The latest scandal has ensnared Saul Canelo Alvarez, arguably the most popular and high profile athletes in all of the combat sports. His already divisive and complicated legacy will have another asterisk attached to it now - drug cheat.
The story just broke, there is not a lot of information out there. Some will jump to conclusions quickly without the full story, however in the court of public opinion many will have already made up their minds and with good reason - the excuses are well worn and tired.
Photo Credits: Getty Images
The popular one in MMA is tainted supplements. In the case of incorrigible drug cheat and seemingly irredeemable loser Jon Bones Jones he even went with tainted pills for erectile dysfunction to explain away his failed drug test. That he was allegedly needing alleged dick pills for relations with women other than the mother of his children is a separate if no less unsavoury detail. His limp-wristed defence, which amounted to it wasn’t me didn’t save him from having his license revoked in California, his ability to re-apply hinges on the findings of a United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) hearing - date TBD - that could effectively end his career.
The excuse in the fashion of the day for boxers seems to be tainted meat.
In this case beef from cows raised in Mexico. Trace amounts of Clenbuterol in the billionths/mg were detected in a urine sample given by Canelo on 17 February in Jalisco, Mexico. Clenbuterol belongs to a class of drugs used in a variety of applications and are a part of a class of drugs known as Sympathomimetic stimulants which mimic certain natural body processes of the sympathetic nervous system like adrenaline production for example.
Derivatives of these drugs are used in bronchodilators for asthmatics, they can also be used to make cattle and swine grow faster and produce more meat. Drugs in this class used for this purpose are prohibited in the UK, the US and other European countries while being perfectly legal in China and Mexico.
Another use for Clenbuterol and the only one that matters for our purposes is as a Performance Enhancing Drug (PED). It has been popular in bodybuilding circles for some time for use during a cutting phase - ridding the body of excess fat while retaining any gains in muscle. Its use is banned in nearly all professional and amateur sports and a multitude of athletes from ‘92 Olympian Katrin Krabbe to cyclist Alberto Contador and boxer Erik Morales have faced suspensions or the end of their careers altogether when caught using the banned substance.
For an athlete like Canelo however, given his carefully crafted and stage-managed image as the literal and figurative Golden Boy of boxing the failed test seems at best sloppy and stupid and at worst indicative of a pattern of a fighter who has frankly taken advantage whenever possible.
How NOT to Orchestrate a Conspiracy
Fellow Mexican fighter Luis Nery travelled to Japan to take on stalwart WBC and Ring Bantamweight champion Shinsuke Yamanaka last August 15th defeating the Japanese on enemy soil via 4th round stoppage. Less than 10 days later it was reported Nery had failed a drug test for the banned substance Zilpaterol another androgenic drug used to beef up beef in Mexico where it’s common practice. Nery had three separate samples tested after both his initial A and B samples came back positive, the subsequent samples were negative however the WBC suspended Nery’s title win pending further review.
On 31 October the WBC ruled that Nery’s positive test would be ruled as a result of - you guessed it contaminated the meat. Nery was subsequently stripped and Yamanaka would be reinstated as champion but a rematch was ordered to take place.
Shinsuke Yamanaka was undefeated and at 35 years old was considered one of the best and most experienced bantamweight champions of recent memory. He has killed himself boiling down to make the bantamweight limit. Nery, by contrast, is just 23 and for a lighter weight fighter entering his physical prime, the potential use of PEDs like Zilpaterol would give him a distinct advantage in the weight cutting process.
As previously stated, the WBC had ordered a rematch between Nery and Yamanaka for the title given the controversy that surrounded the first bout. This time Nery came in overweight, missing the 118-pound limit by five pounds indicating that he was never going to make weight, his camp knew that and had no intention of even trying. Zilpaterol or it’s absence could be blamed for Nery’s failure. The wider question might be why even allow the fight to go forward? This is not a potato sack race - these two men are trained to beat the shit out of each other and as we have just seen with Scott Westgarth the stakes are no less than life and death.
