The Beltline: How should we treat fights involving boxers who have failed a drug test?

No guarantee of a clean and fair fight makes an already dangerous sport sometimes difficult to watch, writes Elliot Worsell

SOME will say that if you agree to win back a cheating spouse, you can’t remind them of their past transgression every time, at least not if you have any hope of moving on.

Often, in fact, this unwritten rule is precisely what allows the cheater to manipulate your return to the relationship in the first place. They regain power through forgiveness and the need to “move on” and so, as a consequence, no one gets angry because nothing is said.

Interestingly, something similar happens in boxing as well. For it is shortly after the sport agrees to pardon someone who has failed a performance-enhancing drug test, allowing them to compete once more, that a silent agreement is made, the basis of which is that the transgression will never be repeated. discuss. It won’t be discussed by promoters, those looking to monetize this fighter’s redemption arc, and it will rarely be discussed by TV commentators or journalists, most of whom require fighters to be active (and to like) to win. life. .

Right or wrong, this sad reality will ring true again this weekend when, in Nottingham, Sheffield’s talented featherweight-turned-lightweight Kid Galahad fights Maxi Hughes with a far greater emphasis on the present than in the past. . Again, for better or worse, it will be so because if we look too far back into the past, the commentators, and everyone covering the fight, would have no choice but to acknowledge Galahad’s absence from the ring between 2014 and 2016, the result of a failed PED test for Stanozolol (a banned anabolic steroid), for which he served a two-year suspension. (Galahad maintains his innocence, of course, having claimed that his brother spilled his protein shake on him.)

That, for obvious reasons, is too uncomfortable a proposition for those not directly affected by it. However, one man seemingly more than happy to delve into Galahad’s past and amplify this asterisk is his next opponent, Maxi Hughes. In fact, it was Hughes, as opposed to any desire to expose Galahad in 2022, that inspired this article, with him telling Boxing News a few weeks ago: “I told my lady, ‘This will be good karma against a bad karma. Good against evil. He takes steroids and cheats and karma got it with Kiko (Martinez, who brutally knocked out Galahad in his last fight). I am a good person and karma will be on my side again. It would be good for him to ‘Kiko’, like.”

Rest assured, convincing as Hughes’ words may seem before the fight, they will not be repeated by commentators on fight night, nor by the promoter at any news conference. That’s because, in the end, no one cares about a failed performance-enhancing drug test like the boxer who someday has to prepare to fight someone with that kind of history. For them, unlike the promoter and the TV people, it’s not something to be swept under the rug in order to make money or save face in the future. It’s also not that easy to give a fighter with that kind of reputation a second chance or the benefit of a considerable doubt.

To them, this fighter participating in an uncertain sport now made even more uncertain seems entirely appropriate to bring to mind the past and keep it fresh in people’s minds. More would, too, if they weren’t blinded by the size of the payday they’re in for by boxing this reformed “trap.”

You see that a lot at heavyweight, a division where life-changing money is made and therefore opponents are less inclined to go public with the checkered history of the scoundrel they’re about to face. Up there, where personalities and paydays distort and disguise, all the other stuff, you know, the important stuff, is secondary to whatever ultimately sells the fight. Bans later become “retirements.” The excuses are both creative and inspiring (and somewhat believable).

Canelo Alvarez vs. Caleb Plant
Some opponents, including Caleb Plant, have dared to mention the failed drug test that “Canelo” Álvarez published in 2018 (Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

On the other hand, this is not always the case at the elite level. One could even suggest that Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez’s recent display of animosity toward Gennady Golovkin, who was based in Las Vegas last weekend, was due to Golovkin having the audacity to mention the positive test for performance-enhancing drugs. Alvarez in 2018 (for clenbuterol) in every possible twist. That was also a tactic used by American Caleb Plant, he recalls, and he, too, bore the wrath of the embittered Mexican last year, so eager was he to punish Plant for bringing into the public domain something he had worked so hard to bury.

The establishment helped Álvarez with that, the burying of bad news, in the same way that they help others whom they consider worthy of protecting. In these cases, let’s call them “special cases”, promoters won’t mention past mistakes, sanctioning bodies won’t mention past mistakes, and commentators and reporters, for the most part, will be too afraid to mention them too. However, like Hughes goading Galahad, Alvarez’s opponents have far less trouble being honest and going to uncomfortable places, knowing that it’s a strategy that could work on two fronts: one, it could serve to annoy him, and two, , it will remind him and anyone else that mud sticks.

Or at least it should stick. In an ideal world, it should be a detail front and center, something as important to the fight night MC introducing the two boxers as the number of meaningless titles they hold, all of which he’ll recite with unwarranted enthusiasm before of the first. bell. Mumble it if you like, Mr. Microphone, but say it anyway; say the reason for your ban, say the duration, and pronounce the name of the relevant PED the same way you would, say, the name of a boxer from Kazakhstan.

Because without as much transparency and public shaming, and without the context it provides, boxing becomes an even more dishonest sport, its success stories even more mistrusted. These triumphs become difficult to praise and, furthermore, it becomes more difficult to lose yourself in the romance and fantasy of it all. Just like Mexican meat, you don’t know what you’re looking at or where it’s coming from these days. You can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys.

In fact, to watch one of the so-called superfights when the “purity” of the fighters involved is in question today is to watch a beloved movie and see in the title credits “a Weinstein production” or, worse yet, “directed by Roman Polansky”. As in those cases, such details shouldn’t detract from the quality of the product, but unfortunately, he knows enough about what he’s seeing in a ring that he can’t help but do just that.

Sometimes, for this reason, I yearn for the lost ignorance of my adolescence; a time when he knew little about boxing and even less about life; a time when I trusted people and, just as importantly to me, I trusted the exploits of boxers I watched and admired. It was easier that way and certainly more fun that way.

Now, however, just the opposite is true. It’s no longer easy or fun anymore, now as a result of what I’ve seen and heard over the years, it becomes increasingly difficult to trust any boxer I see in a ring on fight night, particularly when there is a lot of money involved. and it’s just as hard to accept that there are countless revered ex-boxers who no longer compete and thus have gotten away with it, their drug habits largely unknown due to the shoddy nature of the testing, sheer luck or some deal they made with the devil.

Kid Galahad ahead of his November 2021 fight against Kiko Martinez in Sheffield (Matthew Pover Matchroom Boxing)

Sadly, PEDs are so prevalent in the sport today that, generally speaking, it’s easy to not care about positive tests and for boxers to justify any irregularity by throwing up their hands and saying, “Well, everyone else does, right?” Why not me?” But the problem with this attitude of I can’t beat them so I might as well join them is that not everyone else does, it’s true, there are still some fighters whose word I trust, and furthermore these particular cheaters aren’t sprinters or jumpers or men and women hitting balls with bats. Instead, they are fighters who engage in brawls, the goal of which, whether they want to admit it or not, is to render an opponent unconscious by repeatedly hitting them in the head.

That’s a dubious enough act when done right, but when drug use is introduced, a decision that can only be based on a desire to increase damage potential, what does that say about the characters involved? He tells me that if they are really guilty, they are more than just con men; his crime is greater than cheating in a competitive sense. He says that they are malicious, cruel individuals, with zero compassion and empathy. He says they care little about their sport and even less about the health and future of the person they are opposing on fight night. He says everything.

And yet, despite this knowledge, those who can do something about it will choose to say nothing. Or, worse yet, they might say this: “Well, that’s fine, but make sure you don’t do it again. Okay?” Or maybe this: “Be more careful next time.”

Scroll to Top