Canelo Alvarez got off about as easily as he could have hoped for on Wednesday when he accepted a six-month suspension from the Nevada Athletic Commission for two drug test failures in February.
Alvarez was forced to pull out of his May 5 mega-fight with Gennady Golovkin at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas as a result of the test failures, which came while he was at home in Guadalajara, Mexico. Golovkin will instead face Vanes Martirosyan on May 5 at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, on HBO.
Alvarez was given a one-year suspension for testing positive for the banned anabolic agent Clenbuterol, but it was reduced to six months per Nevada regulations because Alvarez fully cooperated with the Nevada investigation.
Alvarez, who did not attend the hearing, claimed he did not knowingly cheat and blamed meat contamination. The suspension is retroactive to Feb. 17, the date of the first positive test, so Alvarez can return to competition in August. That means that he could still fight Golovkin on Sept. 15, Mexican Independence Day weekend, when a major boxing match is often held in Las Vegas.
There was no fine, given Alvarez had no purse.
Nevada’s regulations differ from other states and don’t require the presence of the banned substance to result from intentional use. Just the presence of the substance in his system in Nevada guaranteed he would face discipline.
There is no reliable test for Clenbuterol on the market that can discriminate between intentional usage and inadvertent usage caused by eating contaminated meat.
Francisco Vargas was permitted to fight Orlando Salido in California on June 4, 2016, despite testing positive for Clenbuterol, because California regulators believed his claim of having eaten contaminated meat and because he passed a series of tests prior to the fight.
The problem with that, though, is that if it is a case of intentional use, the athlete will have already gotten the benefit of the illegal substance and then be able to compete without facing a penalty.
Nevada will require Alvarez to submit to drug-testing if he fights again in the state, but regulators across the country need to examine their rules to tighten them, if needed, to require random testing from the date of a suspension.
Given Alvarez has no fight scheduled in Nevada, he is no longer under its jurisdiction and it cannot randomly test him without his consent. However, if Alvarez enrolls in the WBC Clean Boxer program, which is required of all WBC champions and fighters ranked in its top 15, he would be required to be randomly tested given he has had a positive test.
Not being able to test a fighter during a suspension could allow a fighter who was of a mind to take performance-enhancing drugs during the penalty period with little risk.
Steroids are known to speed healing. If a suspended fighter has an injury, he/she could theoretically use a steroid to aid with the healing process and get himself/herself back in the gym during a suspension during a period in which regulations wouldn’t allow for testing.
The risks in boxing are great without fighters being enhanced artificially beyond their limits. This is a loophole that needs to be closed wherever it exists, as quickly as possible.
Alvarez may well not have intended to cheat, but that doesn’t preclude someone in the future finding himself/herself in the same situation and opting to take artificial assistance.
No one wants to see an innocent fighter’s career ruined because he ate a contaminated steak. That would be grossly unfair and not in the spirit of the regulations.
But because so many fighters do cheat, those who are and always have been clean face burdens they shouldn’t otherwise have to face. Alvarez lost a mega-payday that would have been well in excess of $20 million, and if he is telling the truth and the positive tests came from eating contaminated meat, it is a high price to pay.
The problem, though, is the flip side. Because so many cheat, regulations need to be as strict as possible. It’s literally life or death in the fight game.
Golden Boy Promotions, which promotes Alvarez, released a statement following the suspension:
“As we have maintained all along, the trace amounts of clenbuterol found in Canelo’s system in February came from meat contamination, and we provided the Nevada State Athletic Commission with a great deal of evidence to support those facts. Although most professional sports, international anti-doping agencies and United States boxing commissions treat meat contamination differently from other positive tests, Nevada does not. Canelo and Golden Boy Promotions respect the rules of Nevada and are therefore satisfied with the settlement agreement reached today.