Zolani Tete will not have the luxury of fighting at home while attempting to clear his name abroad.
The Boxing South Africa (BSA) commission has officially suspended Tete’s boxing license in-country, while the former two-division titlist remains under investigation for a drug testing violation through the United Kingdom Anti-Doping (UKAD) agency.
“SAIDS [South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport] wrote to us about the findings by the anti-doping agency in the UK where Zolani fought in July and we have the obligation to act,” BSA chairman of the board Luthando Jack announced on Monday. “We will wait the outcome of the “B” sample because Zolani’s camp, which we were constantly in contact with since the breaking of the news, assured us that they are going for “B” sample and they will let us know once those results are out.”
The violation stems from a sample collected around the time of Tete’s fourth-round knockout of Doncaster’s Jason Cunningham (31-7, 7KOs) on July 2 at Wembley Arena (now OVO Arena Wembley) in London. The exact substance for which Tete tested positive remains unidentified, though it has been reported that the 34-year-old southpaw from Eastern Cape faces up to a four-year ban by the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC).
News of the initial finding was reported on November 21 by the Daily Dispatch, at which time Tete’s team announced that a request was placed to test the fighter’s “B” sample. It is rare for the two samples to not produce the same result, though a fighter’s right to have both tested.
Cunningham was understandably furious over the development, more so learning about it through the media. The 33-year-old British southpaw and his team have since opted to allow the investigation process to play out before issuing further comment.
The suspension of Tete’s license in South Africa in addition to the investigation in the UK all but puts the boxer on ice. The former IBF junior bantamweight and WBO bantamweight titlist has spent seven of his last nine fights in the UK while promoted by Queensberry Promotions.
Tete has fought once each in Ekaterinburg, Russia and Johannesburg, South Africa over that same period. The fight in Russia—a twelve-round win over 2016 Olympian and unbeaten contender Mikhail Aloyan—was part of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) bantamweight tournament.
The one trip back to his home country came last December 12, when Tete scored a first-round knockout of Iddi Kayumba. The bout was his first since the pandemic, coming as means to shake rust before returning to the UK earlier this summer.
So far, Tete and his team have been fully cooperative with the investigation though still maintaining a claim of innocence.
“When an athlete says, ‘I honestly have no knowledge of use of the substance in issue,’ would one say it is foolish to go for B sample testing or should we be expected to be happy and settle with the A sample results, ’though we have no knowledge of this substance and also knowing that the results are not consistent with our ethical behavior,” theorized Mlandeli Tengimfene, Tete’s manager, according to a report from Sowetan Live. “The fact that there is B sample is to prove the accuracy of the A sample results. This tells that it is of debate or dispute hence a provision to deal with that by way of B sample testing.
“In short, the B sample can be tested to either confirm or reject the A sample results. We believe we have nothing to lose if we continue with B sample testing. We do not want to regret later and say we should have done it. Zolani truly wants the B sample analysis.”
The sentiment is echoed by Queensberry Promotions, who was just as much in the dark as everyone else prior to the drug testing revelation making the media rounds.
“Queensberry Promotions were first informed by BoxingScene.com on Monday (21st November 2022) that former world champion Zolani Tete allegedly returned an adverse analytical finding following a UKAD test that took place, five months ago, after his fight with Jason Cunningham on 2nd July 2022,” Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren noted in a statement released through Queensberry’s press office. “At this time Queensberry, who promoted the show, has not been formally notified of any issue by UKAD nor indeed by the British Boxing Board of Control and therefore, without any substantiated information are not able to comment further.
“At this time, without such information, or as to what substance has been identified, we are not qualified to make further comment. Tete’s management refute the claim and will request that the B Sample is analyzed immediately and will co-operate with any due process.”
Those steps have been taken, with the continued hope of the boxer ultimately clearing his name.
“For me it is about finding out exactly what happened,” insisted Tengimfene. “Zolani says he did not dope, and let us give him the opportunity to clear his name. We know it has never happened before where A sample results differ with B sample results, however, where there is human hand, there can be human error.”
Even a backdated four-year ban would leave Tete out of the ring until at least July 2026, at which time he will be 38 years of age. Whatever the outcome, the fight night result will likely remain in place despite reports of the knockout win being changed to a No-Contest. It is rare for the BBBofC to overturn an official verdict, no matter how egregious the violation.
Boxers such as lineal/WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury (32-0-1, 23KOs) and former title challenger Dillian Whyte (29-3, 19KOs) were both previously suspended for separate UKAD violations but permitted to retain on their official record knockout victories surrounding said violations.
Whyte was banned for two years following a positive drug test surrounding a fourth-round knockout of Sandor Balogh in October 2012. Fury still boasts an eighth-round knockout of Christian Hammer from February 2015 on his ledger, even after a positive drug test for nandrolone—which was discovered more than seven months later—resulted in a backdated two-year ban.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox