than 30 days out from the fight until it is over, even if that meant the fight did not occur.
He said he consulted experts who “were unanimous in their opinion” that urine testing would be sufficient.
However, Dr. Gary Wadler, an internal medicine physician and chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Prohibited List and Methods sub-committee, said an athlete should not be able to dictate the terms of testing.
Wadler called Top Rank’s offer to have Pacquiao give a sample in early January, 30 days before the fight and then immediately at the conclusion of the fight “a non-starter.”
“The fundamental principle is that the time and place of testing is in the domain of the governing body, not of the athlete,” Wadler said. “It would lose all its validity if the athlete could pick and choose when he is going to be tested and for what he’s going to be tested for and how he’s going to be tested. They’re sophisticated enough now that if someone wanted to, you could play the calendar to your advantage.
“There are pretty savvy guys out there who are quite conversant with that very issue. That, to me, would be a non-starter.”
Arum said he objects to USADA doing whatever testing is agreed to because of its many requirements.
He said the National Center for Drug Free Sports is used to working with professional athletes and administers testing for the NFL and Major League Baseball.
“USADA is an Olympic body and it is not for professional sports,” Arum said. “They’ve got all this crazy paperwork. It’s nonsense. [The National Center for Drug Free Sports] deals with pro athletes in a professional kind of way. They don’t do [blood] tests during the season. They do urine tests. Urine tests will detect everything. Blood tests are archaic.”
Schaefer hoped that Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach could intervene and talk to Pacquiao and convince him that submitting to the USADA testing would not hurt him or impact his performance.
He said a deal would have to be reached by sometime early next week in order for the fight to go off as planned in March.
“Freddie could explain to Manny that there is a very small amount of blood taken, only about a tablespoon, and that it wouldn’t have any impact on him at all,” Schaefer said. “Kobe is Manny’s hero and Kobe has done it. If Freddie talks to him, this could get resolved very easily.”
Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions, reiterated Wednesday that the testing is the only outstanding issue. Though there has been talk that there is an issue over whether or not the fight will be for Pacquiao’s World Boxing Organization welterweight title, Ellerbe said the drug testing is the only unresolved issue.
“That’s it,” he said. “Otherwise, we’re done.”