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Friday, March 19, 2010

Floyd Mayweather's renegade demand for Olympic-style drug testing just might become boxing's norm

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By David Mayo | The Grand Rapids Press

Regardless what anyone thinks about Floyd Mayweather's emphasis on mandatory blood testing in boxing, the pressure it has brought to bear is forcing his sport into self-examination.

Mayo-column-mug.jpg Melvina Lathan, chairwoman of the powerful New York State Athletic Commission, this week announced that body has instructed its medical advisory board to review whether blood testing should be part of how boxing screens for banned substances.

If it enacted such testing, New York would become the first major boxing regulatory body to do so.

Dr. Margaret Goodman and Dr. Flip Homansky, both former ranking officials in the Nevada State Athletic Commission, also have said boxing's urine-only testing makes it a fertile ground for performance-enhancing drugs that can't be detected that way, and have urged Nevada to reconsider its stance against it.

Mayweather, who reached an impasse in talks for a fight with Manny Pacquiao over the latter's refusal to submit to Olympic-style, random blood and urine testing, found a willing participant in Shane Mosley, who agreed to those very terms.

And Thursday, those closest to the May 1 Mayweather-Mosley arrangements ramped up the pressure with a teleconference on which the chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart, again emphasized how inadequate boxing's urine-only testing is.

Tygart called Mayweather-Mosley "another watershed moment" in the effort to eliminate performance-enhancing drugs, comparing it to when the Olympics turned to the World Anti-Doping Agency and its sub-groups -- of which the USADA is one -- for independent testing, thereby eliminating the potential conflict of promoters policing the athletes they promote.

Mayweather, the Grand Rapids native who is unbeaten in more than 13 years as a professional, has taken a lot of heat for his stance. Some people have interpreted it as a way to dodge the Pacquiao fight by not accepting boxing's standards.

Tygart, who called those very standards "a joke" in an interview with The Grand Rapids Press two months ago , said he looks at it much differently.

"It takes a lot of courage when your sport is not doing everything possible to protect your rights," Tygart said.

If either Mayweather or Mosley tests positive, Tygart said a two-year USADA suspension would be imposed, just as on a first-offender Olympian.

Such a suspension would be symbolic, of course, unless boxing commissions honored it.

Tygart said USADA gave careful consideration to whether there was enough time to implement an effective testing program for Mayweather-Mosley, given that some banned substances, most notably human growth hormone -- which is naturally produced and present in everyone, to varying degrees -- is best detected by establishing each individual's base-line levels and comparing them over long periods of time.

The organization ultimately decided it was "comfortable" taking on testing for the fight, Tygart said.

"And keep in mind, baseline is just one aspect of our program," he said. "We also specifically detect. Baselining is not necessary if you're trying to detect individual administration of steroids.

"Obviously, we'd prefer to have them in the program for a longer period of time prior to the fight but, again, we were comfortable because we were asked by an athlete to have the most stringent program put in place. And we weren't going to back away from having that program put in place."

Fighters were instructed on the process last weekend, agreed to let USADA know their whereabouts at all times and are subject to random blood and urine testing at any time up to and after the fight.

There will be no limit on tests, and samples will be stored for several years, just as with Olympic athletes, Tygart said.

Leonard Ellerbe, Mayweather's adviser, said he thinks "all the commissions across the United States eventually will get on board with this," and Tygart stressed that is the only way to protect contestants in a combat sport.

Increasingly, what initially was perceived as a renegade requirement by Mayweather could be turning into the way of the future.

"It's never too late for something good," Ellerbe said. "With guys volunteering for more stringent testing, how can you go wrong with that?"

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