December 24, 2009 in Boxing
[For an update on Mayweather-Pacquiao click here]
Big Fight called off?!
The big story in the boxing world today is that the potential megafight between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao (tentatively scheduled for 13 March 2010 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas) is possibly OFF because of a fundamental disagreement in negotiations relating to the drug testing procedures for the bout.
Ordinarily, drug testing in Vegas would be performed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. This would entail a urine test before the fight and another one after the fight. However, Mayweather’s camp is demanding Olympic-style drug testing for his fight with Pacquiao (which will be performed by the United States Anti-Doping Agency), which would subject both fighters to random blood and urine testing. According to Leonard Ellerby, Floyd’s adviser, this would effectively mean 3-5 random blood tests and 10-12 random urine tests over approximately 10 weeks. This could literally happen at any time, including in the middle of the night and up to the day of the weigh-in.
Pacquiao’s camp is furious at this demand, to the point where his promoter Bob Arum (from Top Rank) announced that the fight was off completely – and he blames Mayweather, saying this was his way of trying to get himself out of the fight. He said that Pacquiao, who has never failed a drug test before, was willing to agree to more stringent testing, including blood tests, but there has to be a limit. A superstitious man, Pacquiao believes and feels that taking blood ‘weakens’ him (though scientifically it only takes an hour to physically recover from the amount of blood they would draw), and does not want anyone to take blood from him any closer than 30 days from the fight. Accordingly, Pacquiao drew the line at one blood test before the kick-off press conference (in January) and another one after the fight. Urine testing could still take place at any time.
On the other hand, CEO of Golden Boy, Richard Schaefer (who represents Floyd in those negotiations) is saying that Pacquiao’s refusal means he has something to hide. Floyd Mayweather Jr’s father, Floyd Sr, has repeatedly claimed that Pacquiao is on performance enhancing drugs, and this is their way of ensuring a ‘level playing field’. Mayweather’s camp is adamant about this and aren’t budging either.
And that constitutes a stalemate in the negotiations. If the fight is not finalised before the end of the year, the March 13 date would be a near impossibility.
Golden Boy were the first to release details of the disagreement, and have consistently argued that if Pacquiao has nothing to hide, then why refuse their demand? To add fuel to the fire, the Mayweather camp has revealed that they agreed to an exorbitant $10 million per pound penalty for every pound over the 147 lb limit at which the fight would take place. This was of course due to Mayweather’s blatant disregard of the catch weight of 144 pounds when he fought Juan Manuel Marquez by coming in at 146 (and paying $600,000 to get away with it). If they were willing to accept such an unprecedented demand, then Pacquiao ought to accept their demands too, they said.
Here are some of the quotes from the Mayweather camp:
Mayweather Jr: “I understand Pacquiao not liking having his blood taken because, frankly, I don’t know anyone who really does. But in a fight of this magnitude, I think it is our responsibility to subject ourselves to sportsmanship at the highest level. I have already agreed to the testing and it is a shame that he is not willing to do the same. It leaves me with great doubt as to the level of fairness I would be facing in the ring that night. I hope that this is either some miscommunication or that Manny will change his mind and step up and allow these tests, which were good enough for all these other great athletes, to be performed by USADA.”
Richard Schaefer: “I do hope it is some sort of miscommunication and that Pacquiao is not even aware of what is going on and he will clear this up and say what is good enough for these great Olympic athletes is good enough for him and Floyd, and he agrees to do these drug tests. Team Mayweather is very surprised that an elite athlete like Manny Pacquiao would refuse drug testing procedures which Floyd has already agreed to and have been agreed to by many other top athletes. Why would Pacquiao refuse to have the same kind of testing that Lance Armstrong, Michael Phelps, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have had?”
Leonard Ellerbe: “We hope that Manny will do the right thing and agree to the testing as it is an egregious act to deny the testing and hence, deny the millions of fans the right to see this amazing fight. We just want to make sure there is a level playing field in a sport that is a man-to-man contest that relies on strength and ability. I still hope this decision is coming from someone in Pacquiao’s camp and not Manny himself as it would be a shame that an athlete of his stature and who represents his whole country would not be able to show the public or his fellow athletes that he agrees to the highest standards in sports competition.”
“The reason why they don’t want to do that is because obviously there is something to hide. You’re not going to dictate to an organization like USADA, which has tested the elite athletes of the world, on how their testing is conducted. Arum is talking about the fighters like they’re going to have a blood transfusion. We’re talking about a tablespoon of blood. We’re taking about a tablespoon. This is the same representation of Manny Pacquiao that says he’s superstitious and doesn’t like needles and then you look all over his body and he has tattoos. So which one is it? If there’s nothing to hide then what is the problem? Boxing has an opportunity and a platform with the whole world watching to say we have a clean sport. What better opportunity that with the two top guys in the sport stepping up to make this happen?”
Top Rank, which previously refused to comment, has suggested a compromise to put a stop to the bad PR this story was generating. Bob Arum says Pacquiao would agree to testing by any of the independent drug testing agencies utilised by the NBA, NFL and MLB. And there would be a limit of 3 blood tests – 1 during the week in January when the fight is announced, 1 no later than 30 days before the fight, and 1 after the fight in the dressing room. Urine tests would still presumably be conducted by the Nevada State Athletic Commission as usual for normal fights.
