By Steve Kim
Amid the utter joy and hysteria from the masses over Marcos Maidana's undressing of the brash Adrien Broner last Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio, there was rampant speculation and discussion over what took place in the hard-hitting Argentinian's corner between the 11th and 12th rounds. By Sunday afternoon videos such as this had gone viral and were the talk of social media, being broken down as if it were the Zapruder Film.
So just what did the cornerman in question, Alex Ariza, do with Maidana? Did he give him a pill? Did he slip him a "mickey"? Or just wipe his nose and the rest of his face? According to Ariza, all he used were dental cotton rolls.
Regardless, because of the footage and the ensuing uproar, authorities in Texas will be looking into the matter. The reality is that unless the substance in question used by Ariza and applied to Maidana is recovered, it will be hard to prove if any malfeasance took place. But there's no denying this: Subterfuge and shenanigans do take place in the corner during fights as trainers look for any edge they can for their boxers.
In other words, news flash: In boxing, sometimes there's cheating going on.
It's not necessarily rampant, but it certainly happens. Recently, there have been allegations of illegal substances being consumed by boxers as well as MMA fighters during competition. The danger is it often gives a combatant an unfair advantage over a tiring opponent or allows him to fight on despite being concussed.
For years trainers have tried to give their fighters smelling salts or ammonia caps (which have been banned for years in boxing) during bouts to provide their fighters with a wake-up call in moments of need. And those in charge of regulating the fights are on the lookout for telltale signs of its use. "We basically look for the snapping of the head. Particularly if the nose is not bleeding," said Greg Sirb, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission.
Sirb recalls watching a fight a few years ago on TV and believing he saw a fighter getting this treatment. "It was in the towel, it was the same thing for two rounds in a row. [The trainer] was just going right to his face, and that fighter's head was just snapping right back, and the first time I saw it, I was like, 'Yeah, OK,' but then the second time it started to look pretty obvious."
The way smelling salts or ammonia capsules are hidden and used would make Gaylord Perry proud.
"We would have it in his hand, inside the towel, we rubbed the kid's face at first and then you break it inside that towel, though. You rub it around the guy's face a minute, you clean him up anyways, towel off his forehead or whatever, and then he could crack it with his hand and there we go," said one boxing veteran who has worked corners in the past but who didn't want to go on the record for obvious reasons.
At every fight, there are inspectors who hover around the corner between rounds to monitor what goes on during that 60-second period. They are also in the dressing rooms to maintain law and order before the fight. But Sirb points out that with any small pill, "You can have them in your pocket. Some of the cheaper ones break pretty easy. So if you just grab it real hard and snapped it, you're ready to go."
Jack Reis, a respected veteran referee based in California, said there simply aren't enough eyeballs to catch everyone red-handed. "They don't have enough money to put in enough inspectors to watch everybody 24/7," he said. "It would be very easy to smuggle anything you wanted. If this stuff starts happening, we're going to be forced to treat these people like criminals, and I don't want to say do a strip-search, but they're not going to be allowed to bring anything in [to the locker rooms], they're going to have to give us their personal goods and put it in a locker, and the only thing they can have in their pockets is a couple of bucks. There's nobody that's ever checked anybody's pockets."
Sirb describes the inspector's job as "brutal," adding in their defense, "You're looking at so many things and you gotta be able to hear some things, and in this case, smell it, whether it be any type of smelling salt or ointment. But done the right way, it's a tough call for an inspector to make."
But some have been caught.
"The last time I remember this happening here was probably about a dozen years ago, and that's definitely what happened, the guy put it in a towel, put it to the fighter's nose, and the fighter's head jerked back and the inspector saw that happening and was able to confiscate it, and that gentlemen didn't work a corner for quite a while," said Keith Kizer, the executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission.
Back in 2004, Stacy McKinley was busted for using smelling salts during a fight in California.
Formerly, Monsel's solution, a banned substance used to treat cuts, was problematic. Pat Russell, a referee and judge since the early 1980s said this concoction, when applied to a cut, would "leave a black line like someone put makeup on. So that's a really easy indicator.
"We had a cut, this was when I was a younger official, about 20 years ago," says Russell. "I went back to the corner, that kid had a pretty decent cut underneath the eyebrow. Not quite on the eyelid, pretty good-sized cut, pretty long, obviously cut by a punch, because it was a clean cut all the way down the line, obviously, old scar tissue. So I went there, took a look at the cut, and I said, 'Geez, I'm going to call the doctor,' … I went to collect the scorecards, and when I came back to the corner -- and I'm not making this up -- 30 seconds later, it looked like somebody put eyebrow liner underneath on that very same cut and it was granular and it was black and it was so unusual, it was like somebody put a turd in the toilet. There it was."
After Russell called over the lead commissioner, the boxer was immediately disqualified. "I don't know what happened after that with the state, if they suspended that guy or whatever, but I never saw him again," Russell said.
All this seems passé. As time has moved forward, so have the methods of bending the rules. Smelling salts and ammonia caps are antiquated. The most cutting-edge and modern method of giving a quick boost to a fighter is now epinephrine. When inhaled, it will get into the bloodstream within seconds and can benefit the fighter instantly. At least one trainer believes Maidana might have been the beneficiary of this.
The general rule is the only substances that can be consumed by a boxer during a fight are water or electrolytes. "There have been some exceptions," said Kizer. "For example, we've had fighters with asthma issues and we let them have an inhaler that's been pre-approved, checked out by our doctors [to make] sure it has no stimulants in it or any PED effect on it."
Perhaps the most infamous case of alleged cheating in the corner took place when the Panama Lewis called for a mysterious special bottle ("the one I mix," according to him) before the 14th round of the fight in which Aaron Pryor brutally stopped Alexis Arguello in their legendary first encounter in Miami. Lewis was subsequently banned from boxing -- although he's allowed to hang around the fringes of the sport -- for his role in doctoring the gloves of Luis Resto before a fight against Billy Collins.
But Sirb doesn't believe cheating to this degree is widespread throughout the boxing business. "I don't, I really don't," he said, noting, "I don't see it too often. We do catch some things in the dressing room, that part. But I don't think it goes on a lot. Then again, if you got the right guy who knows what he's doing, that might be tough to catch."
He admits, though, that it's an on-going cat-and-mouse game between the regulators and perpetrators. "Has been for years, I think it's something that goes on."
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Steve Kim began covering boxing in 1996 and has been writing for Maxboxing.com since 2001. He is also a regular contributor for Boxing News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he tweets (a lot.)