Why Antonio Tarver doesn’t pass the test

Antonio Tarver reacts after losing to IBF light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson following a rematch fight in Las Vegas May 9, 2009. REUTERS/Steve Marcus (UNITED STATES SPORT BOXING)

Antonio Tarver has the résumé to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, but his failed anti-doping tests could keep him out. (Reuters/Steve Marcus) (Steve Marcus / reuters)

Ballots for the International Boxing Hall of Fame have been circulated to voters for the Class of 2024, which in the popular men’s modern category may prove to be the most difficult election in a while.

In 2020, Bernard Hopkins, Juan Manuel Marquez and Shane Mosley were chosen. They were easy picks, clear, obvious choices. In 2021, it was Floyd Mayweather Jr., Wladimir Klitschko and Andre Ward. Again, all three were slam dunks. And in 2022, the class was star-studded with Roy Jones Jr., Miguel Cotto and James Toney getting elected.

Voters can vote for five fighters on the ballot and three will be elected. So in those years, a lot of fighters who had a good case, or at least a solid argument to be made for them, didn’t even get a sniff.

The Class of 2023 wasn’t as imposing — Rafael Marquez, Tim Bradley Jr. and Carl Froch — but they each stood above the other candidates.

Now, though, it’s going to be a brutal exercise to pick among the 42 boxers nominated. There is no clear and obvious choice this time, and a lot of fighters who have been on the ballot for a while are going to get a closer look.

One of those who will get a serious look is Antonio Tarver. And his case raises the issue of what to do about those who fail anti-doping tests.

Tarver had two failed tests in his career, one after a win over Lateef Kayode in 2012 in a cruiserweight bout when he tested positive for drostanolone and again in 2015 when he tested positive for synthetic testosterone after a draw with Steve Cunningham.

Tarver professed his innocence following the Cunningham test, but he never got it overturned.

Boxing has a joke of a drug testing system even in the best case scenario. Not all boxers are tested and there isn’t independent 24/7/365 testing done. The WBC has a program that does year-round testing on boxers rated in the top 15 in its weight classes. As good as it is to have that, it only covers a fraction of the fighters. And since champions of one sanctioning body aren’t rated by others, it leaves a lot of champions outside of that program.

Fans and media often argue who should conduct the testing and debate which testing body is best, that misses the point. In a violent sport such as boxing, year-round testing is required yet promoters refuse to commit any, or much, money to the effort.

Given that, there is nothing in the rules given to voters which discusses a fighter’s qualifications. All it advises is that, “Voting shall be based upon a boxer’s achievements in the ring as a professional boxer.”

That leaves it up to the voters. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire notably aren’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame for that very reason. Voters chose not to vote for them because of the allegations of PED usage.

In Tarver’s case, all of his biggest wins came before the Kayode fight when he first tested positive. So on that basis, is it fair to vote him in?

He has a Hall-worthy résumé: Two wins over Jones Jr., as well as victories over Reggie Johnson, Eric Harding, Montell Griffin, Glen Johnson and Clinton Woods.

They all came before the Kayode fight, which was June 2, 2012, in Carson, California. I might have been willing to overlook that as an isolated incident had he not failed a second test three years later against Cunningham. Then, it makes me wonder: Did he do this before and get away with it previously because the testing was so inadequate?

Tarver may well get in this year, but he won’t with my vote. PED usage is far worse in combat sports than in, say, baseball, and that’s a disqualifier to me. So he’s out.

Major boxing promoters need to find a way to make full-time drug testing a reality. No matter how great a testing system is, it’s not that hard to beat if it’s only being used for a couple of months before a fight.

The case for Sven Ottke

Sven Ottke retired undefeated in 2004 as the unified super middleweight champion with a record of 34-0. Incredibly, he won his first world title, the IBF super middleweight belt, in his 13th pro bout, on Oct. 24, 1998, when he won a split decision over Charles Brewer.

Ottke held the belt the remainder of his career, going 22-0 in title fights. He unified the title on March 15, 2003 when he defeated Byron Mitchell and made four defenses as unified champ before walking away.

He only scored six knockouts, had a lot of close fights and wasn’t the most exciting fighter. But he won and never lost, and he beat quality fighters like Thomas Take, Michell, Robin Reid, Armand Krajnc, Anthony Mundine, James Butler, Glen Johnson and Brewer.

He seems to have a pretty good argument, especially in this of all years.

Sometimes you don’t vote for a guy on a crowded ballot and he sort of falls off of your radar. But he deserves a closer look, for sure.

The missing nominee

Al Haymon never shows up at fights any more, or if he does, no one in the media or fan base ever sees him. The founder of Premier Boxing Champions, I made the case for Haymon in the Hall of Fame in 2019, and I’ll stand by it: He deserves to be in.

But he’s not even nominated, which is a tragedy. He’s a polarizing figure, no doubt, but managers and promoters who yuk it up with reporters got nominated all the time or win awards that are ridiculous.

Haymon, though, refuses to speak to reporters and so no one stands up for him. But what he’s done for his fighters and for the sport can’t be disputed. Look at the fights that PBC has put on this year: How about Terence Crawford-Errol Spence, Canelo Alvarez-Jermell Charlo and Tank Davis-Ryan Garcia for starters?

Like him or not, he has to be respected and he has to be nominated.

The slam dunk

The one slam dunk on the ballot is Fred Sternburg, who in this writer’s opinion is the greatest publicist in boxing history. He goes back to the Sugar Ray Leonard days, and had long runs doing p.r. for America Presents, Gary Shaw Productions and Top Rank.

He excelled working with individual fighters. Winky Wright was criminally under-recognized until he began to use Sternburg as his publicist. He came up with clever and innovative ways to build Wright’s name and increase his visibility.

Wright’s boxing skills deservedly got him into the Hall of Fame, but there are a lot of boxers who were skilled like Wright and aren’t in, like Ottke. The difference is Wright had Sternburg and Ottke did not.

He worked also for Manny Pacquiao, turning him into a global superstar, as well as Gennadiy Golovkin, among many others.

He’s the cream of the crop and with all due respect to the late, great Irving Rudd, nobody has ever done it better.

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