Here are some quotes from Top Rank:
Bob Arum: “Manny says, ‘I’m not going to let them take my blood whenever they want when I’m getting seriously ready for a fight. They can take all the urine they want.’ My fighter feels uncomfortable with that and feels that would weaken him. I know if I deal with an organization that deals with pro athletes we can agree to the protocol.”
“He’ll give them blood but he wants to know it will stop at a particular point. He wants the fight. But he’s a proud guy. He won’t be pushed around by this guy [Mayweather]. Let’s be very clear on the real issues we differ on. It’s not about being tested. Manny is on board with that since it’s such a major concern of Floyd Mayweather Jr. It’s about who does the testing and the scheduling of the procedures. The major issue related to the testing rests with which independent agency will administer these tests. The United States Anti Doping Agency cannot do it because they will not amend its procedures to accommodate the blood testing schedule we have outlined. USADA, under its guidelines, would have the right to administer random blood tests as many times as they want up to weigh-in day and that is ludicrous.”
“If Mayweather Promotions and Golden Boy Promotions are sincere in creating ‘a level playing field,’ as they stated in their [Monday news] release, our recommendations should put their minds at ease. If not, one has to wonder if their motives are more about leveling the fight.”
“You gotta understand. I’m dealing with a Filipino fighter who is superstitious and I have to tell him they [USADA] have the power to come into his dressing room before the fight and take his blood. Any time means any time. They would put nothing in writing as to any kind of schedule. That is ludicrous. Let’s bring in the testers from the NBA or the NFL or baseball.”
And the response from Golden Boy:
Leonard Ellerby: “We’re sticking to what we’ve been saying. Manny Pacquiao or any of his representatives are not going to dictate random testing. That’s the whole point of random testing, so you don’t get a chance to study for the test. USADA is the premiere agency for doing this, the gold standard. They’re not going to have Top Rank, Mayweather Promotions or Golden Boy Promotions dictate to them. It’s pretty simple. Manny Pacquiao can put an end to this whole thing by stepping up to the plate and doing this.”
There’s a lot of positioning and fluff in their statements but when you strip that away, I can still see the arguments from both sides.
On the one hand, you have Mayweather, who is obviously concerned about Pacquiao’s unprecedented ability to skip weight classes and still maintain his speed and power. This is a negotiation. It is perfectly within his right to ask for more stringent drug testing, especially when he accepted the $10 million per pound penalty. Maybe there’s a little bit of trying to gain a mental advantage over Pacquiao too, particularly if he knows Pacquiao is superstitious and doesn’t like to have his training interrupted. Either way, the fundamental argument remains the same: if Pacquiao has nothing to hide, then why not accept the terms, especially when it won’t have a physical effect on his performance in the ring?
On the other hand, you have Pacquiao, who must be thinking – I’ve never failed a drug test, I’m superstitious and I don’t like people taking blood from me, it makes me feel weak and I believe it does – so why should I agree to something that no other fighter has ever had to agree to, something that is beyond the ambit of ordinary protocols? I’ve already agreed to compromise by accepting blood tests by independent drug agencies, but making such an arbitrary and unreasonable demand is pushing me too far.
To me, it’s not that complicated. There are two questions that could solve the whole debacle.
1. Are there drugs which a urine test would not pick up but a blood test would?
2. Can a fighter still dope and manage to go undetected with the 3 blood tests proposed by Top Rank?
If the answer to both of these questions is YES, then then there’s more room for maneuvering from the Mayweather camp. Not to say that Pacquiao must accept the terms, but there’s an argument to be made – perhaps another blood test in between to eliminate any doubt whatsoever. If the answer to either question is NO, then Pacquiao shouldn’t have to accept more stringent terms.
Clearly a blood test before the press conference in January means there is no chance of taking a banned substance 2 months out form the fight. Another one up to 30 days before the fight means there’s no chance of doping before then either. And a final blood test after the fight means no banned substances in his system for the fight itself. So really, there is only a small window of opportunity for doping (if any) – ie 30 days before the fight till how ever long the usage would have to stop before it would show up in a post-fight blood test. And they would only be substances which could only be detected in a blood test, not a urine test.
Furthermore, even if it is possible to dope and get away with it during that small time frame, how much of an advantage can one genuinely gain from it? Consider the risks and rewards – if there’s not much of an advantage to be gained, would a fighter be willing to take the extremely high risk of getting caught?
Anyway, let’s just hope this seemingly small detail doesn’t get in the way of potentially the biggest fight of all time (in terms of revenue at least). Despite threats to walk away, both sides are determined to reach a mutual position – there’s too much money at stake for them not to.
[Update: Pacquiao is now set on suing the Mayweathers for defamation! He is genuinely pissed off, though I think the statement that was released was just another ploy in getting the Mayweather camp to back off. It was said that John McCain would be brought in as a mediator, but Pacquiao is fuming and refuses. Doesn't look good. Really, they just need to get some medical experts and formulate a testing schedule that makes it impossible (or at least extremely unlikely) for a fighter to dope. I'm sure that does not have to involve random testing at any hour of the day. Perhaps another scheduled one several days out if the proposed 3 tests are insufficient to eliminate all doubt. Come on, stop acting like babies and get this on!]