Doctored gloves vs. PEDs: An equal offense?
Few fighters in recent history have engendered as much enmity as Antonio Margarito did when he was found – by Naazim Richardson, we must never forget, and not any half-ass, state-appointed inspector – to have doctored handwraps going into his fight with Shane Mosley in January 2009.
That Margarito has lucked into a fight against Manny Pacquiao has ignited a new wave of hostility toward the fighter, especially among those who believe he should be banned from boxing altogether, never mind land a gig against the most-popular fighter on the planet for what is certain to be a very healthy paycheck.
Only a promoter with the out-sized ego and cynicism of Bob Arum would attempt such a sell, but fans tend to forget questions of ethics when an interesting fistfight draws near. Arum knows this all too well. All promoters do.
Some are calling for a boycott of Pacquiao-Margarito on the grounds that Pacquiao against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is the fight they really want, along with the concurrent suspicion that Margarito is the evil spawn of a sordid love triangle involving Hitler, Stalin, and Livia Soprano.
You won’t find any apologies here for Margarito, nor am I inclined to believe the fighter couldn’t possibly have known that his trainer, Javier Capetillo, had, maybe not for the first time, inserted what amounted to a pair of brass knuckles into his wraps. The bottom line is he cheated. Or attempted to and would have if not for Richardson.
But Margarito is not the only “cheater” this sport knows. Indeed, the most frequently exposed method of cheating these days involves the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), and some of the sport’s biggest names have been caught.
Mosley himself eventually admitted to taking banned substances prior to his win over Oscar De Le Hoya in 2003. Fernando Vargas also was found to have traces of Stanozolol, a synthetic anabolic steroid, in his system following his own fight with De La Hoya, and James Toney reportedly tested positive for a banned substance after his fight against John Ruiz.
None of these offenses resulted in anything close to a lifelong ban or, importantly, even a notable downturn in fan support for the fighters involved, even though steroids are prohibited in boxing ostensibly on the grounds that a fighter who uses them presents a significant physical danger to his opponent.
If you’re following along, that’s essentially the same rationale for prohibiting doctoring one’s handwraps, albeit to a lesser but – and this is important – largely undefined degree.
And therein lies the question: Is what Margarito and Capetillo did worse than what fighters who use steroids do? And if it is, how much worse is it? Worse enough to justify the huge gap in fan reaction, not to mention administrative punishment?
Greg Sirb, executive director of the Pennsylvania athletic commission, believes the two offenses are equally objectionable – in intent.
“It’s a good question,” he said. “Let me put it this way: I don’t think (what Margarito did) is more serious,” he said. “I don’t like to split hairs like that. You’re cheating. You’re cheating to get an advantage. It’s the same thing. To say that one’s worse than the other is splitting hairs.”
Sirb also said he’s not entirely sold on the belief that taking steroids improves a boxer’s performance. And that’s the difference.
“There’s no question that we have a problem with steroids and growth hormones in boxing,” he said. “But when a boxer has taken those, he’s obviously going to gain weight, and they have to get moved up to another weight class. So there’s like a little safety net there for boxing. If he’s taking steroids, he’s going to get bigger, he’s going to gain weight and he’s going to move out of that weight class.
“And I’m not certain steroids make you punch harder,” Serb said. “I’m not certain that’s a fact. There may be some other advantages – aggression, it may make you a little stronger, maybe make you able to take a punch a little better – but I haven’t seen enough data to make me believe that taking steroids will make you a bigger puncher.”
Margaret Goodman, a practicing neurologist, former Medical Advisory Board Chairman and Chief Ringside Physician for the Nevada State Athletic Commission as well a columnist at THE RING, had the same problem trying to determine the degree by which doctoring one’s handwraps in the way that Margarito did is worse than using PEDs.
“I believe that if a fighter/trainer/cornerman is found guilty of using or attempting to use doctored handwraps, it should not only result in a permanent suspension from competing ever again in boxing, but should also be considered a criminally punishable offense,” Goodman wrote in an email.
“The line is a bit more blurred when it comes to PEDs. Yes, they can be almost as dangerous as doctored handwraps, but there are so many different kinds of PEDs, (and) some are more dangerous to an opponent than others,” Goodman wrote. “It is probably difficult from a legal sense to make the risks from doctored wraps equal to PED use — it isn't as simple to witness a cause-and-effect.”
