In recent years some high profile fighters have been tested positive for banned substances and a host of successful operators have been the subject of widespread whispering campaigns.
The subject bounced back to the fore when Jarrell ‘Big Baby’ Miller’s test results read like an doctors shopping list and he was prevented from fighting Anthony Joshua in New York earlier this month.
Miller wasn’t the first, indeed his failed test came within a year of Canelo being found to have a banned substance in his system – nor will he be the last to be caught – but the high profile nature of the fight and the $6M purse he forfeited has brought boxing and drugs to main stream newsfeeds for the wrong reasons.
The extra spotlight on Miller’s failure forced boxing to have a debate and opened the door for the wider sports media to comment – with the point being made that five [Tyson Fury, Dillian Whyte, Luis Ortiz, Jarrell Miller, Alexander Povetkin] of the heavyweight Top 10 have failed drug tests.
There have been the usual calls for lifetime bans, whilst the so often before heard questions surrounding testing and methods of testing have been trotted back out.
However, this time around the tone is a little different. There seems to be a suggestion the use of performance enhancing drugs is quite common in the sport. Without being brave, or indeed foolhardy, enough to name names, there are those in the game hinting that there is a serious issue.
Again no names have been dropped, but there seems more of a willingness to discuss ‘open secrets’ with regard to ‘certain gyms’ or to questions massive improvements, fighters moving through the weights, developing knockout power, and even those who carry real size.
The writers of this website hear rumours from time to time, but more often than not they are to do with British fighters or gyms and one must take them like you would any early stage football transfer rumour – with a great deal of skepticism.
In all our years working covering the sport, we have only ever heard a handful of boxing names RUMOURED to have taken performance enhancing drugs. It’s important to point out in all of those cases the people relaying the rumour, had themselves ‘heard a rumour’.
Still, in the past few weeks there has been suggestions drug use is more commonplace than fans are led to believe while testing is nowhere near as prevalent as some would assume
If that is the case, if there is a culture of performance enhancing drugs in Ireland the fighters would know about it. Such is the tight knit nature of the sport on the island that if, as suggested, there is an open and more common use of performance enhancing drug abuse on the island, the boxers are the people to ask.
So, to investigate the existence and extent of PED use in Ireland we contacted a host if fighters and asked them some straight forward questions with regard to the matter.
We offered everyone approached anonymity and although the majority were happy enough to go on record, we felt it important not to name names so that the fighters that might have some strong things to say can not be identified via a process of elimination.
The response we got in terms of Irish boxing for the most part was positive, but as many have pointed out publicly, with no testing culture in Ireland, no one can say for certain if we have a clean sport or not.
“In Ireland I’ve no reason or evidence to believe it’s completely clean when 90% of pro boxers have never or don’t regularly get tested,” Fighter A explained before revealing they had never been tested during their entire career.
“I have not been tested since I turned pro.”
No Irish boxer contacted had ever been tested ahead or after a pro show which took place in the Republic of Ireland under the Boxing Union of Ireland and Fighter B added that “I have never been tested for PEDS, never. The only ever blood or urine I’ve give is for my yearly medical. It should be something they bring in.”
On a more positive note, each of the fighters we contacted have never been offered drugs nor have they witnessed any of their peers take banned substances.
However, a skeptical tone remained and none would confidently predict the country is drug free.
“I would think Ireland would be one of the most clean nations in the world but to go as far as drug free, I am unsure,” Fighter C reasoned.
Fighter D would go further “it’s definitely not clean!”
“I can remember a relation of a high level fighter who I fought who was in the same club as me, all he talked about was steroids and tried to sell people them but I genuinely had zero idea whatsoever about them and would have been totally naive to any drugs in sport.
“Then I fought that relation and lost to him and my first thought was ‘I think he’s juiced because I beat him so easy not that long beforehand.”
Fighter D isn’t the only to have suspicions and Fighter A adds that “I’ve never heard of boxers in Ireland doing PEDs but I’m pretty sure there’s many gyms around Ireland with a steroid culture and reputation.”
“I’m not sure if there are those taking drugs or not here in Ireland, but who knows? I mean, no-one taught Lance Armstrong was cheating either and he was like Superman on the bike. You just don’t know.”
Fighter E, too, has also heard rumours, and explained how “I personally don’t know of any fighters for sure, but I have heard a couple whispers regards to two fighters. I can’t say if it’s true or not, but you hear rumours.”
Fighter F, a former medal-winning elite amateur, has been left disappointed by the lack of knowledge in the pro game.
They outlined how “most boxers who ‘fail’ tests, it’s over stupid stuff. You’d have to be looking out for over the counter things with ‘pro, ‘plus’, or ‘extra’ in it, you can’t go near it. Then there’s supplements which may be made in the same factory as other stuff.”
“When we were amateurs we were educated – as a professional, no one is educated. There’s no guidelines, education, nothing.”
While there are a range of opinions in terms of prevalence and impact, there does seem to be a unanimous feeling in terms of punishment and deterrence.
Fighter A describes the need for “tougher penalties. I’m in favour of lifetime bans. I’m up for giving scope for potential unfortunate failings through contamination or over the counter medications… but only one chance.”
With the interviews being conducted in the wake of Miller receiving a six month suspension from the WBA for failing three tests and taking a cocktail of HGH, GW1516, and EPO, most were incredulous.
Fighter B said that “I think there needs to be a much bigger punishment, six months is a joke. You are getting in to fight another fighter and lives are at risk. If you use enhancing drugs to gain an advantage you put a fighters life at greater risk.”
Echoing this, Fighter C adds that “if you cheat in sport, especially a combat sport where you are fighting another man and you’re enhancing your power or abilities then you should be banned for life.”
Fighter F, meanwhile, is pessimistic about the whole scenario at present.
They analyse how “these guys are taking drugs to enhance their performances and they’re going to do it because there’s nothing stopping them. Even with all these testing agencies, if they get caught, nothing is going to happen to them.”
“You see with Canelo, he was caught cheating, other boxers were caught cheating, but the only reason they weren’t banned [permanently] is because they’re generating too much money. They can’t be touched.”
“The only way it is going to be dealt with is if someone dies, which is a pity.”