BECAUSE failed performance-enhancing drug tests are these days more common than lacklustre pay-per-view events, even the blissfully ignorant struggle to believe the world’s best boxers are clean.
It’s certainly a problem, the drug issue. However, equally problematic is the assumption that all boxers in the world are currently using PEDs to get ahead. Why? Because we might be wrong, that’s why.
What if there are boxers out there still doing it clean, boxers for whom integrity and morals still rank higher than dirty money and dirty success? What if we’re unfairly tarring the innocent and the guilty with the same brush?
Worse than that, what happens if our low expectations and cynicism mean that whenever traces of an illegal substance are found in a boxer’s test sample we automatically condemn them and presume they are cheating scumbags out to permanently damage their opponent?
In these instances, a boxer might have their reputation unfairly blackened. In these instances, you can sympathise with them and perhaps understand why innocent until proven guilty is, despite the prevalence of positive drug tests, probably the right stance to take.
Monte Barrett, a heavyweight contender during the noughties, would agree. Like so many, he was unable to get to the end of his 48-fight pro career without falling foul of the testers but remains adamant, at 48 years of age, there was more to the incident than meets the eye.
In 2011, a urine sample Barrett provided following an August 13 win over David Tua came back positive for the banned stimulant methylhexanamine. Barrett admitted to using the workout supplement 1.M.R., a nitric oxide powder sold over the counter at GNC, but said he was unaware it contained banned ingredients.
No stranger to working its way into the systems of professional athletes, methylhexaneamine can be found in popular training supplements sold at nutritional and drug stores and, though chemically related to amphetamines, is only slightly more powerful than a cup of coffee.
That’s according to Greg Wells, a kinesiology professor at the University of Toronto who has educated Olympic athletes on doping rules and discussed the drug in relation to a failed test by Toronto Blue Jays prospect Marcus Stroman in 2012.
“It’s a short-acting stimulant, but it’s not something we need to hang this guy up for or anything like that,” Wells told Canadian paper The Star. “It’s not a big deal.”
To back this up, Barrett revealed he was using the same supplement when he fought Charles Davis to a draw in January 2011 [seven months prior to facing Tua], after which his test sample came back negative.
“I’m thinking GNC ain’t going to sell steroids or banned substances,” Barrett told Boxing News. “I was posting about it on Facebook at the time and took it during training camp.
“When I went to the doctor, I showed him everything I was taking. He checked it and said, ‘Okay, fine.’ I wasn’t hiding anything.
“Then they came back a couple of months later and said I failed a drug test. I was like, ‘If you knew this, why did we have a fight then? Why didn’t you say nothing then?’ It wasn’t even a blood test. It was a piss test.”
Tua, at the time, was having none of it.
“Monte came to New Zealand telling everyone how hard he had worked to get into the best possible shape for the fight. Now we know he is just a drugs cheat,” he told the New Zealand publication Truth Weekend.
“He has fooled everyone and cheated me out of an honest result.
“There’s only way one way to put this behind us. He needs to come back to New Zealand and step into the ring with me again. I’ll make sure he needs some drugs by the end of the fight.”
Much of Tua’s frustration owed to the fact he was outpointed by Barrett having been held to a draw and floored by the New Yorker in the pair’s first fight 13 months earlier. If the feeling of losing is bad, the feeling of losing to someone you perceive to be a drug cheat must be the worst feeling of all.
Barrett, though, categorically denied taking an illegal substance and questioned the timing of the failed test revelation, believing it had more to do with Tua’s desperate need to secure a third fight than anything else.
“If I would have failed a [urine] test, they would have never let me leave New Zealand with those belts,” Barrett told Boxing Insider back then.
“I’ve never been a cheater. I bust my butt. I sparred 125 rounds, I ran countless miles, and I trained countless hours. I put so much work in.
“I busted Tua’s butt fair and square, that’s the bottom line.
“Tua’s whole career has been excuses. He has never lived up to his potential. He never was world champion. He never really fought the fight that put him over the top. And it’s not because of nobody else. It’s not because of drugs or his opponents. It’s because of him. He’s a lazy ass. He’s a lazy-ass fighter, and he doesn’t apply himself and he doesn’t train hard.
“If he wants me to, I’ll move to New Zealand, train there the whole time, and he can watch me eat, watch me train, watch the supplements I take, and I’m still gonna bust him down.”
As it happened, the two never did share a ring for a third time and Barrett’s test failure was, like most of them, soon forgotten. He boxed twice more as a pro – losses to Shane Cameron and Luis Ortiz – and is remembered not for the Tua drug test but for wins against Tua, Dominick Guinn, Owen Beck and Tye Fields and for bravely giving his all against giants like Wladimir Klitschko and Nikolay Valuev.
Interestingly, had his failed test happened today, when social media rules the world and knee-jerk reactions are the only kind, Barrett’s career might be viewed differently. Perhaps unfairly, too.
The same could be said for many fighters down the years. Some got away with taking drugs. Some were caught but ignored. Some were caught, served a ban and were then forgiven.
We know now that in days gone by fighters were free to misbehave not because they were clever but because the testers and the sport itself had yet to catch up. Today, however, we remain a long way from having caught up but maybe we’re at least now catching up. Or, you know, running the same race.
That’s a positive, no question. But the flipside is that it also leaves fighters susceptible to the kind of treatment they would have avoided in a time when fans, pundits and fellow fighters were not as equipped to play judge, jury and executioner.
“I think the drug issue is so bad for boxing,” Barrett, 35-11-2 (20), said. “You’re not being honest. You’ve got to enhance yourself to perform better. That’s not an honest victory for nobody.
“Boxing is not an organisation. This is a self-run business. It’s not like football, baseball or basketball. They have franchises to protect so they’re going to make sure it’s done the right way. Otherwise it looks bad for the organisation.
“Boxing is a self-managed sport and people get sloppy because nobody has your best interests at heart. You’re all on your own.
“I think there should be a strong penalty for it. Guys like Canelo [Alvarez] got patted on the head.
“I didn’t have any intentions of doing anything illegal. I never had a desire to do something dishonest like that. I didn’t want to feel like a fake. I didn’t want no hollow victories. It don’t work for me.”
Neither hollow victories nor drugs worked for Monte Barrett, but he is aware many seek out the latter to achieve the former. He knows for some it is the new recipe for success.