Keith Kizer, Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, still probably the most important commission in the sport, could offer little on the subject outside of some lawyerly equivocation. Whether that’s due to the difficulty of the subject matter or a reluctance to say anything that might cause a big fight to land elsewhere, you can decide.
“Good questions, but I am unsure whether there are any easy or simple answers,” Kizer wrote in an email. “I think both types of infractions must be, and have been, taken extremely seriously. Other than that, every case has to be decided on its own merits, including taking into account any mitigating and aggravating circumstances.”
Handwraps doctored in the way that Margarito’s were carry the danger of inflicting serious physical damage on an opponent. PEDs are taken with the same intent, though their effects are delivered less directly. Whether or not they actually succeed is another question entirely.
So: Is Margarito taking an undeservedly big hit for an offense that in reality is only a small degree worse than those committed Mosley, Vargas, and Toney? Your guess is as good as mine.
Some random observations from last week:
My thanks to faithful reader Tim Spears, whose email on the subject of doctored handwraps versus PEDs formed the basis of the preceding column. ÔÇª
I don’t know why Juan Manuel Marquez should have to go through anyone else to get a third shot at Pacquiao, but if he’s willing, so be it. This guy has found the Fountain of Youth. Maybe there’s something to those urine cocktails after all. ÔÇª
Ronnie Shields told me before Marquez’s win over Juan Diaz Saturday night that if Diaz, lost he’d tell the kid to call it quits. There’s no shame in losing to Marquez, and Diaz can still beat a lot of guys. But if “The Baby Bull” can walk away now, at just 26 years old, and stay away, he’ll be a hell of a boxing success story. ÔÇª
As good as Marquez was, the star of Saturday night’s pay-per-view was Dmitry Pirog,
who flattened Danny Jacobs in the fifth round. Look for an in-depth feature on Pirog in an upcoming issue of THE RING. ÔÇª
Jacobs was going to catch a beating either way, but shame anyway on referee Robert Byrd for stopping the count at five, thereby robbing Jacobs of the opportunity to beat the count. A fighter gets 10 seconds to get up and it wasn’t like Jacobs was snoring, or <a href="
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UePW3w3_k9M” >punching in his sleep.
A plea to all refs: For chrissakes, if the guy isn’t twitching, give him a chance to get up. It’s only 10 seconds. ÔÇª
Jim Lampley and Emanuel Steward did a fine job without a third voice, but if HBO is trying to save money, how about laying off the jackass who’s still boycotting round card girls? Seriously, who’s running things over there, Alan Alda? ÔÇª
On the plus side, the absence of Max Kellerman or Larry Merchant gave us the chance to watch Lampley conduct post fight interviews, and damned if he isn’t really good at that, too. Is there anything Jim can’t do? ÔÇª
Because Juan Carlos Salgado once flattened him, a lot of guys are going to want to test Jorge Linares’ chin. Most will get stretched for their trouble. ÔÇª
I was having trouble trying to figure out why Oscar De La Hoya looked so miserable at ringside, then it hit me: His wife was with him. No one has a good time taking his wife to the fight. ÔÇª
I don’t know what Mayweather Jr.’s reasons are for not facing Pacquiao in November, but the claim by so many who should know better that he is “scared” demonstrates yet again that even the severely learning disabled among us can become boxing writers. ÔÇª
My next-door neighbor, three co-workers, my sister-in-law, the guy who delivered my pizza the other night and my busty great-aunt from Bloomfield all have won alphabet titles over the last year, and poor Rocky Juarez still can’t turn the trick. What the hell? ÔÇª
Speaking of guys who can’t catch a break, Delvin Rodriguez probably deserved the decision over Ashley Theopane on “Friday Night Fights,” but not nearly by the margin Teddy Atlas favored. Either way, losing to a guy named “Ashley” is a new low for Rodriguez. How much worse can it get? ÔÇª
For my money the most interesting and potentially explosive fight on Don King’s card from St. Louis next week is Tavoris Cloud against Glen Johnson. Want to know who I’m picking (even if it’s so you can bet the other guy)? Tune into the next episode of Ring Theory, which will be up later this week here at ringtv.com and at ringtheory.podbean.com.
Bill Dettloff, THE RING magazine’s Senior Writer, is the co-author, along with Joe Frazier, of “Box Like the Pros.” He is currently working on a biography of Ezzard Charles. Bill can be contacted at [email protected]