It was late into the fall season of 2009. Manny Pacquiao had just vanquished Miguel Cotto and was well on his way to unanimously winning the Fighter of the Year Award across the board after nabbing titles in the junior welterweight and welterweight divisions in sensational fashion.
Immediately after bludgeoning and stopping Cotto in 12 rounds, a contingent of Pacquiao fans at the MGM Arena were in unison in chants of “we want Floyd!”
Pacquiao’s star was never brighter, and the boxing world was buzzing behind the exploits of the Southeast Asian jackhammer of a slugger who was tearing through the lower weight classes since arriving in the US scene in 2001.
With his legacy and place in boxing history set in stone, there was only one true challenge left for Pacquiao: Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
At the time, people were hyping it as potentially the biggest fight in boxing history with revenues estimated to be around nine figures. It was the perfect stylistic contrast between two of the greatest and most popular fighters in history, and the world couldn’t wait to see it.
But after reports that both men had agreed to fight each other, an unexpected wrench was thrown in the negotiations in the form of added drug testing requested by the Mayweather camp amidst accusations and questions regarding the legitimacy of Pacquiao’s victories after being unfairly linked to performance enhancing drugs without proof.
The issue spiraled out of control as lawsuits came flying immediately after, with Pacquiao crying foul over his name being dragged to the dirt, and Mayweather insisting on his suspicions.
The Pacquiao camp chose not to budge on Mayweather’s request for extra drug tests, and both fighters went about their careers separately as the public was forced to simply hope and wait for the two fighters to somehow come into terms and fight each other.
The multi-million dollar mega fight of a lifetime that the entire world was clamoring for could not be made because of a few ounces of blood and some extra random testing. That's what happens when ignorance prevails.
Fast-forward to today - almost four years after - Mayweather and Pacquiao have still yet to throw a single punch at each other, and the interest for what was once being hailed as “the fight of the century” is all but gone.
Mayweather is back on top as the world’s highest paid athlete and boxing’s biggest draw, while Pacquiao is reeling from a devastating knockout loss to his nemesis, Juan Manuel Marquez, and is fighting Brandon Rios in China in a couple of weeks to prove that he still has more fights left in his tank.
Ironically, the 34-year-old Philippine congressman has enrolled himself into extra drug testing under the supervision of VADA (Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency) for his fight against Rios.
"Yes, I was tested twice, so there is no problem," Pacquiao told the press two weeks ago in a media conference call, when asked about the VADA testing.
It's of note that before his loss last year to Marquez, Pacquiao had already publicly expressed his willingness to relent on his stance regarding extra drug testing to make the Mayweather fight happen. Unfortunately, however, financials and the ongoing feud between the fighters' promoters added to the foil.
One positive that did come out from the Pacquiao-Mayweather saga is the amount of publicity that went behind Mayweather’s initial accusations against Pacquiao, which forced boxing to take a closer look into its drug testing practices, while concerned fans educated themselves on the specifics and nuisances of performance enhancing drugs and testing.
One of the prominent figures that came to surface during this period of inquisition is sports scientist Victor Conte. Conte, the infamous BALCO founder involved in the past decade’s doping scandal centered on baseball superstars like Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, has become one of the most vocal anti-doping advocates in boxing.
Conte, who currently helps oversee the nutrition and scientific training of a long list of boxers such as Amir Khan, Edwin Rodriguez, Shawn Porter, Bruno Escalante, Marlen Esparza, Brandon Gonzales, Stan Martyniouk, Demetrious Andrade and Fernando Guerrero, and was critical of Pacquiao’s reluctance to adhere to random drug testing in the past, was pleased that the Filipino boxing icon finally came around and took the initiative together with Rios to ensure a clean fight, and take a step in the right direction for the sport.
“I'm really glad to see Pacquiao and Rios doing random VADA testing before their upcoming fight. It is important for the health and safety of the boxers, and it is also important for the fans of boxing to know that they both have been doing stringent testing,” Conte told this scribe in an interview.
“Regardless of who wins their fight, both Pacquiao and Rios should be applauded for doing their part to promote clean combat sport.”
Pacquiao had no complaints about weakening after giving out blood like he had said in the past, and reports of a glowing camp in his hometown of General Santos City has his fans excited once again.
Maybe an impressive win against Rios will finally lay to rest all the suspicions about Pacquiao being a dirty fighter. Maybe taking the VADA tests can also open doors to a future fight with Mayweather - then again, maybe not. But as far as Conte is concerned, taking the VADA tests definitely helps wipe suspicions, and continuing to do so while winning will only provide further vindication – regardless if the Mayweather fight ever happens or not.
“It would be foolish for Pacquiao or Rios to attempt to circumvent the VADA testing program,” Conte stated, and added, “Drug testing will never be completely foolproof. However, I believe that an effective random testing program for a period of time before a fight can serve as a deterrent and possibly effect the outcome of the contest.”
Interestingly enough, Pacquiao testing clean and taking these extra VADA tests haven’t gotten the same publicity as those of the baseless accusations he got about taking performance enhancing drugs years ago. The general public - whether it’s because his popularity has gone down after his loss to Marquez or simply because they never truly cared – seems indifferent as well.
Golden Boy Promotions, who backed Mayweather in his claims against Pacquiao about the issue, have dropped VADA testing themselves after a few of their cards were cancelled because of fighters like Andre Berto and Lamont Peterson failing their drug tests.
Conte likes the trend of top-level fighters like Pacquiao, Rios, Mayweather, and as well as others like Timothy Bradley, starting to adhere to extra testing before their fights, but ultimately wishes they could enroll in 24/7/365 (year-round random drug testing) to further ensure a clean sport.
With all the strength and conditioning coaches popping out of nowhere like wild mushrooms, stringent random drug testing has definitely become a necessity for combat sports where lives - more than just money, pride and wins - are at stake.
Perhaps Pacquiao vs. Mayweather wasn’t really the “fight of the century” after all. It was simply the preliminary bout to the main event, which is boxing’s war on doping.