Deontay Wilder-Luis Ortiz Drug Fiasco

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By Jake Donovan

There’s no positive spin on the possible cancellation of the scheduled November 4 heavyweight title fight between Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz—but at present moment, there is also no need to yet hit the panic button.

Because of the manner in which leaked drug results are handled, however, we are already at that point without cooler heads having a chance to prevail.

An overnight breaking news item by award-winning ESPN senior writer Dan Rafael revealed that Ortiz had tested positive for banned substances chlorothiazide and hydrochlorothiazide—both of which are used by drug cheats as masking agents to prevent detection of performance enhancing drug (PED) use). Such news was followed by the revelation that the title fight due to air live on Showtime from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York is now in serious jeopardy, in fact with ESPN’s chosen headline indicating that the bout will likely be canceled. 

One piece of news—among several other items—that managed to fly well under the radar is the fact that the most common use for both substances is to treat hypertension, from which Ortiz suffers. The unbeaten heavyweight was admitted to the emergency room over the summer due to a near-fatal spell, at which point he was given doctor’s orders to regularly take Losartan for preventive measures.

Rather than checking in with the boxer and his team, most reports instead focused on a tweet from the World Boxing Council (WBC), the Mexico-based organization whose title is at stake. As testing is conduction in accordance with the WBC’s Clean Boxing Program, its president Mauricio Sulaiman felt it was his due diligence to alert his social media followers of the test findings.

Such awareness is important in not only identifying the drug cheats, but also informing the public that its efforts to eliminate the use of PEDs in boxing continues to prove effective. With such alerts, though, comes the responsibility of having all of your ducks in a row.

This is where everyone involved—and a large pocket of the boxing media—has fallen miserably short.

For now, only Ortiz’ “A” sample has been tested. Drug test results aren’t supposed to be leaked the public anyway, but once upon a time such findings were revealed after the confirmation of the “B” sample providing the same result, or the offending athlete waiving the right to have the second sample tested. Before anyone was even made aware of what could have triggered the positive test, Ortiz was already branded as a two-time PED offender (having tested positive for Nandrolone surrounding his Sept. ’14 1st round knockout of Lateef Kayode) while event promoter Lou DiBella—who will never be mistaken for the calmest guy in the room—was, while understandably upset, enraged to the point of insisting the fight was off and that the next likely step would be to hunt for a new opponent once he had the chance to talk with Wilder and Showtime Sports executive vice president Stephen Espinoza.

Even the thought of such talks should have never been made public until a final decision on the main event was made.

Wilder has since taken to his Instagram account, rightfully upset over the scenario of a third potential opponent testing positive for a banned substance in a span of less than 18 months. The most notable of the lot was his eventually canceled May ’16 clash with then-mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin, who tested positive for Meldonium, a substance that had just hit the banned list at the start of the year and to which Povetkin insisted traces of use prior to January 1, 2016 hadn’t entirely flushed out of his system.

Nobody was buying it, not even a court of law as a recent ruling awarded Wilder and his team a multi-million summary judgment. Of course, the verdict is being appealed which means that the unbeaten titlist from Alabama has yet to see a dime and therefore is still out the career-high payday he would’ve received to travel to Russia for their scheduled title fight.

Members of Wilder’s team were vocal in the insistence to cancel the fight, which the WBC eventually ruled (technically, the bout was postponed, although obviously never rescheduled). However, Wilder himself wanted to go through with the fight and had to be talked out of traveling from England to Russia by his handlers even before the WBC’s ruling.

The long-reigning heavyweight titlist—who dethroned Bermane Stiverne in Jan. ’15 and has since made five successful defenses—is once again calling for the WBC to look the other way from an adverse finding as he still wants to go through with the fight.

“[I]f possible I still want this ape shit (Ortiz’) head on a platter,” Wilder pleaded to the WBC through his Instagram account, during which he openly flirted with the idea of walking away from the sport altogether. “I’m well acknowledgeable (that Ortiz) is taking something but I accept all responsibility that may occur in the actions of this fight.”

It seems Wilder is cognizant of the fact that—recent drug findings notwithstanding—this is a fight his career sorely needs from a public relations standpoint. The charismatic boxer—who was the lone member of the 2008 Olympic boxing team to medal in Beijing, capturing the Bronze—has been dominant through nearly nine years as a pro, but still only boasts one true win over a perennial Top 5 heavyweight, which came the night he dominated Stiverne to win the title. It remains the only distance fight of his career, having scored knockouts in all 32 fights prior to that night and in all five title defenses to date.

His title reign has left a bit to be desired, with stoppage wins over Eric Molina, Johann Duhaupas, Artur Szpilka, Chris Arreola and Gerald Washington hardly boxing’s version of Murderer’s Row. The bouts with Arreola and Washington both came as alternatives to originally scheduled title fights scrapped due to drug testing results.