Nevertheless, last Thursday back in Japan at the famous Sumo Hall in Tokyo, Nery was again victorious, this time by 2nd round TKO. The WBC has since issued a statement that they have suspended Nery indefinitely from ever fighting for a title within that sanctioning body and have removed him from their rankings as well. A decent gesture, however now the WBC bantamweight belt is vacant and Yamanaka’s record has two stoppage losses, though both are are controversy when the rubber meets the road - he lost and is no longer a champion damaging his ability to earn more money and his legacy.
The subject of legacy leads me nicely into continuing the conversation about Canelo and the implication of his own failed test.
For years I and many other fans and critics have ascribed the title of weight bully to Canelo. Though he has made a steady climb up through the weight classes over the years from his debut as a scrawny teenager to full-fledged pound for pound contender his status as a true Junior Middleweight, for example, did not pass the eye test.
Photo Credits: LM Otero
Former WBO Junior Middleweight champion Liam Beefy Smith stated he believed Canelo was probably 20 pounds heavier in the ring when he fell to Alvarez via KO in the 3rd round. Canelo looked two weight classes above at least in the ring against James Kirkland, Canelo authored another devastating KO that night as well. Yet Canelo vacated the WBC Middleweight title he’d won by beating a serviceable but past his best Miguel Cotto, rather than face GGG Gennady Golovkin two-and-a-half years ago.
Timing is everything though in the boxing game and the time was finally right last September when Canelo and GGG finally met.
Canelo, used to getting everything his way since stepping into the Ultimate A side role vacated by the retired Floyd Mayweather got the lion’s share of the purse that night, the fight took place on familiar ground in Vegas and Adelaide Byrd’s atrocious scorecard seemed to be signposts that Canelo would have enough of an edge to hand the boogeyman his first defeat. The whole debacle cast a pall over what was otherwise an entertaining middleweight scrap.
Again, an interesting caveat - only days ago, on 27 February it was reported that Canelo’s team helmed by Oscar de la Hoya had kissed and made up with the WBC and unlike Canelo-GGG I the rematch would involve the WBC title. Canelo had originally come off as the good guy - resisting the tyranny of the WBC and their exorbitant sanctioning fees. Now one has to wonder had Canelo been using Clenbuterol as part of a cycle of PEDs all along? Prior to the first fight photos of Canelita side by side with a comically buff Saul Alvarez was making the rounds across social media leaving many to wonder at the miraculous transformation.
With Canelo fighting for the WBC title he is automatically enrolled in the Clean Boxing Program (CPB) established by the WBC and it is under their auspices that Canelo tested positive for Clenbuterol this week.
The whole situation is murky, to say the least, frankly, at this stage, there is just simply is not enough information to go on at the moment. As the situation evolves we will all learn more and with about 8 weeks remaining until the rematch, there is the possibility of further revelations.
Regardless, this is free publicity as every blog, every sports news outlet, every podcast is going to be talking about this story. So on behalf of BOXRAW - Oscar, you’re welcome.
That said some questions linger: Is Canelo a cheater? As of now, this fight is still going forward, however, ask yourself this - if it were Golovkin failing a test would this fight be going on?
To be responsible, we ought to wait to pass judgement until we have more information, in his defence Canelo has never missed weight and never failed a drug test that I’m aware of.
The cynical boxing fan though will look at this situation, measure it against the backdrop of the first fight and a litany of fighters who have pissed hot and their well-known excuses
They will look at it like here is the A-Side - the house fighter - with a friendly judge - a possible drug cheat who still lost to Golovkin if you watched that fight with your eyes.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent - you see?
If we see a noticeable deficit in Canelo’s performance come the 5th of May we will have a definitive end to GGG-Canelo II and we will know for sure then who really won the first match.
Personally, I would just like to see the sport I love no longer dragged through the mud.