The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on institutional and personal norms. For many of us, it has halted our ability to travel, see loved ones, and go to work. However, one of the most underreported side effects of the pandemic has been its effect on drug-testing in professional boxing. According to the President of the World Boxing Council, Mauricio Sulaiman, the Pandemic has greatly shifted the priorities of promoters involved in competitive boxing. “With the lack of activity and more expenses on COVID testing during the last year, maybe [promoters] looked at anti-doping as an aside and not a priority,” Sulaiman stated.
Regardless of the causes, the issue of doping still remains highly relevant in professional boxing. Delays in initiating post-fight urine tests for fighters have led to increased fear of serious injury occurring if a chemically-enhanced fighter lands powerful blows to their opponent’s head.
Although the World Boxing Council’s Clean Boxing Program requires their top-15 fighters across a whopping eighteen weight classes to enroll in drug-testing protocol and the annual testing budget remains at a sum of $120,000, the program only has approximately 75 tests that can be completed annually. According to Judd Burnstein, an attorney who has successfully negotiated drug-testing agreements for Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley, sorting out the financials of increasing drug tests is the next step in stopping drug abuse in professional wrestling. “The issue is figuring out how to pay for it — whether it’s an extra sanctioning fee, establishing a revenue split off the top or making the headliners responsible for everyone in the event,” Burnstein stated. “In the end, the only way it’s going to work is to figure out what it’s going to cost and then impose a separate tariff to pay for the right independent testing company that establishes a uniform testing regimen.”
While the solution to the issue may seem to be an easy financial fix, many promoters are concerned about taking on even more on top of the cost of adhering to COVID-19 public health restrictions. Two major promoters Top Rank and PBC have even spent an astonishing $200,000 to $700,000 per fight due to the costs of setting up COVID-19 bubbles. The costs of setting up one of these bubbles for a single boxing match is estimated to be at least two times more expensive than the $120,000 price tag on the WBC’s Clean Boxing Program’s testing budget.
Top Rank Chairman Bob Arum, who staged nearly 40 shows on ESPN platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic, discussed the extreme expenses involved in putting on these fights under current conditions, “we didn’t reduce any fighter’s minimum pay, we weren’t getting a f**king nickel from the gate and we had to [pay for] the whole rigamarole of feeding and [assisting] fighters, staff and commission personnel, while paying rent for the convention center. It was an enormous expense,” Arum stated.
As the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions start to hopefully subside over the next few months, eager eyes will be set on the issue of doping in professional boxing. While the pandemic has created a variety of problems and complexities towards solving this issue, the hope remains that this problem can be swiftly dealt with after restrictions and excessive costs start to wane. “It’s a fact that cheating often happens at the highest level,” Sulaiman said. According to Sulaiman, the potential for addressing this issue lives outside of the ring just as much as it does inside of it. “We can grow the [testing] program even more because out-of-competition testing ensures the least amount of cheating,” Sulaiman stated.
Regardless of what comes next, one fact remains ever-certain for the future of boxing: anti-doping efforts will remain a looming focus in the future of professional boxing and public policy as we continue into the 21st century.