Arreola facing Wilder in his home state of Alabama came two months after the cancellation of the intended clash with Povetkin. This past February, Washington put his unbeaten mark at risk on short notice as a late replacement for Poland’s Andrzej Wawrzyk, who was scratched from the show after testing positive for a banned substance as discovered through VADA testing as part of the WBC’s Clean Boxing Program.

Following the stoppage win over Washington, it was immediately recognized by Wilder and his team that they were all out of undesirable options to sell to the public. So much, that two other previously considered matchups were immediately nixed: a showdown with 2012 Olympic boxer Dominic Breazeale, who rallied to stop previously unbeaten Izuagbe Ugonoh on the Wilder-Washington undercard, and who wound up in a post-fight dustup with Wilder and his team at the nearby fight hotel; and a rematch with Stiverne, who’d somehow resurfaced as Wilder’s mandatory challenger.

Dealing with Stiverne and promoter Don King has proven to be a hindrance in the career of Wilder, whose plans for a June/July return were ruined due to lingering efforts to have the Haitian-Canadian heavyweight agree to a step aside package. Terms were eventually reached for a showdown with Ortiz, but finalized only after a handsome six-figure check was awarded to Stiverne, along with guaranteed placement on the undercard as he’s due to face Dominic Breazeale on the November 4 undercard.

In light of recent news, there has already surfaced the possibility of Stiverne being bumped up to the main event to replace Ortiz, despite such a rematch being previously rendered unmarketable by any network to which the fight was pitched.

What should instead be taking place is consideration to salvage the event, rather than live with the fact that a fight was killed over high blood pressure medication.

To be fair, Ortiz and his team deserve to shoulder a heavy portion of the blame for the unraveling of this entire fiasco.

On every medical form, there exists a section which asks if the participating boxer is currently taking any medication, along with the option to file for a Therapeutic Use Exemption. VADA representatives declined comment when asked if Ortiz’ paperwork contained such info and a request, although outside sources have informed that his team did in fact fail to list any such usage of the hypertention prevention medication he was prescribed by a Miami-area doctor this past summer.

Having previously failed a drug test and subsequently enrolling in random drug testing, there is no acceptable excuse for neglecting to disclose such information. In fact, Ortiz was previously conscious to such issues to where he went through with a December ’15 clash with Bryant Jennings despite suffering from an aggravating chest cold. The Miami-based Cuban didn’t even take cold medication to treat the ailment for fear of somehow failing another drug test.

Ortiz went on to win the bout by 7th round knockout in what remains his finest hour as a pro boxer. He’s hovered around the top five of the heavyweight division since that night, but his management team has hardly guided his career with the best intentions in mind since then. They severed ties with Golden Boy Promotions—who stood by Ortiz throughout the drug testing debacle from the Kayode fight—last summer, shortly after a deal was reached for Ortiz to face Alexander Ustinov on the undercard of a Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez-Liam Smith title fight in Arlington, Texas last September.

Instead, Ortiz—upon the advice of his handlers—walked away from the fight and bought himself out of the remainder of his Golden Boy contract, a decision that came with a $1.2 million price tag. He resurfaced at year’s end with red-hot promoter Eddie Hearn, even landing an HBO slot for his eventual 12-round stinker with Malik Scott in Monte Carlo, followed by a stoppage win over fringe contender David Allen last December in England.

A grand total of zero fights have come so far in 2017, openly calling for title fights with Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder but to no avail. Rather than doing everything possible to keep the near middle-aged heavyweight active, his team has instead remained all-too content with pointing to the heavyweights not willing to face him.

With the latest debacle, it seems they are also fine with further sabotaging the career of a still-promising heavyweight, though one who, at age 38, is not afforded the luxury of time being on his side.

That said, the alternatives that are being considered and that have previously accepted miserably in comparison in addition to a touch of hypocrisy also at the surface.

Neither Wilder nor anyone on his team took issue with accepting a July ’16 clash with Arreola, despite the veteran heavyweight contender having previously failed two drug tests and in fact was coming off of a suspension from his previous fight for having tested positive for marijuana following a Dec. ’15 win over Travis Kauffman. Stiverne—the current leading candidate should Ortiz get bumped from the show—was popped for a banned substance last fall, successfully pleading ignorance in getting VADA and the WBC to allow him to remain in the Clean Boxing Program.

There remains no question that the drug culture in boxing is something that must be dealt with and kept at the forefront far more than has regularly been the case. As evidenced in his win over Arreola last summer, Wilder was willing to look past a history of drug tests and instead take note of why such a result was produced.

The win over Arreola did little to enhance his place among today’s best heavyweights, nor has any of his other title defenses to date. A repeat win over Stiverne or even one over another considered candidate in Breazeale equally won’t do the trick.

Facing and beating highly-regarded (in the ring, anyway) contender in Ortiz will provide the type of elevation his career long deserves, perhaps even more so should he defeat a heavyweight coming in with the stink of having to cheat to get here.

What a star in the making like Wilder doesn’t deserve is to further delay the trip to that next career level over negligently undisclosed high blood pressure medication.

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