YOU can put all the drug-testing measures in place but they are utterly useless unless strict penalties are enforced. Without punishment, the end result is nothing more than a facade, with boxing appearing to tackle a problem that, in reality, it isn’t. Of all the sports none is more lax than boxing in enforcing the rules against drug cheats. If certain boxing commissions oversaw other sports, Ben Johnson would have kept his gold medal at the 1988 Olympics. Cyclist Lance Armstrong’s Tour De France victories would have remained intact. Yet the doping problem not only remains in boxing, it is getting worse because the consequences of getting caught are minor compared to the benefits of improving performances by using illegal substances. And worse yet, those caught are defended to the point where they become martyrs by those in a position of power. Perhaps Oscar Valdez, the WBC super-featherweight belt-holder, is telling the truth when he says he has no idea how traces of phentermine had gotten into his system, a substance deemed performance-enhancing by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA). But we have been down this road many times before; athletes always claim innocence without doing everything possible to clear their names. We want to believe them, but realistically can’t.

The WBC essentially gave Valdez a free pass on the matter, their penalties no more than a slap on the wrist. WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman is a decent person who felt compassion for Valdez on the matter. The bottom line, though, is that he did boxing no favours by allowing Valdez to defend his belt against Brazilian challenger Robson Conceicao. It sent the wrong message that a fighter is bigger than the sport. As did the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC), and promoters Top Rank, who were fine with Valdez being allowed to fight.

ESPN commentators Bernardo Osuna, Timothy Bradley, and Andre Ward did an admirable job on fight night by not giving Valdez any slack in the matter. But the truth is that had ESPN taken a stand and not broadcast the fight it would have had so much more of a dramatic effect than by just having it’s commentators condemn it. ESPN and other networks have been known to fire broadcasters for a slip of the tongue that created an uproar, yet overlook rules being circumvented when it comes to boxing.

It is incomprehensible but true that boxing not only has multiple sanctioning bodies, each with different rules, rankings and regulations, it also has different drug agencies with different protocols. That lack of uniformity allowed Valdez to escape, essentially without punishment. Some, like VADA president Dr. Margaret Goodman, do work relentlessly to highlight any misdemeanors but too many boxing chiefs are not as keen to punish them.

The fight took place but if the Mexican was hoping for redemption he did not get it. Valdez, boxing in front of his adopted hometown crowd in Tucson, started slowly but came on strongly in the second half to win by unanimous 12-round decision. Judges Omar Mintun and Chris Tellez scored it 115-112 (as did BN) and Stephen Blea tallied a more generous 117-110. The match was somewhat marred by the overzealous refereeing of Tony Zaino who seemed to reprimand Conceicao a lot more than he should have, taking a point away from him in the ninth round when he playfully tapped Valdez behind the head during a clinch. But in the 11th round when Valdez landed a substantially harder blow in the same area it resulted in no more than a warning.

Over the first half, Conceicao controlled the match from ring centre behind a stiff jab, but was taken out of his comfort zone in the later rounds and forced around the ring by Valdez. Although the decision seemed just, the punch count totals favoured Conceicao substantially and he was unmarked at the end. This was in sharp contrast to Valdez whose face was battered and bruised.

Conceicao felt he deserved the decision, taunting Valdez unmercifully in the ring afterward, mocking him and not showing the type of sportsmanship one would expect. While one does not condone that type of behavior, it is understandable why Conceicao showed Valdez such little respect.

In the chief support, Japan’s Junto Nakatani successfully defended his WBO flyweight title, stopping Puerto Rico’s Angel Acosta at 32 seconds of the fourth round. Nakatani broke Acosta’s nose in the opening round and the blood flowed freely. Acosta was checked by the medics several times until it was determined the risk of letting him fight on was too great. For the most part, southpaw Nakatani dominated the action. Rocky Burke was the referee.

The Verdict Move along folks, nothing to see here apparently.