IT GOES some way to illustrate the suspicion with which Anthony Joshua now treats his fellow heavyweights that he only agreed to fight Robert Helenius subject to some last-gasp VADA testing.
For the second time in his career, Joshua was left without an opponent and without a fight following an email from the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association which contained details of so-called ‘adverse analytical findings’ from the man due in the opposite corner. The worst bit is, Joshua says he was not even surprised.
In 2019 it was Jarrell Miller who pissed hot more than once. This time it was Dillian Whyte, although the Brixton heavyweight vehemently denies any wrongdoing and has vowed to clear his name.
Regardless of whether or not that happens, Joshua decided it would be ‘morally wrong’ to face Whyte given what VADA had disclosed so the search for a new opponent began. Helenius, who only boxed on Saturday, was the man given the golden ticket after an extensive yet rapid search.
“I heard about it in the morning,” says Joshua of Whyte’s failed test. “It was 2am and I got it at 7am. My initial reaction was just ‘what’s next?’ I had two options, the show goes ahead or cancel.
“Am I surprised? It happens in boxing, it’s not the first and won’t be the last, so no, I was not surprised to be honest.
“Boxing is not an institution where you join a club and everything is presented to you, these guys go to local gyms and they are around people who might be doing dodgy stuff so you have to be very very responsible.
“I hope it is a mistake but it shows why I have to invest in these tests and the team have now got Helenius tested because it is important because this stuff happens.”
Like Miller back in 2019, Whyte has also pointed the finger at Joshua with regards to doping violations although it is important to highlight that the two-time world heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medalist has never failed any test, whether via UKAD or VADA. He smiles.
“It’s funny that the two people who have accused me have popped dirty themselves,” he adds. “I have a long history of being drug tested and sometimes you have to question the person who keeps pointing the finger. Maybe they did it because of my physique or my success, my rise… it maybe didn’t make sense to them but it’s God gifted and a lot of hard work.”
For more than a decade now, Joshua has been subject to 365-days-a-year ‘whereabouts’ testing from UKAD while also shelling out for VADA testing to the tune of around £30,000 per fight. Eddie Hearn regularly describes Joshua as Britain’s most tested boxer ever.
In Joshua’s eyes, however, such stringent measures do not extend to the rest of the sport and what has developed is now a serious problem.
“There is a doping problem in the sport, definitely,” he says. “I can’t speak on the numbers, I don’t really mix inside the boxing industry. I don’t know but it’s a problem.
“I get drug tested all year round, every quarter I have to submit my whereabouts, where I am going to be, every day, for an hour of the day so they can turn up randomly. I have submitted that every day of my life since 2011.
“So I don’t know why I am under this pressure but all these other boxers aren’t. When you sign up to a promoter they should all have that in the deal. It damages the sport, look where we are at with this situation, we lost the fight and nearly lost the card because of this situation.”
Sitting in an adjacent room, in his ‘Nordic Nightmare’ tracksuit, was the one man to have benefitted from this mess – Helenius himself. Only a few days ago he was boxing in a castle in Finland in an eight-rounder against a 41-year-old. Now he finds himself preparing to take on Joshua at the o2 Arena.
The 39-year-old has been around the block and back in this sport and he agrees with Joshua about the severity of the problem – although he suggests it seems particularly bad in Britain.
“I can’t give away any secrets,” he says. “But of course it’s a problem because I don’t think everybody is on the same level, some have privileges that others don’t have.”
When asked to describe those privileges, he said: “No comment. I don’t know because it’s a very difficult topic and I think anti-doping should be the same in every country. For example in your country when Dillian gets caught everybody just thinks ‘oh it’s boxing’ and nobody cares.
“In Finland, if I would be caught I would be lynched for my whole life. Two years minimum, nothing. I would never get a licence again. If I would do that I would never be able to box in Finland anymore.
“It feels like I’m at a disadvantage, I don’t have the luxury of doing it. They come to my home, they take my blood, they come to my work and everything. It’s not fair. But who said that life should be fair?
“My doping is that I have a real high level of Viking blood in me. I don’t care! I don’t care. Use whatever you want.”
Whether or not that blood is a problem for VADA remains to be seen. With more than two days left before the fight, we should rule nothing out.