Does anyone care about a boxer's life when there is money at stake?

MARTIN SAMUEL: Does anyone care about a boxer’s life when there is money at stake? If boxing is to have any credibility, Conor Benn v Chris Eubank Jr CANNOT go ahead

  • There is now an element of the grotesque about Conor Benn v Chris Eubank Jr 
  • The clash between two Brit boxers at two different weights was always suspect 
  • Sportsmail revealed Conor Benn’s failed drugs test on Wednesday morning 
  • But the fight could, bizarrely, still go ahead with both fighters keen to face off
  • The British Boxing Board of Control has refused to sanction the O2 Arena bout 

As a fight it was always suspect. One man beefing up, one man slimming down, all that put Conor Benn and Chris Eubank Jr in a ring together was ancestry, and the public’s ghoulish fascination for the circus freak show.

And if that sounds a little unkind, now there is an element of the truly grotesque. On Wednesday it was revealed Benn failed a drugs test. The British Boxing Board of Control says the fight is off. Yet Matchroom, the promoters, issued no statement confirming this.

Benn spoke bullishly about his innocence and told the fans he would see them as planned on Saturday. 

The Chris Eubank Jr (left) and Conor Benn (right) fight now has an element of the grotesque

Sportsmail revealed Benn’s positive test for banned substance clomifene on Wednesday

Clomifene is a powerful female fertility medicine which doubles as a performance enhancer.

It stimulates egg production in women, giving those struggling to conceive the best chance of getting pregnant.

Yet, studies suggest that when given to men as a daily pill, clomiphene triggers the production of testosterone.

Testosterone has a key role in tissue healing, carrying oxygen and nutrients to the injury site, aiding repair.

However, it also makes it easier to put on muscle and offers a physical boost, hence why it is a banned substance in the world of athletics.

Speculation continued that Eddie Hearn — who likes to position himself as the grand champion of British boxing — may seek an external licence, like the one obtained from Luxembourg when the BBBofC were similarly reluctant to sanction David Haye’s fight with Derek Chisora. It is a mess.

A fight already operating on the outer limits of credibility is now tainted yet further by the thought that one of the combatants may be doping. And if Hearn ignores the authorities, where is boxing’s integrity, where is its rule and reason?

Benn has tested positive for clomifene, a substance given to women to promote fertility. Why is it banned? It also promotes the production of muscle mass in males through increased testosterone. 

So natural welterweight Benn was plainly not quite as comfortable as he would have us believe to be meeting natural middleweight Eubank halfway. Understandably so.

There are nine kilos between welterweight and the super middleweight division in which Eubank has sometimes fought.

And while it is often argued it is more straightforward for a fighter to gain mass than lose it, weight divisions exist for a reason. Safety, mainly. Yet who in boxing cares about safety when there is money at stake?

Benn’s positive test is no longer even the most shocking element of this story. The reaction to it is quite scandalous.

Promoter Eddie Hearn (above) refused to cancel the bout despite Benn’s positive drugs test

Eubank Jr has insisted he is happy for the fight – the biggest of his career – to go ahead

The fighters said they wanted the match-up to go ahead and Hearn, the promoter, hurried to social media to endorse this call, self-servingly reserving judgment until the B sample had been tested.

This is standard procedure, he may argue. Yes it is. But boxing isn’t a standard sport. It’s a sport in which lives are at stake. That’s why the BBBofC stepped in. The idea that Benn might be allowed to box between samples was unpalatable. 

This isn’t ice skating. This isn’t a lap around the track. It’s a brutal, violent contest in which supreme athletes try to render one another senseless. What if something terrible happened in the ring on Saturday? How a fighter attains his strength truly matters.

At least it should. The fiasco around Tyson Fury’s positive test for nandrolone — or for uncastrated wild boar, take your pick — reveals a culture and a sport that does not take the drugs issue seriously enough.

Before losing the BBBofC licence yesterday, Matchroom rushed out a statement announcing that Benn had not committed a rule violation until the results of the B sample came in and that he remained free to fight.

It listed all the drugs tests he had passed — in particular the one by UK Anti-Doping, the delegated testers around this fight — while describing the one he failed as a ‘random’ test by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association.

See what they did there? They made ‘random’ seem somehow, well, random. As if it was a lesser investigation. In fact, random tests are the best ones, because the athlete has no time to prepare, to remove traces, to cover tracks.

Sportsmail’s Riath Al-Samarrai broke the exclusive of Benn’s positive drugs test this morning

Benn pictured in the fight’s build-up, which is due to see him move up two weight classes

This is VADA’s mission statement.

‘VADA is an organisation that will offer and promote effective anti-doping practices in boxing. Currently, few athletic commissions perform drug testing for performance enhancing substances. When conducted, testing is not comprehensive, rarely unannounced and not a deterrent.

‘Professional athletes will volunteer to be subject to unannounced testing at any time during the eight weeks prior to a scheduled fight. An agreement to participate will require fighters to officially inform us of their daily whereabouts, so that they can be tested per the programme…’

Sounds good. Sounds professional. Sounds effective. It certainly doesn’t sound in any way inferior to UKAD. Might even be better. Still the Matchroom money men pressed on.

‘Both fighters have taken medical and legal advice, are aware of all the relevant information, and wish to proceed with the bout.’

Do they now? Because here’s the funny thing. It isn’t really up to them. There are plenty of athletes who failed or missed drugs tests yet no doubt wanted their careers to proceed exactly as they had before. 

Rio Ferdinand wanted to go to the 2004 European Championships; Ben Johnson would have preferred to keep his Olympic gold medal; Maria Sharapova would have wished to continue her tennis career without that large meldonium asterisk. That’s not how the game works.

Wasserman Boxing and Matchroom issued a joint statement after Sportsmail’s exclusive

Saturday’s fight was due to fall almost 30 years after the second of two iconic fights between their fathers, Nigel Benn (right) and Chris Eubank (left)

So it’s nice that Benn wants the fight to go ahead but, if he turns out to be a drugs cheat, it really isn’t his call; or it shouldn’t be, if his promoters were men of principle. For while Benn is not yet a confirmed offender, we’ve all seen these B sample charades before.

And, interestingly, it seems the request for a second test here only came in after the news of Benn’s positive was revealed by this newspaper. The A sample result had been known to those promoting the fight for a significant time before, apparently, without the need for further investigation.

Why? Because millions are tied up in this and some in boxing plainly believe the sport can interpret the law in its own way when money is on the table. 

One can only imagine the ‘relevant information’ presented to the two fighters before they agreed to press on. News of what they stood to lose financially, perhaps.

And those who love the freak show will claim everyone knows the risks. Two men are going to try to beat each other unconscious on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London, and that’s entertainment. Yet it’s also something else. There is a reason VADA exists, and their statement makes it plain.

‘Boxing can be extremely dangerous. An athlete takes his or her life into their hands each time they enter the ring. The intrinsic dangers are astronomically higher to the opponent and the challenger when performance-enhancing drug use is involved…’

It really is that simple. This is why, if boxing is to have any credibility, this fight cannot go ahead. Certainly, it is not for fighters, promoters, or those who look no further than their next pay-per-view thrill to make that call.  

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