Many sports are merely a metaphor for combat, a modern proving ground for mental prowess, physical domination and superiority. Cities, schools and even states have their great rivals, whom they wish nothing more for than the agony of defeat. However, in boxing, the athletes are actual combatants. With this in mind, it is no surprise that occasionally boxers may look for an unfair advantage in order to leave the ring both with a victory, and with their physical well-being intact. Unfortunately, in combat sports an unfair advantage may lead to something much worse than an unjust victory, which is why boxing commissions have become much more strict with anti-doping policies.
Russian heavyweight Alexander Povetkin is the latest athlete to have been swept up in a doping scandal, after testing positive for the recently banned PED meldonium ahead of his world championship bout that was scheduled for this Saturday, May 21 in Moscow (1). The WBC (World Boxing Council) ruled this week that the heavyweight bout has been cancelled due to the positive drug test. This was music to the ears of those who want drugs out of the sport, as just last month boxer Francisco Vargas tested positive for the banned substance Clenbuterol, yet his upcoming super featherweight title fight this June is still moving forward (2). Demonstrating that in the big-business era of modern professional sports, sometimes the show must go on. Povetkin was scheduled to face Deontay Wilder, who is the first American Heavyweight Champion in over a decade. Wilder insists that he still expects to be paid the $4.6 million he stood to make from this fight, as it was no fault of his that it was called off the week of the fight (3).
Meldonium was an obscure PED that much of the world had never heard of, until tennis superstar Maria Sharapova tested positive for this unique drug earlier this year. ESPN’s Dan Rafael writes, “Meldonium is used because it is said to increase blood flow and carry more oxygen to muscles and, therefore, enhance stamina, a trait boxers would want in a long fight (1)”. While the drug was created to treat angina, myocardial-infractions and heart failure, athletes have found its ability to increase endurance and aerobic capacity to be quite the off-label use (4). The oxygen sparing and ATP-enhancing properties of meldonium led to boxing promoter Lou DiBella describing the drug as “A very serious PED” and “The type of PED that results in extremely elevated stamina and a fighter performing like the Energizer bunny. (1)”
Jim Lampley, who was recently inducted into the boxing hall-of-fame for his commentary genius, has been one of the sports most outspoken anti-doping voices. It is widely speculated that his pleas both with boxers and the sports governing bodies to switch from WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) to VADA (Voluntary Anti-Doping Association) on-air during his HBO series “The Fight Game” is what sparked the change of agencies that the boxing commission now uses. Lampley insisted that VADA has superior testing methodology, that represents the most cutting edge technology available at this time. Since both of the athletes recently caught were caught by VADA, moving forward it will be interesting to see if the numbers of athletes testing positive rises due to the recent change in testing agency.