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Why Boxing Will Never Win the PEDs War

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COMMENTARY | Boxing has always been a tough, dirty, sometimes frustratingly corrupt business-from the bottom of a Peoria club card to the top of the pugilistic food chain. Even the media, entrusted with delivering the truth to fans, way too often deals in varying shades of gray.

The truth of the matter is that the sport is set up to favor the scoundrels. With no centralized authority, the inmates are literally running the asylum and it's certainly not in their best interest to hand the keys to any outside party.

All of the evils that plague the sport can be traced back to the fact that nobody has any real authority to enact change. Each state commission has its own procedures. Some state commissions are little more than empty offices while some states have no commission at all. If a fighter gets suspended in California, for example, there will be at least a dozen states (and an entire rest of the world) willing to welcome him with open arms. Boxing, really, has no universal law.

The latest scandal to hit the sport involves performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). And, predictably, those wishing to resolve the issue are running into the same chaos and confusion that has kept the rats ahead of the traps for the last hundred years.

Boxing people were well aware that PEDs had taken an increasingly prominent role in the fight game. Shane Mosley had gone through his scandal. Roy Jones, James Toney, and several other fighters had tested positive for banned substances. Rumors involving PEDs use have dogged dozens of fighters for the last twenty years or so.

The state commissions (those that even bothered to test), responded to the growing crisis in typical boxing regulatory fashion- by doing nothing. They dragged their feet and let their own testing protocol become virtually obsolete while doggedly fighting against any calls to upgrade their systems to test for the substances actually being used these days.

But while the commissions fought change, the athletes began to push for it. Fueled by Floyd Mayweather's then-ridiculed call for blood testing during the Pacquiao-Mayweather fiasco, the idea of voluntary testing became all the rage.

Fighters would do what the commissions were reluctant to do. Great. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and The Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) became the two organizations handling the voluntary pre-fight blood and urine screening.

Problem solved, right? Not quite.

Once this voluntary testing snagged its first culprit, it became painfully evident that, perhaps, the sheriff was in town, but there was no jail in which to hold the criminals…and there was also no courthouse where these "criminals" could be tried.

Last May, in the weeks leading up to his rematch with Victor Ortiz, Andre Berto tested positive for nandrolone. He was pulled from the Ortiz bout, but would resume his career six months later without so much as a slap on the wrist. The California commission, which had neither sponsored nor endorsed the VADA testing used, opted to be lenient regarding any disciplinary action, ostensibly, because the testing was done above and beyond their approved methodology. Berto merely had to ask to be licensed and provide a doctor's note explaining his side of the story. All was immediately forgotten.

When Lamont Peterson tested positive for a synthetic testosterone prior to his scheduled rematch with Amir Khan, the worst that happened to him was the loss of one of his two world titles --even though he admitted to using the same banned substance in his title-winning effort against Khan six months prior. Still allowed to keep his IBF belt, Peterson was down for a mere six months or so before he started looking for his next opponent.

Worst of all was the case of Erik Morales, who twice tested positive for clenbuterol leading up to his October bout with Danny Garcia, but still couldn't be kept from entering a New York ring. His people, claiming a third test proved his innocence, insisted on going ahead with the bout and put Garcia into the obscene dilemma of having to choose between losing a million dollar payday or entering the ring against someone who may have a banned substance flowing through his system. And while all this drama was happening, the New York State Athletic Commission sat idly by, forced to deal with an unprecedented situation involving testing done above and beyond the scope of their own protocol.

And these things will keep happening because while the sport may have a PEDs problem, along with a myriad of other major problems, the real issue at the heart of boxing's ills is not being addressed.

Independent testing agencies can bust fighters until they're blue in the face, but even with a stack of failed tests littering the Vegas strip, nothing will really be accomplished. Like vacuuming your living room without a bag attached to the vacuum cleaner, this fad of voluntary testing has only been good for stirring up dirt.

Until there's a truly independent centralized authority in boxing, willing and able to handle the sport's most pressing issues, any call for reform is just empty rhetoric. Right now, even if someone did care about PEDs in boxing, there's nothing, universally, that could really be done.

It's just a matter of time before someone gets killed or seriously hurt in the ring and the beating gets traced back to an opponent's PED use. When that happens, critics will wring their hands in phony despair and the self-righteous members of the boxing media will bellow in fake outrage. But, as is usually the case in boxing, any aim at reform is merely for show. The hard, ugly work of creating structure for a sport that desperately needs it just wasn't sexy enough for those ambitious media members using the PEDs issue as a cause célèbre for career advancement.

Meanwhile, amid the fake propriety of voluntary testing and its accompanying simple-minded media support, it's business as usual in boxing. The cheats keep cheating and the fans keep swallowing one outrage after another. The boxing world has been conditioned to accept the placement of a pretty scarf over a gaping neck wound as proper treatment. This will not change unless the entire structure of the sport changes. And good luck with that.


Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and a close follower of the sport for more than thirty years. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and as Editor-in-Chief of The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing. For breaking news, additional analysis, and assorted crazy commentary, follow him on Facebook, @TheBoxingTribune or on Twitter, @BoxingBTBC.

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