The Beltline: How should we treat fights involving boxers who fail drug tests?

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

SOME say that if you’re willing to take back a cheating spouse, you can’t remind them of their past transgression every chance you get, at least not if you have any hope of moving on.

Often, this unwritten rule is what allows the cheater to manipulate their way back into the relationship. They regain power with forgiveness and the need to “move on” and therefore no one gets upset because nothing is said.

Interestingly, a similar thing happens in boxing. Because soon after a sport agrees to forgive someone who has failed a performance-enhancing drug test—allowing them to compete again—a tacit agreement is made to never speak of the transgression again. It’s not discussed by promoters, those looking to cash in on this fighter’s redemption arc, and it’s rarely discussed by TV commentators or journalists, most of whom require boxers to be active (and liked) to make a living. .

Right or wrong, that sad reality will be true again this weekend when Sheffield’s talented featherweight and lightweight Kid Galahad takes on Max Hughes in Nottingham, with an emphasis on the present rather than the past. Again, rightly or wrongly, this is because if looking back too far the commentators and everyone else covering the fight had no choice but to acknowledge Galahad’s absence from the ring from 2014-2016, a failed PED test for Stanozolol (a banned anabolic steroid), for which he received a two-year ban. (Of course, Galahad maintains his innocence as he claimed his brother was adding to the protein shake.)

This is, for obvious reasons, too uncomfortable a proposition for those not directly affected. Yet one man who seems more than happy to delve into Galahad’s past and boost that star is his next opponent, Maxi Hughes. In fact, it was Hughes, not any desire to reveal Galahad in 2022, that inspired the piece, as he said Boxing news weeks ago I said to my missus, “It’s good karma vs. bad karma. Good vs. evil. He takes steroids and cheats and he got karma with Kiko (Martinez, who brutally knocked out Galahad in his last fight). I’m a good person and karma is back on my side. It would be nice for her to like ‘Kiko’.”

You can be sure that as powerful as Hughes’ words sound on the pre-fight ring, they won’t be repeated by the commentators or the promoter at any press conference on fight night. That’s because, in the end, no one cares about a failed performance-enhancing drug test like a boxer who must one day prepare to fight someone with that history. Unlike promoters and TV people, they are not in the business of making money or saving face in the future. Nor is it so easy to give a fighter of this reputation a second chance or significant benefit.

For them, a fighter in an uncertain sport made it even more uncertain now, it seems only fitting to bring in the past and keep it fresh. More would, too, if they didn’t find themselves blindsided by the size of the payday they stand for from this reformed “fraud” of boxing.

You see, there’s a lot going on in the heavyweight division, a division where life-changing money is made, and because of that, opponents are less willing to reveal the checkered history of the bad guy they’re facing. Up there, where personalities and paydays distort and mask everything else—you know important stuff – is secondary to what ultimately sells the fight. Bans then become “retirements”. Excuses are both creative and inspiring (and somehow believable).

Some opponents, including Caleb Plant, have dared to point out the failed drug test “Canelo” Álvarez posted in 2018 (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Then again it isn’t always both at the elite level. One might even speculate that Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez’s recent feud with Gennady Golovkin, which took place last weekend in Las Vegas, was the result of Golovkin daring to bring up Alvarez’s 2018 positive performance-enhancing drug test (for clenbuterol) at every turn. The American Caleb Plant also used this tactic, I remember, and he too suffered the wrath of a bitter Mexican last year, so he wanted to punish Plant for bringing into the public domain something he had worked so hard to bury.

The institution helped Álvarez with this, burying bad news, the same way they help others deemed worthy of protection. In these cases, let’s call them “special cases”, promoters don’t mention past mistakes, sanctioning bodies don’t mention past mistakes, and commentators and reporters are mostly afraid to mention them either. But like Hughes leading Galahad, Álvarez’s opponents have much less trouble being honest and going to uncomfortable places, aware that this strategy could potentially work on two fronts: one, it could upset him, and second, it would remind him and everyone else that mud sticks.

Or at least that should stick. In an ideal world, this should be front and center of the detail, something as important to the fight night MC introducing the two boxers as how many silly titles they hold, all of which he rattles off with unwarranted gusto before the first one. a bell. Mumble if you will, Mr. Microphone, but say it anyway; say the reason for the ban, say its length, and work on pronouncing the name of the relevant PED as you would pronounce the name of, say, a Kazakh boxer.

Because without this kind of transparency and public shaming, and without the context it provides, boxing becomes an even more dishonest sport and its tales of victory even more unreliable. It’s hard to praise them, these triumphs, and even harder to lose yourself in the romance and fantasy of it all. Like Mexican beef these days, you don’t know what you’re looking at or where it came from. You can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys.

Indeed, to watch a so-called superfight questioning the “purity” of the combatants involved is to watch a beloved movie these days and see “Produced by Weinstein” or, even worse, “Directed by Roman Polanski” in the headlines. As in these cases, details like this shouldn’t take anything away from the quality of the product, but alas, know enough of what you see around and it can’t help but do just that.

Sometimes it makes me long for the lost ignorance of my teenage years; a time when I knew little about boxing and even less about life; a time when I trusted people and, just as important to me, trusted the achievements of the boxers I both watched and admired. It was easier that way and definitely more fun.

But now the opposite is true. It’s not easy or fun anymore, from what I’ve seen and heard over the years, it’s getting harder and harder to trust any boxer I watch in the ring on fight night, especially when the big money is involved. and just as hard to accept that there are countless respected former boxers who no longer compete and have therefore gotten away with their drug habits being largely unknown, either due to the poor nature of testing, dumb luck or some deal they made. the devil.

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

Unfortunately, PEDs are so common in sports today that it’s generally easy to ignore positive tests, and boxers can excuse any infraction by slapping their hands and saying, “Well, everyone else is doing it, why not me?” But the problem with this can’t-get-them-might-as-well-together-with-them attitude is that everyone else doesn’t – true, there still are some boxers whose word I trust—and besides, these particular rogues aren’t sprinters or jumpers or men and women hitting balls with bats. Instead, these are fighters who enter fights whose goal, whether you want to admit it or not, is to render the opponent unconscious by repeatedly punching them in the head.

It’s a dubious enough thing to do when done right, but when drug use is then introduced, a decision that can only be based on a desire to increase the potential for harm, what does that say about the characters involved? This tells me that if they are indeed guilty, they are more than just frauds; their crime greater than cheating in terms of competition. It says they are malicious, cruel people who lack compassion and empathy. It says they care little about their sport and even less about the health and future of the person they are going up against on fight night. It says everything.

And despite this knowledge, those who can do something about it choose not to say anything. Or, even worse, they might say something like, “Well, fine, but make sure you don’t do it again. Okay?” Or maybe it’s, “Be more careful next time.”