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Steve Cunningham takes hard stance on PEDs in boxing

Fighters Network
Steve Cunningham speaking at the final press conference to promote his fight against Antonio Tarver on Aug. 14 in New Jersey. Photo by Lucas Noonan/PBC.

Steve Cunningham speaking at the final press conference to promote his fight against Antonio Tarver on Aug. 14 in New Jersey. Photo by Lucas Noonan/PBC.

NEW YORK – Steve Cunningham is outspoken about the lack of sound judging that has at times victimized his boxing career, but his thoughts on performance-enhancing drugs make that position seem moderate.

Speaking at a media event on Tuesday to promote his upcoming fight with Antonio Tarver, the two-time cruiserweight titleholder said that steroids are “rampant” in the sport – particularly in the heavyweight division where he competes.

Cunningham acknowledged Tarver’s positive test for the anabolic steroid drostanolone after his 2012 fight against Lateef Kayode, leading to a yearlong supspension and a $2,500 fine, but stopped short of an outright accusation.

Cunningham says that the two didn’t establish a random blood- and urine-testing protocol for their training camps, but were told they’d undergo a test before and after their fight on Friday at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, which will headline a Premier Boxing Champions on Spike card.

“We wanted the tests because this man, he has a history now,” said Cunningham (28-7, 13 knockouts), referring to Tarver (31-6, 22 KOs).

“That’s what he got busted on. I don’t know what he’s doing. I hope he isn’t for his sake, but I know for a fact that I’ve fought guys and beat them on steroids before. We’ve got rules for a reason in boxing.”

Tarver, 46, skipped the open workout after arriving late the night before and being scheduled to undergo medicals that morning, said a representative for the event’s promoter, DiBella Entertainment.

A call to the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board was not answered Wednesday, but reporter Keith Idec cited Nick Lembo, general counsel of the NJ SACB, stating that the fighters would undergo the standard testing for all boxers and mixed martial arts fighters in the state, which entails “pre-fight and post-fight blood, urine and hair testing” for substances “including blood doping, diuretics, external testosterone, human growth hormone, masking agents and steroids,” with testing done under World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines at laboratories approved by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

Antonio Tarver-Steve Cunningham final lucas noonan pbcA win would bring the 39-year-old Cunningham, as well as Tarver, closer to a heavyweight title opportunity. The stakes are high for two fighters who are past the age most would define as prime boxing years, which Cunningham says compels some to seek shortcuts.

“We know steroid use is rampant in boxing, a lot of people know, everybody should know,” said Cunningham. “A lot of people are out there killing their wives for $200,000 life insurance, you don’t think somebody’s gonna cheat for a possible shot at a heavyweight title?”

Cunningham didn’t mention any names of fighters whom he suspected of being on performance-enhancing drugs when he fought them, but says word circulates in boxing’s small community. He says the implications of increased strength in a sport where the object isn’t to put a ball through a net or beat someone in a race but rather to inflict harm with ones’ fists make doping more inexcusable.

“We’re already men with great athletic abilities, with power ÔǪWe see guys die from the average fighter. Now we have guys who are trying to make themselves even more powerful? What happens when the first steroid guy, he gets caught using steroids and kills somebody in the ring?”

Cunningham says that, should any fighter ever test positive for a banned substance in a fight against him, he wouldn’t hesitate to seek legal action against them.

“Me personally, if I ever fight a guy and he gets busted for steroids, I’m putting a civil suit on him for attempted murder. Assault and battery, that’s how serious this is.”

Cunningham, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, hasn’t fought since losing a controversial unanimous decision to Vyacheslav Glazkov this past March in an IBF heavyweight title elimination bout, while Tarver, a three-time light heavyweight champion, has fought just twice since the drug suspension.

Cunningham, who is 4-3 since moving up in weight in 2012, wouldn’t assert that a win over Tarver would qualify him outright for a title shot against RING champion Wladimir Klitschko or WBC titleholder Deontay Wilder, however.

“We’ll see how the performance goes. I can say I’m ready for a title right now, but it’s up to you guys, the media and fans. If ya’ll see a great performance and you demand it, great, let’s go. If not, I still have to go to the drawing board,” said Cunningham.

“Then you have a guy like Tarver who has performed at the elite level of boxing for so long, as an amateur also. He can do good. He’s just not gonna do good on August 14th.”

Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.