As a sport so historically linked to everything from disorganization to outright corruption, boxing has rarely been the best lawyer from a public relations perspective.
Look no further than the aftermath of undefeated WBC Junior Lightweight Champion Oscar Valdez’s positive test for the banned substance Phentermine, which apparently doesn’t stop him from winning his title against amateur rival Robson Conceicao (16-0, 8 KOs) in the Defend September. 10 Battle for a top rank on the ESPN map at Casino Del Sol in Tucson, Arizona.
According to ESPN’s Mike Coppinger report on Thursday, the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Athletic Commission has ruled that Valdez (29-0, 23 KOs) can continue the fight despite his A and B sample tests conducted by the Volunteer Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) on August 13th gets dirty.
Pascua Yaqui Commissioner Ernie Gallardo declined to explain his decision to ESPN. Meanwhile, WBC President Mauricio Suliaman said the sanctions authority will not prevent Valdez from defending his title, which he won in February’s spectacular 10th round against Miguel Berchelt. Suliaman also said Valdez would not face any punishment.
The visuals of the decision are just as terrible for the integrity of the sport as the overall situation is confusing.
Phentermine, a central nervous system stimulant that increases stamina, is listed by VADA as a banned substance that both fighters have signed up for. The WBC also uses the agency as part of its clean boxing program. VADA, which costs less than similar testing agencies like USADA or more flimsy state commissions, has a reputation for being the most thorough in the sport due to its use of Carbon Isotope Ratio (CIR) testing.
The Pascua-Yaqui Commission, however, only adheres to the rules of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which prohibit the substance only if it is ingested during a “competition phase” that begins at 11:59 pm the night before a fight . Phentermine has a half-life of around 20 hours, according to the ESPN report, which means it can be completely eliminated from a fighter’s system in just four days.
Valdez, a 30-year-old native of Mexico, claimed he had “no knowledge” that he was ingesting the banned substance. He was retested on August 30th and came back negative, despite the fact that that test came 17 days after his first failed result.
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VADA only reports results and does not judge which puts the responsibility on the commission to decide Valdez ‘fate. Both Valdez ‘attorney Pat English and promoter Bob Arum explained away the failed test by blaming Valdez’s switch from coffee to herbal tea during training camp.
It’s a performance that has been wildly ridiculed by Victor Conte, the disgraced former BALCO boss who was jailed in 2005 after pleading guilty to distributing performance-enhancing drugs to athletes and money laundering. Conte, who now runs his own sports nutrition company called SNAC, which is widely used in boxing, told ESPN that the response to herbal tea was a “dog ate my homework” excuse.
Regardless of the honesty of Valdez’s claim, or whether the trace amounts found in his system were intentional or not, it is a blatant spit to have his title defended on a large platform, given the lack of credibility that boxing still has when it comes to drugs has tests and the health and wellbeing of its participants.
The sport’s reputation for PEDs was far from great at first, apart from the work of VADA, an independent organization founded in 2011 by longtime ring physician and 2021 International Boxing Hall of Fame nominee Dr. Margaret Goodman, was founded. And his reputation is deteriorating due to the investigative work of journalist Thomas Hauser and his 2018 exposé of the USADA, which has also been the UFC’s anti-doping partner since 2015.
Hauser reported that of the 1,501 tests USADA conducted in boxing over the eight year period beginning in 2010, only one positive test was reported to a state sports commission. The test in question, Erik Morales’ 2012 positive on both his A and B samples for Clenbuterol, only came to light because it was leaked on the internet from a website that has stopped working. Worse, Morales was still allowed to fight in the final bout of his Hall of Fame career, a fourth-round knockout in his rematch with then-reunited junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia.
Valdez’s situation is similar to Garcia’s in that, despite the damning evidence, he is still allowed to fight. This even comes after a recent VADA rules precedent that resulted in a penalty when Billy Joe Saunders canceled his fight with Demetrius Andrade from the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission in 2018. Saunders tested positive for oxilofrine, which has been banned by VADA despite being classified as out of competition by WADA.
Given the cynicism many watchers have about boxing that drug testing is nothing more than window dressing or an insurance policy for everyone from networks to promoters, the Valdez story doesn’t do much to disprove this.
Whether or not boxing’s drug testing protocols were lip service, a rule was broken and a prohibited substance regulated as such by the testing agency whose use both fighters had consented to was clearly found. Ignoring the situation and moving on for the sake of the holy dollar is about as hypocritical as one can imagine.
The only honest step in this case would be for everyone involved to openly admit how little they care.