Boxer Antonio Tarver Tests Positive for Banned Substance

Fightland Blog

By Nick Wong

Photo by Andrew Gombert/EPA

The importance of drug testing has appeared in boxing headlines once again as former light heavyweight titlist Antonio “The Magic Man” Tarver has tested positive for a banned substance in his fight against Steve Cunningham back in August of this year. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated first broke the news earlier this week, reporting that the former champ came back with two positive tests showing the use of synthetic testosterone. Tarver has denied the allegations.

“I have no idea how my urine sample tested positive because I didn’t take anything illegal,” Tarver said in an interview. “Either the test was contaminated, or mixed-up with another sample. We believe in the process and I will fully comply. Further analysis will prove I’m 100% innocent because I’ve done nothing wrong.”

It will be interesting to see what Tarver means by “further analysis” since the bout followed the standard anti-doping protocol. In the event an initial “A” sample comes back positive for a fighter, they then have the right to request a “B” sample to ensure validity of the first test. If the second test comes back positive, there’s little room for argument. In Tarver’s case, both samples showed traces of the banned substance, thus lowering the chances of “contamination”, and as for the samples being “mixed-up” with another, the likelihood of that is slim and even more difficult to prove. 

This is the second time Tarver has tested positive for a banned substance; the first occurred back in 2012 when Tarver drew with cruiserweight Lateef Kayode, and later tested positive for the anabolic steroid drostanolone. Tarver was fined $2,500 for the offense and suspended from competition for a year. He also lost his position as an analyst for Showtime as well as an opportunity to commentate ringside during the 2012 Olympic games.

But he’s bounced back since then, earning two heavyweight wins in 2013 and 2014, and also landing a position as a ringside analyst for the Premier Boxing Championship cards on Spike TV. At 46-years old, he’s stated on a number of occasions of his goal to become the oldest heavyweight champion in history, and with current WBC titlist Deontay Wilder also managed under the Al Haymon network, the match up was at least possible. With news of his most recent test results against Cunningham, however, his future both in the ring and as a commentator doesn’t look very bright.

Fight fans may remember Tarver as the man who first dethroned the then invincible pound-for-pound king Roy Jones Jr. by knocking him out cold in the second round of their rematch back in 2004. That win would put Tarver into the mainstream consciousness and be much of the platform in which he’s built the last decade of his career. But with this being his second violation in three years, perhaps even that foundation should be brought into question. That is, at least, how Cunningham feels.

“Here’s the big thing right here, and before me, Antonio Tarver knocked out Johnathon Banks, and knocked out the guy [Mike Sheppard] before that. We have to question every big victory he’s had now. He’s popping up on tests, and this is twice in three years,” said Cunningham in an interview with USA Today sports. “I know some people spoke about him being a future Hall of Famer. A guy in the Hall of Fame respects the sport. They respect other athletes. This man doesn’t.

“Fighters are already superhuman without using any type of illegal performance-enhancing stuff, so when you take a fighter who is trained punch at extreme power and put illegal drugs in him and make him endure more and last longer, you just made a super human, and made the possibility of him killing another fighter even more.”

When an athlete uses illegal substances in other competitive sports, a team loses a game they shouldn’t have, maybe a world record gets broken by someone who didn’t rightfully earn it. In boxing, someone’s life is at stake. Cunningham recently commentated ringside this past Saturday night for a bout between Terrell Williams vs. Prichard Colon, in which Colon suffered a bleeding from the brain and is currently in critical condition. In a time when doping controversy is running rampant in combat sports, the comments of Cunningham are timely. They are a reminder that in a sport like boxing, matters such as these are life and death.

“Terrell Williams wasn’t using steroids and this kid is in a coma now from shots, from bleeding in the brain,” said Cunningham. “Take a guy on steroids and you have yourself a homicide in the ring right before thousand of people’s eyes. There’s a bigger situation that needs to be looked at. These are people’s lives.”


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