Canelo Alvarez and the cancellation heard around the world
Saul “Canelo” Alvarez walked out of the elevator to a long mirror on the first floor of the Golden Boy Promotions headquarters, Tuesday afternoon, in Los Angeles, facing the reality of a hurried press conference just around the corner that was about to announce some bad news. It was one not made for everyone to attend and took place in a room made to be seen: a former downtown gym encased in glass walls right off the sidewalk but, on the corner of Wilshire and Hope, white construction paper was held up by painter’s tape preventing passersby from seeing one of the biggest fights the sport can make get abruptly canceled in the heat of controversy.
A midnight black curtain hung before a desk draped in the same color fabric in a brightly-lit room. Alvarez sat at the the middle of the table with new faces at its ends. Dr. Miguel Angel Nazul, the vice president of the Mexican Federation of Sports Medicine, and at the opposite end was someone of relatively greater import, attorney Ricardo Cestero, whose presence had it feeling like a legal proceeding. Matchmaker Roberto Diaz was also on the dais to translate for the doctor and Canelo’s answers to the media but Cestero interestingly translated for Canelo, in his official (and partly prepared statement on the matter. Golden Boy founder Oscar De La Hoya, who backed his fighter, word for word, in another written statement later, sat next to Alvarez – and looking rather unpleased. Golden Boy President Eric Gomez, the emcee of the presser, broke the news of the fight being canceled right off the bat, citing that they have been advised that Alvarez was unlikely to be cleared to fight unified middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin, on May 5, by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. “As you all know, there’s a hearing date of April 18th,” Gomez said, “and it’s extremely unlikely this matter is going to get resolved by them properly. And obviously we need enough time to promote a fight of this magnitude.”
News of Alvarez’s failed VADA drug test struck on the evening of March 5, one week after the formal press conference in LA announcing the Cinco De Mayo event, which was so highly anticipated, it didn’t need a world tour, unlike the first go-around. The news Gomez broke was really the only revelation in the presser but it was secondary to the table’s main objective: clearing Canelo’s name and giving him the opportunity to publicly speak out on the controversy for the first time. On the sheet of paper everyone was given as they walked in, it explained the clenbuterol problem in Mexico’s beef and listed just about all the accounts in which it was an issue for positive drug tests in athletes of many sports, which of course, is the subject of Canelo’s reasoning.
When you think about it, the forced press conference to either diffuse, disclose or discuss a bad situation is like a badge of honor for superstars in boxing. For Alvarez, Guadalajara, Mexico, his served as a chance to speak publicly for the first time on the two VADA tests, in February, in which he was popped for traces of clenbuterol, a versatile drug not only used for enhancing the performance of human athletes but a convenient way for cattle ranchers to bulk up the meat in their product. Both are illegal, depending on their constructs, as ranchers in Mexico and China don’t have the strictest of regulations in their countries. In the sports world, PED users have always been ahead of the system. That said, boxing, as an industry, is behind all of them fundamentally, no less in enforcing a strict drug policy – and Canelo maintained his innocence on the matter.
“How can this happen if I didn’t intentionally take clenbuterol?” Canelo asked. “Unfortunately there is a public problem in my country of Mexico. Over the years, many athletes of many sports, including cycling, soccer, football and boxing have tested positive. Contaminated meat is what caused this test (result)…I am truly shocked by what has happened and I’ll admit this has led to suspicions about my athletic ability. I have always been a clean fighter and I always will be a clean fighter.”
The most efficient way of proving you’re a clean fighter is to never be a part of any news, when it comes to drug testing. Canelo has passed every administered drug test throughout his career before last February but only the failed ones are considered news. Clenbuterol-tainted meat in Mexico isn’t news and Golden Boy Promotions has experienced some of it fighters failing a drug test in the past because of the south-of-the-border meat issue. Francisco Vargas and Erik Morales were those fighters and although those fights were in different states and under different circumstances, their respective fights went forward. Before the presser, the media was given a sheet of paper listing all of the accounts in which athletes were popped for the same reason, which was probably meant as an informative argument that supported their claim, but, depending on how you look at it, it provided all the reasons they should’ve been more careful in the first place.
