The murky business of boxing was thrown into a fresh crisis on Wednesday when the promoter Eddie Hearn refused to accept a ruling by the British Boxing Board of Control that the fight in London on Saturday between Conor Benn and Chris Eubank Jr should be “prohibited”. Hearn expressed his willingness to challenge the board’s decision legally despite the fact that Benn, whom he promotes, had tested positive for clomifene according to the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency.
Benn was found to have traces of the fertility drug, which can significantly boost levels of testosterone, in his system. Clomifene is banned by both Vada and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The sport’s governing body released a statement on Wednesday afternoon, two hours after the Daily Mail broke the story of Benn’s positive test: “On the evening of 4 October 2022, the board of the British Boxing Board of Control Limited resolved that the contest between Chris Eubank Jr and Conor Benn scheduled to take place on 8 October 2022 is prohibited as it is not in the interests of boxing. That was communicated to the boxers and promoters involved on the morning of 5 October 2022.”
Hearn still shocked outsiders who have not been hardened to the blatant cynicism of boxing when, refusing to accept this seemingly unequivocal decision, he said that arguments over whether or not the fight should proceed are “with the lawyers, going backwards and forwards right now”.
Robert Smith, the general secretary for the British Boxing Board of Control, did not reply to a request for comment. Meanwhile, Margaret Goodman, the president of Vada, said: “Vada’s policy is to not comment on any fighter’s specific test results.” Earlier in the day, in a statement released by his promotional company Matchroom, Hearn said: “The B sample has yet to be tested, meaning that no rule violation has been confirmed. Indeed, Mr Benn has not been charged with any rule violation, he is not suspended, and he remains free to fight.” The promoter said that Benn had been cleared by all tests carried out by Ukad, the British anti-doping body appointed by the Board of Control, and the fighter himself said he is a “clean athlete”. Benn said: “I’ve not committed any violations. I’ve not been suspended so as far as I’m concerned the fight is still going ahead. I’ve spoken to Chris [Eubank] personally and we both want the fight to go ahead. We both have taken medical and legal advice and we want the fight to go ahead for the fans.
“I’ve signed up to every voluntary anti-doping testing there is under the sun … all my UKAD tests have come back negative throughout my whole career. I’ve never had any issues before. My team will find out why there has been an initial adverse finding in my [Vada] test. We’ll get to the bottom of this and we’ll see you on Saturday.” Eubank Jr’s promoter, Kalle Sauerland, said: “We took medical advice. [Clomifene] can raise testosterone levels but the experts we consulted couldn’t see that it was giving an advantage. So on the basis of that we discussed straight away with the most important person on our side, who is the athlete. [Eubank Jr] was happy to continue.” The sports scientist Ross Tucker pointed out that some findings indicated that clomifene can boost testosterone levels by as much as 146%.
Hearn said the first Vada test had been taken “a couple of weeks ago” but said the fact the B sample had not been tested yet was merely “a timing issue”, adding: “I can’t say too much on it at the moment. But, ultimately, that sample will be tested by a specialist.” Hearn also said the British Boxing Board of Control “do not acknowledge Vada testing. Citing an earlier example where the British boxer Billy Joe Saunders had an adverse finding on his Vada test, and was banned in Massachusetts, Hearn reiterated that the British Board of Control had instead accepted a Ukad test which cleared the fighter of any illegality.
“So they need to make a decision on what they want to do,” Hearn said of the board. “If they don’t suspend [Benn] which they haven’t [done] and can’t [do], he is clear to fight.” The heavily hyped bout at the O2 on Saturday night is rooted in the animosity between the fighters’ fathers, Chris Eubank Sr and Nigel Benn, who shared two brutal and bitter contests in the 1990s. But Eubank Sr tried to prevent his son from stepping into the ring against Benn Jr amid serious concerns that the 33-year-old would struggle to make the catchweight limit of 157 pounds. Eubank Jr has campaigned often at super-middleweight, where fighters weigh-in at 168 pounds, and his father argued that the drastic weight-cut could lead to dehydration which can be a root cause of brain damage when boxers are punched in the head.
Eubank Jr insisted he would still take the fight – which is also a worrying test for Benn as he is a welterweight. Benn is meant to fight Eubank Jr at a weight which is 10 pounds more than the welterweight limit. This week Eubank Sr called for the public to boycott the fight and refuse to watch it either live or on television.
Hearn has said that he hopes to sell up to a million pay-per-views of the fight. It seems an outlandish claim – but in keeping with the dubious language of boxing. While Hearn spent all Wednesday saying Benn should be allowed to fight, an old clip of the promoter circulated on social media. Embarrassingly for Hearn now, he said earlier in his promotional career: “What is the point in signing up for drug testing if, when you fail, everyone just goes: ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. Just let him fight.’ The argument that it’s all right with Ukad is totally irrelevant. You’ve signed drug-testing for Vada, the best testing agency in my opinion, in the sport.” Those words were forgotten amid a desperate attempt to overturn the Board of Control’s ruling that the bout on Saturday night should be cancelled. Hearn apparently believes he will win the legal case lifting the ban on the fight – which is now an utterly tarnished sham.