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The hotly anticipated middleweight title rematch between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, set for May 5 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, is in at least some jeopardy after Alvarez tested positive for trace amounts of Clenbuterol.
Alvarez was training in his native Mexico when the positive test was discovered. Alvarez twice failed tests, on Feb. 17 and Feb. 20, both for trace amounts of the drug. Both the Feb. 17 sample and the Feb. 20 sample were received at the lab on Feb. 21.
Golden Boy Promotions, which represents Alvarez, stated the positive test is “consistent with meat contamination that has impacted dozens of athletes in Mexico over the last years.”
In a news release from Golden Boy, Dr. Daniel Eichner, the president and lab director of the Sports Medicine Research & Testing Laboratory (SMRTL) that conducted the test of Alvarez, stated, “These values are all within the range of what is expected from meat contamination.”
SMRTL is one of two World Anti-Doping Agency accredited labs in the U.S.
Clenbuterol is often fed to animals intended for meat consumption in China and Mexico, because it helps produce leaner meat. Notably, members of the Mexican soccer team playing in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup were cleared of anti-doping charges, after initially testing positive for Clenbuterol. It was found they had eaten contaminated meat, though notably, they did not play in the tournament.
In 2016, boxer Francisco Vargas tested positive for Clenbuterol before a fight with Orlando Salido, but the California State Athletic Commission licensed him provisionally, and he passed later tests.
In a statement released by Golden Boy, Alvarez denied doping.
“I am an athlete who respects the sport and this surprises me and bothers me because it had never happened to me,” he said. “I will submit to all the tests that require me to clarify this embarrassing situation and I trust that at the end the truth will prevail.”
He has no choice now but to submit to all the tests the Nevada Athletic Commission wants, because the commission’s position has long been that the fighter is responsible for what goes into his/her body.
“We have received the adverse analytical findings from VADA regarding Mr. Alvarez. As per our standing operational procedures, we are moving forward with our investigation.” said Bob Bennett, the executive director of the commission. “Accordingly, it would be premature for me to take any additional statements at this time.”
Tom Loeffler, Golovkin’s promoter, was taking a wait-and-see attitude.
“We just found out and we’re going to see how the commission and the sanctioning bodies address it,” Loeffler told Yahoo Sports. “Any time there is a positive test, it’s a concern, but we’ll rely on them to do their jobs and go from there. There is not much else to comment on.
“Abel [Sanchez, Golovkin’s trainer] has always wanted as much testing as positive, because he never wanted any doubt that Gennady’s power is all natural. Gennady has only wanted a level playing field and respect for boxing. He just wants it to be fair for both sides. That’s why VADA [the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency] is in place. Hopefully, this doesn’t affect the fight itself.”
Alvarez has moved his camp immediately from Mexico to the U.S., according to Golden Boy, to avoid potential future issues.
Jeff Novitzky, who has extensive experience at handling anti-doping cases as the UFC’s vice president for athlete health and performance, told Yahoo Sports the burden will be on Alvarez to prove he’s eaten contaminated meat. Alvarez could do that by producing receipts from a restaurant or a grocery store showing meat was purchased close to the time of consumption.
“Here’s what you do when there are allegations of meat contamination,” Novitzky said. “ … No. 1, you look at the science and you look at the levels. You have to determine if that level is consistent with meat contamination, which would be a very low level. But that, in and of itself, is not enough. The level [in Alvarez’s test] could mean that, ‘Hey, there was meat contamination,’ and it was a very little amount. Or, it can mean that it has been a while since the athlete purposely used Clenbuterol and the levels have just subsided.
“What [the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency] did in all of [the UFC’s] cases is they went into the investigative element of anti-doping. They sent investigators to the athlete and the athlete had to prove, via records, that they had purchased meat in a store or at a restaurant. They have to prove they were present in the country. We’ve had them from both Mexico and China. So they had to show they were residing there at the time. They are subject to interviews and in all but one of our cases, everything matched out.”
Novitzky said there should be continued testing after the initial positive and it should show subsiding levels.
“The bottom line is you can’t just rely on the low levels in the test and the athlete’s excuses,” Novitzky said. “Further investigative analysis is required to determine what the athlete says is valid or not.”
Victor Conte, the former head of BALCO, was working with Vargas when Vargas tested positive for Clenbuterol. Conte said he is not working with either Golden Boy or Alvarez, but said he believes this is a case of meat contamination.
Conte said he believes boxers in the past intentionally used Clenbuterol and said it would be a very effective substance for a boxer.
“Clenbuterol is an asthma medication, what they call a bronchial dilator,” Conte said. “That’s what the use is, what the medically indicated use is. Bodybuilders for years have used Clenbuterol. It is not an anabolic steroid, but it is an anabolic agent. That means it helps to retain muscle, or build muscle, and burns body fat, which is exactly what a bodybuilder wants.
“This is in fact a very potent and effective drug for a boxer. So, in the past, do I believe boxers intentionally used Clenbuterol to gain a competitive edge? I do.”
But Conte said he believes that this case is one stemming from meat contamination. He said Nevada is handling it much the same way that California handled Vargas’ case in 2016, by increasing its testing of Alvarez.
The concentration of Clenbuterol in Alvarez’s body was low, and that is significant, Conte said.
“When they say trace amounts, it’s way down in the parts per trillion,” Conte said. “You have parts per million, parts per billion and then parts per trillion. You have trace and then this would be called ultra-trace concentrations. So do I think this is likely it came from a contaminated meat source? I do.”
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