“I truly am disappointed and upset because I will not be able to participate in the rematch against Golovkin,” Canelo said, with palpable regret. “I was very much looking forward to this fight. I had been training and I wanted to get in the ring and prove, once and for all, that I am the best middleweight in the world. I am sad and I feel powerless that I can’t make this fight happen at this point…I will accept and respect any decision of the commission and I will wait for the time in which I can have this great fight. It saddens me that people are accusing me of doing something that is improper. I have always been a fighter of integrity. I feel calm and proud of the career that I have, a career in which I’ve never taken anything illegal and I’ve never done anything to disappoint or disrespect the sport of boxing – nor will I ever do so. From here on out, I will take increased precautions with future fights and I will ensure that this will never happen again.”
After everyone had a chance to speak, and before opening the floor to questions, Cestero – fluent in legalese – gave a fair warning to the media in light of this still being an ongoing investigation with the NSAC. “There will be questions that I won’t let these guys answer but please understand that’s me; that’s not them,” he explained. This, of course, prevented any tough questions but the lawyer maintained that Golden Boy and Canelo would’ve loved to answer any and all inquests if it weren’t for him being there to do his job. Quickly Cestero had to interrupt and manufacture the wording and order of a question asked by Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times, who brought up Golden Boy’s past inquiries with clenbuterol, and asked Canelo, De La Hoya and Gomez if Golden Boy had warned Alvarez about the tainted beef ahead of time.
“I’m gonna let Eric address the Golden Boy part of that question first,” Cestero butted in before Gomez answered, “No, we didn’t and it’s unfortunate. It’s very unfortunate we didn’t but we’re taking the proper measures now and we’re in the process of notifying all our fighters. They are getting notifications from us, fighters that are from Mexico and/or traveling to and from Mexico, that they should be aware that, potentially, if they eat meat, it can be contaminated.”
It was really the only moment when there was a collective gulp at the desk and an embarrassing one, considering it was as easy as forwarding over the same syllabus on clenbuterol they handed out. There wasn’t a grilling of Canelo by any stretch but a lot of that had to do with the lawyer interjecting, like when Canelo was asked when and where he thought he ate tainted beef. Cestero didn’t let Canelo answer but did mention they were preparing credit card statements for the hearing, in regard to that question. Once Canelo and Company do face the NSAC, more information will be released and conclusions, if any, will help make things become clearer. Given that Golden Boy pulled the plug before an official decision has been made, you can expect the suspension they saw coming to happen and all parties involved expressed interest in fighting Golovkin immediately once the suspension was fully served.
“To be honest, what Golovkin or his team say doesn’t bother me at all,” Canelo said when asked about the harsh criticisms and accusations from the champion, “because, number one, they’re not doctors. They’re not the experts. I don’t pay attention to them. It sounds more to me like an excuse of not wanting to fight me. Like he’s scared, to be honest.”
It may seem like a ridiculous thing for Canelo to say minutes after his team canceled the fight but perhaps Team GGG stoking the flames in the weeks after the news of the positive test led to the NSAC forcing a strict hand on a lucrative fight. When it comes to big money fights, Nevada has had a long history of being lackadaisical when it comes to enforcing its rules. Even Golovkin’s side found that out in their mission to find a soft-touch replacement opponent for May 5. Accusations of Canelo being a cheater would be too premature and unfounded, at this point in the investigation, and perhaps Canelo will clear all doubts in his upcoming hearing. Yet accusations aren’t egregious either, no matter how unfair Canelo and the team may think, because all they really had to do was be more careful with so much on the line – and that’s under the assumption Canelo is telling the truth.
Canelo has always had a confident disposition when talking to the media and this day was no different, aside from maybe a little embarrassment. As he approached the big mirror off the elevator, he gave the same intense shadowbox he does to the crowd after weigh-ins or face-offs. De La Hoya, however, couldn’t have looked in a worse mood and with very good reason. Canelo is the big revenue maker at Golden Boy Promotions and this snafu not only cost them millions in canceling the fight but whether or not this ordeal affects his draw going forward remains to be seen. No matter how you slice it, how bad this was for Golden Boy was written all over De La Hoya’s face and, when it comes to the cynical minds of the boxing fan, whose thoughts and opinions are constantly skewed by promoters, it’s up to them if they want to believe Canelo’s innocence for now. However if evidence shows that isn’t the case – and this happens again – the excuse will be as thin as those paper walls.