|Freddie Roach: “Testing should be mandatory”
By Gabriel Montoya, MaxBoxing on Doghouse Boxing (Jan 21, 2014)
Gabriel's NO PED Logo - By Chee, Doghouse Boxing
It's been four years since Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s initial negotiations started the current anti-doping debate/firestorm in boxing. That fight fell apart when Mayweather demanded Pacquiao join him in what was then called “Olympic-style testing” to be conducted by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Pacquiao balked at the demand; the two sides fought over a cutoff date for testing and now, several negotiations later, the fight is more myth than the legendary trilogy it should have been.
Four years later, we know more through a ton of articles published by this writer and others. Most importantly, we've learned through experience. We've seen anti-doping agency VADA (the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association) implement Carbon Isotope Ratio testing, (which determines the number one drug of choice for the modern athlete, synthetic testosterone) as part of its screen test process. That move among others by VADA has raised the testing bar in the sport. Canada's two top promoters, GYM and Interbox have implemented protocols similar to VADA in a testing program they've agreed to partake in. We've also learned that true “Olympic-style testing” is year-round and not the training cam footage-only variety implemented by Mayweather in his five fights since restarting that conversation in boxing.
Pacquiao's trainer, Hall-of-Famer Freddie Roach is now a staunch supporter not only of anti-doping testing but VADA, to be specific. Three of his fighters including Pacquiao, former UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and Ruslan Provodnikov have undergone the stringent testing offered by the voluntary program.
Roach joined LeaveitIntheringradio.com this week to discuss the subject of anti-doping with my co-host David Duenez and me. Boxing has been abuzz since Maxboxing.com/Secondsout.com on-camera reporter Radio Rahim conducted this interview:
But before we got to Roach's feelings on anti-doping in boxing, we addressed the impending future of his star fighters. First up was Manny Pacquiao.
“Well, obviously, Pacquiao-Mayweather is the biggest fight out there for him and it's one we want but right now, it looks like [WBO welterweight champ Tim] Bradley might be in the picture,” said Roach. The two men met in June of 2012 and Bradley pulled off a split decision disputed by fans and media alike. “Sometimes you have to avenge your losses. Even though I felt we won that fight, it’s still a loss in the records. I still think Manny needs to prove he is the better fighter. They are talking [about] that next. It’s a tough fight. [Bradley] is still one of the toughest fights out there but if Manny fights how he did in his last fight, I think he will do very well.”
The big standout of Roach's stable last year was WBO junior welterweight titleholder Provodnikov, who took Bradley to the limit in a close loss and stopped former titleholder Mike Alvarado seven months later. Provodnikov is rumored to be in the running to fight Pacquiao, a problem for their shared trainer.
“There is a rumor about [Ruslan] fighting Manny. I hope that doesn't happen because I don't want to lose one of my fighters. But business is business and sometimes you have to do things like that to make a living and so forth. [Provodnikov] wants the biggest fight out there. There are a lot of good 140 and 147 [pound] fighters out there for him,” said Roach.
Roach, who had been written off by fans and media after a rough 2012 as if his training skills had somehow been space-jammed, seemingly brought Puerto Rican three-division champ Miguel Cotto back to life in 2013. Cotto is tentatively set to fight for the middleweight title next year against incumbent linear champ Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez.
“With Cotto, I hear we are negotiating with Sergio Martinez. I hear that is going very well. That's his next fight. After that, we have maybe a rematch with Mayweather or [Saul] Canelo” [Alvarez], which would put him in a great fight,” said Roach. “If he does beat Martinez, that will put him as the first Puerto Rican fighter to ever win a fourth title in as many weight divisions, so that would be great for him.”
Speaking of Pacquiao's last fight against rugged Brandon Rios, it was a whitewash as Pacquiao barely took any damage in outboxing Rios over 12 lopsided rounds. Duenez asked Roach if he was surprised Rios withstood so much power-punching. Was it a good chin or did Manny stick to boxing and not go for a finish?
