Oscar Valdez, Evander Holyfield and boxing’s loss of what’s noble

Oscar Valdez will fight this weekend despite allegedly failing a drugs test

Boxing’s reputation as a noble art has always had a rare ability to brush off scandal. Never has there been a blow from which it could not recover or a depth beyond redemption. For that reason, the last week will provoke few enduring reactions or grand realisations. There will be no defence for the sake of the honest, the brave or the outright reckless. It does not mean, though, that the indefensible should be allowed to pass as the norm.

On Friday night in Tucson, Arizona, Oscar Valdez, the World Boxing Council’s super featherweight champion, will defend his title against Robson Conceicao. It is reprehensible but hardly astonishing that the bout will go ahead despite the Mexican allegedly failing a drugs test during his training camp – both his samples taken by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency on 13 August are said to have tested positive for Phentermine, a banned stimulant that can enhance endurance and weight loss.

Valdez has vigorously protested his innocence, insisting a herbal tea was responsible for the chemical being found in his system. But the virtue of that defence should still have no bearing on the bottom line. Valdez has – by accident or design – broken regulations designed to ensure the safety of those who willingly accept such grave risks when they step into the ring. To not take any action – with the test deemed to have been failed outside of competition, despite being less than a month from the date of tonight’s fight – is the starkest evidence of a system that is inherently flawed. It’s not sport, it’s a circus.

Yet, even that shame pales against the reckless opportunism that will follow on Saturday night, when Evander Holyfield, the frail 58-year-old ghost of a great legend, laces his gloves again. Holyfield is the latest to be lured from the safe clutches of retirement for a pantomime that preys on nostalgia, pitting icons of the past against one another in bizarre spectacles long after the body has begun to betray the mind, the years of punishment plain and often uncomfortable to see.

The California State Athletic Commission did at least refuse to sanction Holyfield’s bout against Vitor Belfort, a 44-year-old former UFC champion who has fought just once as a professional boxer, but that act of defiance is unsurprisingly powerless to prevent the fight from taking place. Instead, the event was simply and swiftly relocated to a casino in Florida only too happy to oblige. And as if there wasn’t already enough green-eyed lunacy scoffing in the face of reason, Donald Trump confirmed he will provide live commentary on the broadcast.


In the same week that an 18-year-old boxer, Jeanette Zacarias Zapata, tragically lost her life after being knocked out in a professional fight in Canada, that such callousness and negligence continues to prevail is a damning indictment of boxing. It also maintains a shadow over those whose integrity cannot be questioned, namely the fighters and trainers who sacrifice so much, have influenced the lives of so many, and deserve far more than to be treated as commodities. They are the ones who need listening to most and yet often remain the last to be heard. And so the cycle will prevail without recrimination, with lessons unheeded despite the looming consequences. Boxing might be able to move past its tragedies, but this week has shown there is too often little that’s noble about its pursuits.

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