NM Athletic Commission hasn't tested for PEDs since before the pandemic

May 6—The New Mexico Athletic Commission, which regulates professional combat sports in the state, has not tested participants for performance-enhancing drugs in the events it oversees since combat sports resumed after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commission chairman Joe Chavez said in a phone interview he doesn't know why testing for PEDs, which the NMAC is authorized to do as per its bylaws, was discontinued. Nor, he said, does he know who made that decision.

Chavez said he wants to remedy the situation as soon as possible, given that the NMAC has approved a nationally televised (ESPN) Aug. 10 card featuring an International Boxing Federation featherweight world title bout between Albuquerque native Angelo Leo and champion Luis Alberto Lopez.

"We need to start applying the rules that we've got," Chavez said, "and if we need to add anything, we need to do that."

Albuquerque's Gavin Pantoja was the NMAC chairman from 2015-19, preceding Chavez, and continues to work in the industry with the Association of Boxing Commissions and other state commissions.

Testing for PEDs, he said, is not necessarily a given.

State commissions, Pantoja said, "may request PED testing, but it's not a requirement. ... They have that right, but that doesn't mean they have to."

Pantoja said that during his tenure with the NMAC, main-event fighters were tested regularly for PEDs. Undercard fighters were tested at random, totaling one-third of the fighters on the card.

For a local, off-TV promotion, paying for PED testing can create a financial burden, he said. Nationally televised cards featuring world championship bouts like that approved for August, Pantoja said, can ease that burden but also make the need for PED testing more urgent.

Aaron Perez, who with business partner Gabriel Carlin heads Albuquerque's Legacy Promotions, said he was not aware Legacy wasn't being charged for PED testing since Legacy's return after the pandemic until he inspected invoices after getting a phone call from the Journal.

Any additional cost created by PED testing, he said — at least for main-event fighters and a random sample of other fighters on his cards — is a price he's willing to pay for the safety of the contestants.

Perez's two sons, Aaron Angel and Abraham, fought on Legacy's March 23 card at Expo New Mexico — Abraham in the main event, defeating Californian Fernando Diaz for the World Boxing Council Silver flyweight title.

Aaron Perez said he'd heard other promoters were concerned about the cost of PED testing in addition to the cost of COVID testing.

"In my mind, fighter safety is always No. 1," Perez said. "Abraham's opponent could have been on steroids, or Angel's opponent could have been on steroids, and we'd never know. Somebody could have gotten hurt."

The absence of testing for PEDs in New Mexico since the pandemic came to light at Wednesday's monthly NMAC meeting.

Commission members were discussing with Duana Pimentel, who works with Any Lab Test Now, a company contracted with the commission to conduct drug testing, how and when testing for cannabis should be conducted given that cannabis is now legal in New Mexico for both medicinal and recreational use.

In the midst of that conversation, it was mentioned that testing for PEDs had lapsed.

"I find it shocking that we don't test for PEDs," board member Larry Louick said.

That situation, said board member Ed Manzanares, "sounds like something we're gonna have to revisit as a commission, because I am actually floored that we don't test for PEDs.

"I can't believe that of all the things we test for, that's not (one of them)."

Pimentel, in a phone interview with the Journal on Sunday, said she doesn't remember details of the process that led to PED testing not being conducted, nor who made the decision. But she said the cost of PED testing, on top of the traditional panel of 10 and the necessity of COVID testing, was a factor.

"I believe it was an issue with the pricing of it," she said. "... Some promoters don't have extra funds to pay for a cost like that."

Pimentel said that before combat sports were shut down due to the pandemic — no professional boxing or MMA cards were staged in New Mexico between March 2020 and August 2021 — PED testing was conducted in the process described by Pantoja. When combat-sports events resumed, they were not.

The New Mexico Athletic Commission currently has four members: Chavez, Louick, Manzanares and Jerome O'Connell, who was not present, in person or remotely, at Wednesday's meeting.

Chavez, a contractor, served on the commission from 2002-2011 before becoming a boxing promoter. He returned to the commission in November 2019 and at that time was elected chairman.

O'Connell, a Las Cruces attorney, also joined the commission in November 2019.

Manzanares, a UNM senior associate athletic director, was appointed to the NMAC in April 2022. Louick, a Las Cruces Sheriff's Department detective, came on board that October.

Richard Espinoza, the NMAC's executive director, has been in that position at least since 2015. Espinoza serves on other state regulatory boards as well under the umbrella of the state Regulation and Licensing Department.

Article of the NMAC bylaws lists anabolic steroids and corticosteroids among prohibited substances, as well as diuretics that could be used as masking agents.

There is no published list of prohibited substances specific to PEDs listed in the NMAC bylaws. The Colorado Combative Sports Commission's website includes a list of prohibited substances published by the World Anti-Drug Agency.

Pantoja said urgency regarding PED testing has ramped up in recent months, given positive tests found in samples provided by boxers Dillian Whyte of England, Ohioan Alycia Baumgardner and, last week, Californian Ryan Garcia. All three boxers have denied intentionally ingesting banned substances.

"I know that's something that every commission is redoing right now, because PED use seems to be rearing its ugly head again, just with the results we're seeing across the nation," he said.

"It's happened like a tidal wave."