On Monday, the United States Anti-Doping Agency officially handed down its decision regarding Mexico’s Erik Morales, penalizing the four-division title-winner for testing positive during the first two of three drug tests prior to his rematch with junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia on Oct. 20 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Morales tested positive for the banned weight loss drug Clenbuterol on random tests given by USADA taken on Oct. 3 and on Oct. 10, but tested negative on the final one.
According to documents obtained by RingTV.com, Morales (52-9, 36 knockouts) has until Feb. 18 to notify USADA as to whether or not he will contest its findings, which could lead to a two-year ban.
Officially, the report states that Morales faces “up to a two year period of ineligibility…beginning on the day you accept a sanction, fail to request a hearing or fail to respond, or the date of the hearing decision in this matter, from participation in any activity or competition organized by or under the auspices of any signatory to the Code or any member of any signatory, including ineligibility from participating or coaching in Olympic, Pan American Games or Paralympic Games Trials, or being a member of any Olympic, Pan American Games or Paralympic Team; and,
A big problem, however, is that boxing is not listed as one of the banned sports, according to longtime boxing attorney Pat English.
“It means nothing. The proposed ban against Erik Morales involves participation in sports sanctioned by entities that have signed off on their USADA code,” said English.
“The sanctioning bodies have not done so, the boxing commissions have not done so, the promoters have not done so. Therefore, the proposed ban is meaningless.”
Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer promoted the Garcia rematch.
“As I’ve stated before, I am not a drug enforcement or testing agency. We are a boxing promoter, and I leave the testing and the proper procedures and whether or not somebody is found guilty up to the agencies which have much more experience in this,” said Schaefer.
“Now, I don’t know what the legality is of USADA imposing that, because I’m not a lawyer. It’s an interesting question, but I would assume that it would have to be up to the various state athletic commissions to decide whether, in fact, this ban is enforceable or not. Then again, maybe it is, maybe it’s not. I’m not an expert, but I think that it’s a question to ask some of the regulators to see how they’re going to look at this.”
A big problem appears to be that nowhere in the letter is boxing mentioned.
WBC Secretary General Mauricio Sulaiman said he only learned of USADA’s ruling on Tuesday.
“We have not been notified by anybody at all,” said Sulaiman, whose organization is based in Mexico City. “We just found out this morning about this matter, so we have made contact with Erik Morales, and we’re going to look into the situation. But nobody has contacted us at all in an official manner or capacity.”
Although Morales, 36, announced his retirement after the loss to Garcia, indicating that he might return to the ring for one more bout in his native Mexico, Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer said USADA’s ruling would be taken into account in the event that Morales sought a bout in Las Vegas.
“If Erik Morales applied for a boxer’s license in Nevada, he would need to appear before the full commission,” said Kizer. “And one of the issues that would be discussed would be the drug test results from the Garcia fight.”
At this point, many in the boxing industry don’t consider USADA’s ruling to carry much impact, if any at all.
“Morales announced his retirement after the fight in New York and said that he was only going to be fighting in Mexico, so they can probably sanction him all day long and it won’t mean anything,” said one promoter who operates regularly in Mexico.
“I can tell you this much: I’ve yet to see a suspension in the United States that they really recognize that much, if at all, down in Mexico. Have you ever seen a suspension in the U.S. be recognized in Mexico? You can draw your own conclusions.”
What about in the United States?
“Any suspension would have to come from an athletic commission with jurisdiction,” said English. “The regulation of boxing and professional boxing, by law, is charged to the athletic commission in the United States, and not to USADA.”
Top Rank CEO Bob Arum was even more emphatic.
“It means nothing in Mexico or the United States either,” said Arum. “These people have no authority, so it doesn’t mean a thing.”
English sees flaws in the way USADA handled the situation, and has sent a letter to USADA CEO Travis Tygart, expressing his disatisfaction with the process.
“What is particularly troubling is that the results were not transmitted in a timely manner to the New York Athletic Commission. Results came out well before the fight, but were not transmitted to the New York Commission until immediately before the fight,” said English.
“The athletic commission simply didn’t have the results in a timely enough manner to deal with the issues and give consideration to the issues. I really believe very strongly that USADA doesn’t appear to understand the role of athletic commissions in the regulation of boxing in the United States, and there’s no reason for that, since Travis Tygart should know, since he’s been on panels with me with the Nevada Athletic Commission, so he’s got to know what the role of the commissions (is).”
A 24-year-old Philadelphia resident, Garcia (25-0, 16 KOs) and his father and trainer, Angel Garcia, had threatened to pull out of the bout at the Fridays weigh-in, but decided to go through with it after the final test — administered on Wednesday — returned negative early Friday evening.
Morales had blamed contaminated meat for the positive results of the two earlier tests, aftter which Angel Garcia had been adamant that his son would not fight. Morales’ “B” sample returned positive for the banned substance Clenbuterol on random tests given by USADA taken on Oct. 3 and on Oct. 10, but tested negative on the final one.
By that time, however, Morales already had been licensed by the NYSAC, had spoken at a Thursday press conference promoting their clash and weighed in for the fight.
“The interesting thing is that Erik Morales has indicated that he doesn’t want to fight in the United States anymore any way, and that was right after the fight, long before there were any fines or anything. This had nothing to do with him trying to avoid the U.S. I think that he made it clear after the fight with Danny Garcia that night in the ring that he’s looking at doing one more fight, sort of like a farewell fight from Tijuana, and then call it a day,” said Schaefer.
“That has nothing to do with trying to circumvent a U.S. or USADA ban. What is interesting is that what if that was not the case, and if it would be an athlete from whatever country, are those bans given out by USADA, would they be recognized by state athletic commissions or not? I don’t know the answer to that. It would interesting to find out. I’m going to leave the testing and the procedures and how to deal with all of these issues up to the experts and the regulators to deal with it in the best possible manner.”
But “Morales,” said English, “never should have been allowed to fight to begin with.”
When New York State Athletic Commission pubic relations director Edison Alban finally delivered USADA’s ruling via e-mail on Oct. 20, a RingTV.com reporter already was at ringside covering undercard bouts to Garcia-Morales.
“The New York Athletic Commission has taken into consideration the testing of Erick Morales conducted by USADA, an independent non-governmental organization contracted by Golden Boy Promotions to conduct testing on its boxers,” read the e-mail from Edison, who defended the NYSAC’s decision to license Morales and proceed with the fight.
“Based upon currently available information and the representations made by Mr. Morales that he unintentionally ingested contaminated food, it is the Commission’s opinion that at this time there is inconclusive data to make a final determination regarding the suspension of Mr. Morales’ boxing license. The Commission will continue investigating the allegations and will wait until official laboratory results are available before making a final decision.”
The scenario raises questions both about USADA’s involvement and its effectiveness in boxing, which appear to be unclear, at best.
“With the WBC,” said Sulaiman. “Our relationships are with the commissions where the fight takes place.”
“They can do any kind of testing that they want, but it has to be under the authority of the commissions. As for who pays for it, well, that’s another issue,” said Arum. “If they want to promoter to pay for it, then that’s appropriate. But, it has to be done under the authority of the commission. Any testing that I’m going to be involved in has to involve the commission.”
Below is a letter sent by attorney Pat English to USADA CEO Travis Tygart (reprinted with permission from Dines and English, LLC):
Photo by Naoki Fukuda
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org