Matchroom, Chavez Jr, The NSAC and VADA

Matchroom Boxing USA plans to promote – and DAZN plans to stream – a super-middleweight fight between Danny Jacobs and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr on December 20. Few boxing insiders think the bout will be competitive. Jacobs is a prohibitive favorite. But DAZN wants Chavez on the network because it believes his presence will drive subscription buys in the Hispanic American community. Matchroom managing director Eddie Hearn wants the dollars that will come with promoting the fight. Chavez wants the payday. And Jacobs wants to get back in the win column while making as much money as possible after losing to Canelo Alvarez this past May.

Initially, Jacobs-Chavez was slated for the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Then, on October 24, pursuant to a request by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, a Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) collection officer went to the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood where Chavez was training to collect a urine sample from the fighter to be tested for illegal performance enhancing drugs.

According to information transmitted by VADA to the NSAC, Chavez arrived at the gym shortly before 2:00 PM. At that time, the VADA collection officer introduced himself and Chavez refused to provide the sample. He repeated his refusal several times as the afternoon progressed. VADA president Dr. Margaret Goodman was contacted by Matchroom Boxing CEO Frank Smith and Shaun Palmer (counsel for Matchroom), who asked that the VADA collection officer remain on site while they sought to convince Chavez to provide the sample. At 4:35 PM, after Chavez had left the gym and it was clear that he would not return to provide the sample, the VADA collection officer left.

On October 30, at the behest of executive director Bob Bennett, the Nevada State Athletic Commission placed Chavez on temporary suspension pending the result of a November 20 commission meeting. An attorney representing Chavez reached out informally to the Nevada Attorney General’s office (which has jurisdiction over the NSAC) for relief. But the AG’s office stood by Bennett.

Thereafter, Hearn found a more compliant state athletic commission. Francisco Meneses (executive director of the Arizona Boxing and MMA Commission) said that the fight could proceed in Arizona and that drug testing would be conducted by Drug Free Sport US (an organization that lacks the credibility of VADA).

After Arizona was announced as the site for the fight, Hearn told, “Chavez hadn’t signed for the fight, hadn’t signed up for VADA, and Nevada through VADA turned up to test him. And he said, ‘Well, I haven’t signed for the fight yet.’ So he didn’t test and they chose to not license him. So I went to the ABC, went to the other boxing commissions, who said, ‘We’ll license him, no problem. He just has to sign up for testing, which he’s done in full. And on we go.”

But Hearn’s explanation is flawed.

First, under Nevada law, the Nevada State Athletic Commission has jurisdiction to test a fighter for performance enhancing drugs once a promoter requests a date for a fight from the commission. And Matchroom had previously requested December 20 as the date for Jacobs-Chavez.

Moreover, the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act provides that each boxing commission shall establish procedures to ensure that no boxer is permitted to box within its jurisdiction while under suspension from any other boxing commission as a consequence of a failed drug test. And the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code expressly treats evading, refusing, or failing to submit to a drug test as a violation with penalties that are the same as the penalties for a failed drug test.

The Ali Act was designed to prevent forum shopping of the kind that is happening now in conjunction with Jacobs-Chavez.

Before Matchroom settled on Arizona as the site for Jacobs-Chavez, it reached out informally to the California State Athletic Commission to determine whether Chavez might be licensed in California. But Chavez has had a troubled relationship with the CSAC. He was supposed to fight on the Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury undercard in Los Angeles last December but missed multiple appointments with CSAC medical personnel. Thereafter, he was pulled from the Wilder-Fury undercard.

The response of CSAC executive director Andy Foster to Matchroom’s inquiry regarding Jacobs-Chavez was such that Hearn decided to look elsewhere for a site.

Hearn’s claim that he “went to the ABC [Association of Boxing Commissions], went to the other boxing commissions, who said, ‘We’ll license him, no problem. He just has to sign up for testing,” is particularly problematic.

Hearn did speak with Mike Mazzulli (a former ABC president who is still a member of the ABC executive board). But Mazzulli no longer speaks with the authority of the ABC. And even if he did, he wouldn’t have the authority to waive a violation of the Ali Act.

In that regard, the thoughts of Brian Dunn (the current ABC president) are instructive. On November 12, Dunn told Boxing Scene, “I did not speak to Eddie Hearn. I did speak with Bob Bennett and Francisco Meneses [executive director of the Boxing & MMA Commission at the Arizona Department of Gaming]. And I’m not happy about this. I don’t like the commission shopping aspect of it. I don’t think it’s legal under the Ali Act for the fight to go forward in Arizona if Chavez is on suspension in Nevada for refusing to take a test. I just don’t think it’s a good idea for Arizona to proceed with this fight under these circumstances.”

There is one sliver of hope for Matchroom and Chavez. As earlier noted, the NSAC placed Chavez on temporary suspension pending the result of a November 20 commission meeting. At that meeting, the five commissioners are expected to review the temporary suspension and set it down for a hearing on December 18.

The key question is whether, in the interim, the NSAC commissioners will classify Chavez’s suspension as an administrative suspension or a suspension for refusing to submit to a sample collection. If they opt for the latter, the Arizona commission would be in violation of federal law if it allowed Jacobs-Chavez to be contested.

Here, one might note that, in the past, Chavez has had an adversarial relationship with the NSAC. In 2009, he tested positive for Furosemide (a banned diuretic) following a decision victory over Troy Roland and the result of the fight was changed to no decision. He also tested positive for marijuana following a decision loss to Sergio Martinez in Nevada in 2012 after which he was fined and suspended.

As for Arizona, one source who has spoken with Francisco Meneses says that Meneses assured him he would not let Jacobs-Chavez proceed in Arizona if the Nevada State Athletic Commission classifies and upholds Chavez’s suspension as being for refusing to take a drug test. “But from Francisco’s point of view,” the source explains, “that’s okay.” At that point, Arizona will still have a Danny Jacobs fight. It’s just that it will be against Gabriel Rosado instead of Chavez Jr.

Rosado is Jacobs’s back-up opponent in the event that Chavez doesn’t make it to ring center for the opening bell on December 20. Gabriel has had twelve fights over the past seven years and won three of them. He has never fought at a weight above 160 pounds. If Jacobs-Chavez turns into Jacobs-Rosado, it will be a classic case of bait-and-switch.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is [email protected]. His most recent book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing  – was published this autumn by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.