Eddie Hearn speaks out on boxing's war against drugs after Joseph Parker brands Anthony Joshua the 'King of Steroids'

Parker will attempt to become the first man to beat Joshua at the end of March, but the build-up could well focus around a comment made by the Kiwi last week

Declan Taylor
Sunday 21 January 2018 17:48
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A week ago, the poster boy of global boxing, Anthony Joshua, was labelled the 'King of Steroids' by his next opponent Joseph Parker.

A few days later, at the press conference to announce their March fight, Brixton's Dillian Whyte described Lucas Browne, who failed two drug tests in an eight-month spell last year, as a 'juiced up junkie'.

But although the problem of performance enhancing drugs might appear to be spiralling out of control, the promoter of both those heavyweight clashes, Eddie Hearn, believes the situation in Britain is currently better than ever before.

Joshua, the WBA and IBF champion, has never failed a drugs test as an amateur or a professional but Parker's suggestion was that a man could not develop a physique like the Londoner's without synthetic help. The New Zealander has since backtracked on the comment but the damage was already done.

Like all British boxers at championship level, Joshua is signed up to the UK Anti-Doping Agency's whereabouts system, designed to support out-of-competition testing, which means testers could turn up at his door 365 days a year. He was tested six times before his current training camp had even started, according to Hearn.

“I really believe it's a problem that's being solved,” Hearn said. “Where we are now compared to two or three years ago is night and day.

“The main problem, I feel, is in other countries but Britain is doing well. We have the Ukad random testing. It means Joshua was tested six times in the build-up to his last camp. Other fighters are getting knocks on the door at 3am for testing.

“But in America, or other countries, there is no testing at all other than around the event, although that is changing."

Outside of Britain the perception has always been that boxers can take just about anything they like while out of competition without fear of testing. But that situation has changed dramatically since both the WBC and WBA followed Ukad's lead.

Anthony Joshua's heavyweight title unification bout with Joseph Parker has got off to a controversial start

Hearn added: “When you're in the WBC rankings, to stay in there, you have to sign up to the random testing programme, same with the WBA. It's pretty much as extensive as the Ukad system. Whereabouts is part of the testing programme which tells the testers where you are.

“You can't just go on holiday for two weeks and not get tested. They can turn up everywhere.

“I think what we're seeing from the governing bodies is that they are really stepping up their game on the testing processes. Both the WBC and the WBA now have random VADA testing and the only way you're going to catch these people really is through random testing. Hopefully the WBO and IBF follow suit so there are no gaps.

“The issue is certainly not as developed and extensive as cheating in cycling but some of these fighters are dealing with doctors who will know how to cheat a system. Random testing is the only way to eradicate it from the sport.”

Four weeks before Joshua and Parker meet in a three-belt unification at Cardiff's Principality Stadium, the current WBC champion Deontay Wilder puts his WBC title on the line in Brooklyn, New York, against Luis Ortiz, a man who has failed two drug tests in four years.

He was banned for eight months in 2014 for testing positive for nandrolone then, in September, there were traces of banned diuretics chlorothiazide and hydrochlorothiazide found in his system. The substances can be used as masking agents, but Ortiz avoided a ban after claiming he took them to address high blood pressure.

Meanwhile, the Russian Alexander Povetkin could well feature on the undercard of Joshua-Parker, and is likely to face the winner before the end of 2018. The 38-year-old is widely considered one of the best heavyweights on the planet but was hit with a lifetime ban after failing two drug tests in 2016.

Eddie Hearn believes Britain is ahead of other nations when it comes to drug testing

That suspension, however, was lifted last year and he became Joshua's mandatory challenger with the WBA via a points win over Christian Hammer in December. He could fight another Brit, David Price, in Cardiff and victory will set him up to face 'AJ'.

But the fact that his lifetime ban was lifted after only one year was seen by many as another black eye in boxing's fight against drug cheats, who are routinely allowed to compete despite multiple failed test.

Hearn said: “People say 'should these fighters be banned for life if they are caught?' I think if a fighter is knowingly taking drugs to cheat in the sport of boxing, 100 per cent they should be banned for life. But the issue is that it's not my decision, it's a decision made by governing bodies, local commissions, the British Boxing Board of Control.

“Also, how many have just been unlucky? Maybe they took a supplement they shouldn't have.

“Look at Dillian Whyte who, many years ago, had a pre-workout drink and got banned. I believe he was completely innocent but other people might not think the same thing. It's very difficult.

“Alexander Povetkin is another example. He will probably end up as Anthony Joshua's mandatory challenger. He has failed a test, multiple times, but is now cleared by his commission and by the WBA. So what do we do? Decide not to fight him? Then Anthony Joshua will get stripped of the WBA belt he has worked so hard for.

“Once a ban is served, it's very difficult for the governing body to say 'you're out'. Maybe if somebody gets done more than once, the governing body should say 'you're out'. But then it's difficult because there are so many variations for what you might fail on.

"Look at Luis Ortiz, he failed a test for a supplement that lowers blood pressure but could also be used as a masking agent. Then his doctor confirms he has high blood pressure. Who do you believe?”

Dillian Whyte accused Lucas Browne of being a 'juiced up junkie'

The grey areas currently appear to serve those boxers who are happy to take performance enhancing drugs in their pursuit of glory but Hearn believes one alteration to the current system will help to clarify the process.

“It has to be left in the hands of the people capable of making the decisions and handing out the bans,” he said. “And ultimately I feel like those people need to be the testing bodies rather than the governing bodies. That would help things a lot.

“It's very similar with the British Boxing Board of Control. They will not rule on a failed test, Ukad will. Then Ukad will appoint the ban and that's what I feel VADA have to do perhaps more strongly.

"That said, I do believe they've come a long way with handling it over the last two or three years.

“There will always be people trying to get an edge through cheating but you have to be very, very careful now because ultimately, you're going to get caught eventually."

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