By Paul Mason
In big news this week, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez was finally brought to book for his role in failing two separate drug tests, curtailing his 5th May super-fight rematch with Middleweight kingpin, Gennady Golovkin. Although Alvarez has received a ban, the length was laughable, to say the least. Golovkin will continue on without Alvarez for now, taking on blown up Super Welterweight Vanes Matirosyan in the Cinco de Mayo showpiece in Las Vegas.
“Canelo” failed two separate drug tests on the 17th and 20th February this year for clenbuterol. Alvarez’s reasons for the failures were blamed on “contaminated” meat, an excuse used by Mexican fighters before him. Clenbuterol is used to treat asthma but can also help build lean muscle mass and burn off fat. It is sometimes illegally mixed into livestock feed to make meat leaner. No matter what the excuses are, there is no excuse for a failed drug test, especially in the sport of Boxing. Furthermore, the message that the Nevada State Athletic Commission is sending is a terrible one. Alvarez has received a six-month ban, but technically, it is a four-month ban, as it has been backdated from when the first test was failed. This frees Alvarez up to return from 17th August, conveniently in time for Mexican Independence Day Weekend in September, which will raise the possibility of fighting Golovkin again in a money-spinning rematch.
In my opinion, this is what it boils down to – money. If “Canelo” was a run of the mill fighter with no main event status or pulling power, the ban and message would be more severe. But he gets no more than a slap on the wrist, free to continue with his career as if nothing happened. He generates hundreds of million dollars for the American economy, the governing bodies and commissions, and himself, and that seems to be more important than applying the correct level of punishment. The ban is nothing to Alvarez, and won’t hurt him, or impede his career in any way.
Mexican fighters are no strangers to this kind of controversy. Pound for pound great, and former Prior to Morales’ rematch with Danny Garcia in October 2012, United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) conducted two random drug tests (Oct 3 and 10, 2012). Morales tested positive for use of the same clenbuterol. Again this was blamed on contaminated meat. Although the New York State Athletic Commission was notified 24 hours in advance of the fight of Morales’ positive drug test results, the legal process was still ongoing. The NYSAC unbelievably allowed the fight to proceed, where Morales was knocked out in four rounds. Australian Heavyweight Lucas Browne tested positive for clenbuterol following his dramatic come from behind stoppage win against Ruslan Chagaev. He was stripped of the WBA Title he won that night and also banned for six months. Browne was laughably then reinstated into the WBA’s top five upon his return. He fought Dillian Whyte last month, the same Whyte who had to serve a two-year ban in 2013 for failing a test for methylhexaneamine.
Make no mistake, Alvarez is a top-level pound for pound operator, but questions must be asked. He has always looked like a monster for any weight class he has participated in, and has taken part in more than a few catch weight bouts throughout his career, and weighed in several pounds heavier come fight night.
Looking at cases in other sports, in Rugby League, Scotland prop Adam Walker of Wakefield tested positive for cocaine. Former Widnes half-back, and England Rugby Union player, Rangi Chase did likewise, and both were banned from all sport for two years last November. While Zak Hardaker was sacked by Castleford Tigers in February and is awaiting a UK Anti-Doping hearing for the same offence. It’s a zero-tolerance policy.
It seems as though the USA has completely different guidelines and punishments compared to the UK. The maximum ban allowed by the NSAC would have been one year for “Canelo’s” failure, but, as Alvarez co-operated, his was cut to six months.
Simply put, performance-enhancing drugs, or any other banned substance in Boxing, is a potential death waiting to happen. It seems only a matter of time before a fighter on “PED’s” brutally knocks out an opponent and causes a death in the ring. In my opinion, life bans would not be too harsh a sentence, as this sends a clear message to fighters looking to gain an unfair advantage on their opponents, and would deter them from falling foul of a failed test, and losing their professions and livelihoods. If this isn’t possible (which is unlikely to happen anytime soon) then a more consistent approach to punishments handed out is required, so a boxer banned for a particular substance isn’t treated more or less harshly than another.
Drugs don’t have a place in any sport, and certainly not in the sport of Boxing, where lives can and have been lost before, and no fighter should be bigger than the sport.