CANELO ALVAREZ MUST have breathed a heavy sigh of relief on Monday as he tucked into a prime rib in his Guadalajara quarters.
He would have heard the news, of course, that Billy Joe Saunders, his would-be opponent for September, had threatened to excuse himself from professional boxing on account of his personal friend and de-facto manager, Daniel Kinahan, purportedly opting to do similar.
“This is part of the reason why nothing with me is moving forward at the minute: because there’s only one man I can trust,” Saunders told IFL TV, the MTK Global-sponsored YouTube channel which these days functions largely as a public relations arm for Kinahan, who has no criminal convictions.
“Without a man you can trust in this game 100%, it’s something that I don’t really want to be involved with any more.
I’ve taken a lot of advice from a personal friend of mine, Daniel, and I know he’s walking away from boxing which is a big, big loss in my eyes. I don’t know if I want to be a part of it at this level any more moving forward.
“He’s going to be walking away 100% and if he does, then I don’t really want to be apart of that unless he can sort out my contract before he walks away or something like that.
“He’s done so much for boxing, he did so much for MTK, he did so much for Irish boxing and world boxing.”
Former British Olympian Saunders is a super-middleweight world champion, in that he holds one of four belts at 168 pounds. He was once the village idiot of world boxing, distinguishing himself as the sport’s undisputed champion of arseholery by way of performing a litany of moral offences in the public sphere, each more wince-inducing than the next.
But even though he has in the past two months defended Daniel Kinahan more times than he has defended his WBO belt in over a year, his claim to being the sport’s one true recognised eejit is under serious threat in the shape of a circle of fighters and figures tripping over themselves in their own respective bids to swear devotion to ‘Dan’, their scorned confidante whom many allege is a victim of a conspiracy concocted by Fine Gael, the gardaí and, naturally, ‘the media’.
It was notable how so many involved in the sport rushed last weekend to condemn American heavyweight Jarrell ‘Big Baby’ Miller, whose failing a fourth drug test in just over a year resulted in inevitable and justifiable calls for him to be banned from the ring for life; the crux of the public outrage being, as it always is, that to use performance-enhancing drugs in a sport in which one inflicts physical damage on an opponent is morally reprehensible.
But how many of the same moralistic voices have been heard condemning the involvement in the sport of Kinahan, who has been named in the Irish High Court as the controller of an international cartel whose spread of recreational drugs across three continents has caused immeasurably more damage to human lives outside of the boxing bubble than drug cheats have within it?
It’s a rhetorical question for an industry brimming with worthless rhetoric.
At its core, boxing is a sport built upon the contradiction that to punch a man until he is senseless is a kind of noble pursuit, and it is steeped in double standards from that core outwards.
When Miller failed three tests in advance of his scheduled heavyweight title clash with Anthony Joshua last summer, Eddie Hearn opted against offering him a promotional deal with his Matchroom outfit — a straightforward call given the optics involved. But Hearn openly admits to being a hypocrite on occasion and he’s right: bear in mind Joshua’s previous opponent, Alexander Povetkin, had his own well-documented doping history having tested positive for banned substances in two separate tests in 2016. In all, Povetkin has thus far earned three significant paydays against Matchroom heavyweights since his anti-doping violations. Next up for the Russian? A clash with another of Hearn’s leading lights, Dillian Whyte, who himself served a two-year ban for doping between 2012 and 2014.
Whyte also had a second doping charge brought against him by the UK Anti-Doping Agency (UKAD) last summer, which was subsequently overturned by the same UK regulatory body in December. “Trace amounts” of steroid metabolites were discovered in a sample Whyte had provided on 20 June, a month out from his heavyweight clash with Oscar Rivas in London. Whyte, Hearn and UKAD were all made aware of the finding during fight week, but the fight went ahead with Rivas’ camp later alleging they were the only party who weren’t notified of the adverse finding in Whyte’s ‘A’ sample.
At the time, Hearn’s archnemesis, Frank Warren, was quick to go on the offensive. Invoking the then-recent ring deaths of professional boxers Maxim Dadashev and Hugo Santillan, the Queensberry promoter penned a fiery column attacking Hearn in particular, citing fighter safety and calling for “the people involved in this scandal” to be “called to account and soon.”
This is the same Frank Warren who signed the returning Tyson Fury to a promotional deal in 2018, and that would be the same Tyson Fury who served a backdated two-year doping ban between December 2015 and December 2017. Fury’s ban — belatedly issued due to a UKAD balls-up — stemmed from a February 2015 test in which the banned steroid nandrolone was identified in his system; incidentally, he beat Christian Hammer on the last day of that same month and went on to best long-reigning World heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko in November 2015 before any doping charges were brought against him.
