Suspicion: Will Drug Testing Prevent Juan Manuel Marquez From Facing Manny Pacquiao?

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A little less than two weeks ago, Juan Manuel Marquez outpointed Mike Alvarado on HBO in a fight that was billed, more or less, as an eliminator to face Manny Pacquiao in November. But is Marquez, who seemed disinterested in the topic of Pacquiao in the post-fight interview, going to take the fight?

In the past, Marquez has twice declined fights against Pacquiao—with disastrous results. In 2005, he turned down a major payday (which he felt was too small) to face “Pacman” and went on to lose to Chris John in his next start for $35,000. Last year, Marquez opted to face Timothy Bradley instead of taking a fifth fight against Pacquiao in order to pursue a championship at welterweight. He dropped a close decision to Bradley last October in Las Vegas. This time, money and/or titles are unlikely to be issues during negotiations.

Instead, the obstacle may wind up being a question of PEDs.

Michael Koncz—who advises Pacquiao—told BoxingScene a few days ago that Marquez-Pacquiao V will happen only if Marquez agrees to stringent drug testing. Ever since Marquez hired shady Angel Heredia as his strength and conditioning coach, suspicion has stalked him the way paparazzi stalk Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. With biceps as round as maracas and traps as wide as a Malacca cane is long, Marquez now has more muscles than Mil Mascaras did in his high-flying prime. Even so, he has never failed a drug test and has categorically denied using PEDs.

Marquez has attributed his new physique to the discovery of sports science and the (legal) methods employed by Heredia. For years, Marquez, who turns 41 in August, used some of the archaic training techniques common in boxing. Is it possible for a world-class fighter to give up Spartan methods like heaving mini-boulders in the mountains (and drinking his own urine) and gain the kind of mass and power Marquez has shown recently? Skeptics may not want to hear this, but the answer is yes.

Carlos Palomino, a Hall of Fame welterweight who fought during the late 70s and early 80s, made a comeback at age 47 in 1997. In an interview with Boxing 2005, Palomino had this to say about middle-age bulk and power: “My manager, Jack McCoy … and my trainer, Noel Cruz, were very old school, and they never let me touch weights. I worked very hard, but it was basically cardiovascular. I ran a lot, ran hard. I worked in the gym on the bags, pushups. But that was all. After I retired, I got to looking at different workout techniques. I started doing some lifting. I think I got stronger. I was the same weight … but you look at my pictures when I was 26 and champion of the world and look at the pictures that were taken when I made my comeback at 47, and you can really see the difference in my body….My upper body was much bigger. I lost some speed, but I was much stronger. The first time when I sparred in my comeback, those young guys were coming out of the ring going, ‘Damn. He hits hard.’”

Still, when Marquez flattened Pacquiao with a single thunderbolt right hand in 2012, he became, in the eyes of many, a prime suspect for PED use. Ironically, Pacquiao—who has won titles in an unheard of eight (including one Ring Magazine championship) weight divisions—has had to fend off accusations of PED use as well.

Make no mistake: As in football, baseball, and mixed martial arts, PEDs are in boxing. A number of fighters have failed drug tests for PEDs in recent years, among them Andre Berto and Lamont Peterson. Just a few days ago, a Showtime card was headlined by Andrzej Fonfara, who failed a drug test for steroids in 2009. Understanding just how prevalent drug use is in boxing, however, is difficult because there is no regulatory apparatus in place to expose it with any consistency. Professional boxing is the last free-enterprise frontier in America, and because it is overseen by dozens of inept state athletic commissions across the country, uniform standards do not exist. Since commission testing is inadequate, boxers interested in clean competition must voluntarily enroll in extracurricular programs administered either by the USADA or VADA, and not many fighters seem interested in the extra effort and expense. Until a fighter fails a test, however, or until drug protocols are improved across the board in boxing, the presumption of innocence is a right even a prizefighter deserves.

Juan Manuel Marquez was a genuine great long before he began to resemble a subject for Flex Magazine, and part of what makes him great in the ring is his attitude: a potent mix of disdain, scorn, and pride. Will he wind up nixing a fifth fight with Pacquiao based on a drug-testing protocol that he may find insulting? Or, worse, threatening?

Carlos Acevedo is the editor of The Cruelest Sport and a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in Boxing Digest Magazine, Maxboxing, Boxing World Magazine, and Esquina Boxeo.