“Maybe a little bit of both,” wondered Roach. “I thought towards the end, [Pacquiao] pulled up a bit and maybe could have finished him. Rios does have a good chin; he took a lot of shots. Thing is, what I like about what Manny did is he didn't put himself in a bad position like he did in the fight before [against Juan Manuel Marquez in which he was knocked out while leaping in, out of position]. And he didn't just go for the knockout from too far away like he did with Marquez. He fought a smart fight. I was really happy about that. He fought a very intelligent fight and I thought he won every round.”
I asked Roach if he hammered into Pacquiao that he needed to stay disciplined and just box while not looking for that reckless knockout win.
“Thing is, in the fight where [Pacquiao] got knocked out, he was doing well and it was close to the end and he got a little anxious,” said Roach, referring to Pacquiao’s sixth round, stone-cold knockout loss to archrival Marquez. “And that's what we worked on, not getting too anxious, taking our time and working our combinations. Once Pacquiao gets his combinations going, he is almost unstoppable.”
Future and past business aside, the subject turned to one of Roach’s other fighters, Georges St. Pierre, who said recently that due to a lack of support from Dana White and the UFC regarding his desire to undergo VADA testing, he will be retiring from the sport for the time being.
“I talked to [GSP] yesterday and he does want to take a break in retirement. Maybe he will come back. I told him to take at least a year off and see how you feel. And if after a year, you are motivated, we'll do it. He told me he won't fight another fight unless I am in his corner though,” said Roach.
When asked how he felt about GSP's feeling that he should have been supported, not denigrated, by White, Roach said, “[GSP] has a valid point. Georges is a great guy. I think he has a valid point on drug testing. I'm for it because I think it makes a fair fight. Otherwise, it's like, do you join them and just do steroids also or enhancing drugs with them or do you just try to fight it because they are taking it? With the testing, it makes for an equal playing field. The unfortunate thing is that I think a lot of people aren't doing anything about it, a lot of the commissions and so forth.”
“Is it just the commissions or is it the writers too?” asked Duenez.
“And the fighters and the rest,” answered Roach. “The thing is, before they do something about it, there is going to have to be a tragedy. Because if someone in a big, big fight dies, that’s what it’s going to take to get these guys off their ass. That's a shame that we have to do that. We shouldn't have to do that. We're in a rough sport anyway, then with [PEDs], it’s almost attempted murder.”
Roach then made an excellent point. The punishment for a PED user in combat sports, the world's most dangerous games, does not fit the crime at all in the United States.
“Then these fines they give these guys. These guys get caught and then they give them a fine of a couple thousand dollars and a two-month, three-month suspension. They're going to take two or three months off anyways because champions only fight twice a year nowadays. If they really want to do “Olympic-style” drug testing, the first time you get caught, you are out for two years. The second time, you are out for the rest of your life. They have to make something that will mean something that will maybe make the fighters think twice about doing [PEDs],” said Roach, making total sense.
From what I am told, WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, is upping that first time offense to a four-year ban in 2015. Combat sports? Well, they still don't have a universal testing protocol, much less strict rules and penalties.
Roach reiterated his opinion that boxing trainers and fighters didn't create the current PED landscape. In his opinion, the strength coaches did.
“That's the thing about the strength-and-conditioning people. I honestly think they brought steroids to boxing,” said Roach, alluding to Pacquiao-Rios, whose testing was conducted by VADA, incidentally. “Robert Garcia [trainer of Brandon Rios, who recently tested positive for DMAA following the Pacquiao fight] was a fighter like I was. We trained hard and we did the best with what we had. In our era, there wasn't enhancing drugs so much that were available. Now the world that we live in right now, it's just everywhere.”
Roach spoke about the “Use PEDs or lose” mentality prevalent in all of sports, not just boxing.
“To get a win, people will do almost anything but if you have to cheat, is it really worth it?” he asked. “Like deep down, maybe someday, they will regret that but for the moment, no. I know, as a fighter, would I have liked to win a world title? Yes, but would I take drugs to do it? I can say ‘No’ now because I am a little bit older and more wiser but when I was an 18-year-old kid, I am not sure. That's why I'm saying sometimes you look at these guys and they look like they are on something, so do you give something to your guys and make it a more equal playing field or do you just battle it and try to do the best you can? And that's why they need to do stricter testing; I believe.