But let’s close off this particular circle with Billy Joe Saunders, head cheerleader for his close friend, Tyson Fury. When Saunders learned of Canelo Alvarez’s positive tests for clenbuterol in April 2018 (findings which Canelo attributed to contaminated meat in his native Mexico, and for which he received a six-month ban), the Briton labelled the then-middleweight champion “a cheat” and suggested that his punishment “should be a ban for life, most definitely.”
During the same April 2018 media call, Saunders’ and Fury’s promoter Warren added: “For me, if you’re found guilty, you should be banned [for life]. To be banned for six months, I don’t get that. The whole thing is just a pointless exercise.”
Six months later — and just a week after Saunders was fined £100,000 by the British Boxing Board of Control for a video in which he appeared to coerce a woman into attacking a stranger under the pretence that she would receive crack cocaine in exchange — he tested positive under VADA examination for the amphetamine oxilofrine.
Saunders protested his innocence, stressing his belief that he had ingested the substance via a decongestant nasal spray. Oxilofrine is not on UKAD’s out-of-competition banned substance list but its presence in his system cost Saunders a big-money WBO middleweight title defence versus the Hearn-promoted Demtrius Andrade in Boston, as well as the title itself, when both the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission and the WBO took a hardline on his failed VADA test.
Said Hearn at the time: “How can you allow a fighter for his entire camp to take a drug like that – which can help you cut weight, make you stronger and make you faster and make you more dangerous in the ring?
UKAD have to look at their rules for boxing. This isn’t sprinting or swimming. This is a sport where both guys can do harm to each other.
Months later, in the same column in which he lambasted Hearn and Whyte for their handling of the pre-Rivas drug-test saga, Warren wrote: “What we have got now is an about-turn from Hearn, in contrast to his reaction when Billy Joe Saunders was deemed to have failed a VADA test for using a nasal decongestant whilst out-of-competition, which is permitted by UKAD.
“In the eyes of UKAD and the BBBofC (British Boxing Board of Control) Bill was an innocent party and had not broken any rule or violated the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) code, but Hearn, when it suited him and his agenda, vocally supported the stance of the voluntary organisation and insisted everybody should know about it, resulting in Bill having to vacate his world title.”
Six weeks after the publication of that column, Saunders parted ways with Warren and signed a multi-fight promotional deal with Hearn. That move was brokered by Saunders’ career-steering confidante, Daniel Kinahan, with the intention of landing Saunders a mega-bucks bout against…Canelo Alvarez.
So many key boxing figures take the moral high ground when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs and their potential interference with the sanctity of human life in the ring — until there is an extra buck to be made. And there is a decent-sized intersection in the Venn diagram between those key figures and those who have unabashedly hitched their wagons to Kinahan, who away from boxing is wanted for questioning in relation to drug crimes and conspiracy to murder.
So much of the finger-pointing is purely performative. A pointless exercise indeed, Mr Warren.
And there will be people who have grown to perceive boxing as being so poisoned as to be a pointless exercise in itself, this trend doubtless accentuated in Ireland over the course of the past few months as the sport and so many of its chief protagonists have grown synonymous with Kinahan’s name in damning headlines and puff-piece YouTube interviews with members of his fan club alike.
Not-at-all curiously, there remains radio silence on the matter from the vast majority of prominent Irish boxing figures whose careers intersect with Kinahan’s boxing dream.
Unlike their British equivalents, they can’t afford the luxury of willful ignorance. If they were to come out swinging for Kinahan, they would risk alienating large portions of their fanbases: the dog on the street in Ireland has been exposed to the real story of the Kinahan cartel as it has played out here. It would be plainly unfeasible for those pertinent Irish boxers to be unaware of its human toll — most of them walk that same street — and so, instead, they play dumb in the literal sense of the word.
Their hush is also indicative of the fact that Kinahan is at least sufficiently self-aware that he doesn’t wish to sabotage their reputations — or at least exacerbate the reputational damage that generally accompanies their being even vaguely associated with the cartel in the first place.
Reputation has evidently never been at the top of Billy Joe Saunders’ list of priorities. He and the rest of Kinahan’s frontline defenders in the UK and beyond will continue to play dumb in the other sense of the word: they’ll see only what they want to see, listen only to what they want to hear, and believe only that which doesn’t inconvenience them personally. But people know, and people will remember.
The reason why boxing will never die is that for every tragedy it bears, it offers a thousand routes away from potential doom for those who refuse to bow to socio-economic circumstance. The exact inverse is true of the Kinahan organised crime group.
And those who have chosen to cover their eyes and block their ears will be bereft of excuses when they wind up on the wrong side of their sport’s history.