Doping in boxing has become a major concern in the last six months.
The situation with Conor Benn’s doping allegations is ongoing and lacks a clear resolution.
Recently, the WBA super lightweight champion Alberto Puello failed a Voluntary Anti-Doping Test (VADA) for the same substance Conor Benn was caught using twice – Clomiphene.
Additionally, UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) banned one of Britain’s most successful boxers of the 21st century, Amir Khan, for failing a post-fight drug test for ostarine, a banned substance.
These events have led fans to question the integrity of the sport.
However, there are journalists who are trying to change that narrative. One of those being Tris Dixon.
The former editor of Boxing News has worked as a boxing journalist for over two decades. He’s written many books, most famously Damage: The Untold Story of Brain Trauma in Boxing, which was shortlisted for William Hill Sports Book of the Year back in 2021.
The possibility of a book on doping in boxing?
Tris is a journalist who pulls no punches when tackling deep rooted issues within boxing. As Tris puts it in Damage, “I’d written about murder, suicides, depression and brain injuries for years in connection with boxing…. I said how something needed to change, then wrote about the next flunked drug test.”
Now with top fighters testing positive for PEDs, Tris is pondering writing a book on the issue.
“It’s just an idea at the moment because it’s becoming such a hot topic,” Tris says.
“You see from the fallout from the Conor Benn situation and how that’s dominated the boxing landscape really subsequently and several months down the line. It’s still a big issue and a hot topic. There’s a very different set of rules and regulations in boxing, in the sense that there are no overarching organizations to hold people accountable.”
“So, people are failing tests, they’re not getting suspended and they’re not getting banned. They’re able to ply their trade and find loopholes and box elsewhere where they get different licenses and all the rest of it.”
When asked what his aims would be when writing the book, Tris replied, “It would be nice to do something that galvanizes the sport in some way shape or form to try and make things a little more straightforward, easy to understand and to try to eliminate some of the loopholes that exist by bringing it to the attention of possibly not just the wider public, but the authorities as well, to try and make sure that something is done and can be done.”
“Because obviously, the thing with boxing is you’re not looking at people who are trying to run fast or other people trying to jump further. You look at the people who are ultimately inflicting damage on one another. If any sport needs a level playing field, it’s boxing.”
UKAD VS VADA
The way fighters are tested is very different as you go through the levels of the sport. All UK fighters are tested by UKAD both in and out of competition. They solely test fighters through urine samples where most substances are only detected within a 2–3 day window. However, UKAD testing is not boxing-specific and tests other sports as well.
In 2022, there were 292 boxing events in the UK and only 217 UKAD tests in and out of competition that year. Meaning on average there was less than one fighter tested per event.
Compare this to VADA, which tests through a combination of blood and urine samples. The system tracks fighters’ whereabouts and tests fighters as soon as they sign up for the testing programme.
Despite this, VADA costs roughly $20-30,000 to fund and is usually only brought in when a fight can generate enough money for the promoter to be able to afford it.
However, there are exceptions where fighters at lower levels are tested more frequently. Tris recalls a time when former British heavyweight fighter Larry Olubamiwo, failed multiple tests for EPO. The man who fought Olubamiwo before his failed tests was former British Heavyweight champion, Sam Sexton.
Tris, who had Sexton on his Boxing Life Stories podcast recently said, “He was in the other corner fighting Larry that night.”
“Sexton was surprised that he was tested for a fight of that level. But then he kind of felt that maybe someone had tipped off the authorities about Larry. Therefore, they tested him there when normally they wouldn’t test at that level I don’t think. I think it’s probably more championship-level fighters or that sort of level.”
Olubamiwo and Sexton were tested more frequently for that fight due to the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) tipping off UKAD as they discovered Olubamiwo’s name while looking through records of everyone that had ordered EPO from China.
Tris goes on to say “I think it’s only when you get to the bigger fights where there’s more money that VADA testing starts. Obviously, people want year-round testing and people want random testing the 24/7 stuff. I don’t know how you implement that in boxing with training camps, and people all over the world because it’s such an expensive process.”
“I think it’s about $20-30,000 per fight to get it done. The waters are so murky. It’s really hard to see how there is going to be one sort of umbrella organization to do it all but that is definitely what’s needed.”
Lack of control from the BBBofC
As Tris has pointed out, boxing doesn’t have an overarching governing body like other sports. In the UK, boxing is run by the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC); in America, they have commissions for every state. They all have different testing systems and different bodies carrying out those process.
When asked whether the BBBofC should take more control over the testing programme in the UK and implement VADA testing, Tris replies, “I don’t know because I don’t know where the money comes from to do it.”
He continues by saying, “I think there’s a there’s a couple of interesting things on this as well. I heard Matt Christie talk about this on the boxing news podcast recently where he was saying if you notice that some of these bigger fights are now actually being announced with less and less lead times, sometimes five or six weeks out, which leads him to believe it’s easier for people to cheat and be cycling performance-enhancing drugs.”
“Because the lead-up time is only five weeks and once the contract is signed testing can begin, then you’re only five weeks out from the fight. So, who knows what these people are doing? You look at boxers as well, a lot of the top fighters are only fighting twice a year, so God knows what they’re doing for drug testing in between those fights.”
The Conor Benn saga continues
One of the biggest doping sagas in the history of the sport is the Conor Benn case, which is still yet to fully be resolved.
After two failed VADA tests and the constant reluctance of Benn’s team to provide the BBBofC with sufficient evidence to prove his innocence, sense seems to have prevailed. Benn has handed in the 270-page document he already sent to the WBC to the BBBofC, who cleared Benn of any wrongdoing.
This has resulted in UKAD issuing a provisional suspension to Benn whilst the BBBofC investigates the document.
However, in the period between the Eubank Jr fight being pulled and Benn’s provisional suspension, Benn’s team have been trying to negotiate his next fight. Back in March, The Sun reported Benn was set to fight Chris Eubank on the 3rd June in Abu Dhabi.
When Tris read the headline, his response was, “No surprise whatsoever.”
He continued by saying, “Eddie Hearn made it clear that he wants to proceed with Conor Benn’s career and that Conor’s at loggerheads with the British Boxing Board of Control and wants them to sit down together. But that seems highly unlikely, given how tense the feelings are between both sides. So that means you’re going to have Conor Benn sitting out for a year during one of his prime years. He’s going to want to get him to get licensed somewhere else.”
“I think people will say about the Middle East and Saudi and Abu Dhabi and Dubai and all these places where Eddie and other people are taking these big fights. But ultimately the testing isn’t great over there, you know they’re not experienced commissions. They haven’t worked at high levels. I think there’s a feeling within the sport that they’ll just greenlight anything.”
“That’s what looks like is going to happen. Whether for his Eubank next or not, his next fight will be there because the WBC have put Conor back in the rankings and that’s basically given Eddie the green light to get on with Conor’s career and get licensed somewhere else.”