“In my era, enhancing drugs weren't around,” he continued. “I didn't know what a steroid was in my boxing career. We're going back a little ways. My last fight was like 1987 and steroids didn't come into boxing until later on. It’s funny. I was asking [Ray] ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini the other day, ‘‘Boom Boom,’ who was your strength-and-conditioning coach back in the day?' And he laughed and said, ‘What the ‘F’ are you talking about, Freddie? You know we just worked hard.’ And that's what fighters did but with strength-and-conditioning coaches and the science of enhancing drugs, it’s bigger and better out there.”
Roach dances on the edge of straight-up accusations. To many fans and media, the “eyeball test” is more than enough for them but it's not enough to actually get anything done. And frankly, it's unfair. The “eyeball test” put a lot of unsupported heat on Pacquiao during the firestorm of criticism following that first Mayweather-Pacquiao negotiation. Roach’s recent accusation of Alex Ariza, Pacquiao’s former strength-and-conditioning coach (now training Rios and other Robert Garcia fighters), regarding a pre-workout shake he used to give Pacquiao (the contents of which Ariza allegedly refused to divulge to Roach), is an example of that. See the Radio Rahim video for what I am talking about.
More than anything, Roach's speculations are proof that a universal testing program is flat-out necessary in the sport to erase any doubts.
“The thing is, I can't accuse anyone out there,” said Roach. “When we fought Marquez, he looked a lot different, yes. He looked a lot bigger, yes. Was it natural? In my opinion, I don't think so but he passed the [Nevada State Athletic Commission pre- and post-fight] drug test. But something looked a little funny there, in my opinion. But there's no proof. I think sometimes these strength coaches are a little bit smarter and know how to hide it from the testers but sometimes they don't test though.”
Recently, Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer “resigned.” His replacement is being sought. I asked Roach who he liked for the job.
“[VADA President Dr.] Margaret Goodman I know very well because I know she was a commission doctor at one time. She knew boxing pretty well. She was very professional when she stopped fights and so forth - even though sometimes I think girls and boxing don't go together,” Roach laughed. “She was very effective. My mother was a boxing judge, so sometimes I give her a hard time about that. [Goodman] seems like she does a great job and so forth.”
Instead, Roach unofficially nominated the Vice President of VADA, Dr. Flip Homansky, who many feel is responsible for Nevada committing to drug testing in the first place.
“My favorite guy to be the next commissioner that would really do something about [PEDs in combat sports] is Flip Homansky,” said Roach. “He was the commission doctor for a long time. I think he's a very knowledgeable guy and I think a very, very fair guy. Guys like him, Tony Lado, the chief assistant to Kizer, he knows a lot about the boxing game also. He wouldn’t be a bad choice. Thing is, Kizer admitted he didn't know everything. If he didn't know something, he would tell you, ‘Ask Tony because I don't know.’ I respected him for that because he wasn't a know-it-all. He wasn't a know-it-all. Some guys have an answer for everything.”
Roach went on to say something showing just how far he and boxing have come in terms of knowledge and acceptance that sports have a drug problem.
“The thing is, we just need more positive things in boxing. We shouldn't give people a choice in boxing. ‘Do you want to test or no?’ It should be mandatory; I feel. I know Margaret Goodman from VADA is a very honest person; I think. She has always been with me. I don't know the USADA guys too well but I know they are a valid company that does a good job also. We just need better testing because we live in that era of enhancing drugs. And it’s not just boxing. It’s every sport in the world,” Roach said, hitting the nail perfectly on the head.
However you feel about that first negotiation, whatever you suspect of Pacquiao, Marquez or anyone else in the sport, the bottom line is we don't need witch hunts lacking in evidence. We need a better anti-doping testing program in boxing. We need the support of those charged with the health and safety of the fighters. Nothing less will do.
We've come a long way in four years. Now it's time to go further.
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