By Michael Woods
They fought last August and battled to a draw.
They fought again on Thursday, and this time, Steve Cunningham had his hand raised over Antonio Tarver.
In August, they scrapped in a ring in Atlantic City, NJ. Thursday, it was Tarver, the 47 year old Florida resident, who was fighting off the ropes, again in NJ, but this time in a room at the NJ State Athletic Control Board.
Tarver tested positive for a banned substance from a sample given during the event against the Philadelphia based Cunningham.
Synthetic testosterone, according to the commission.
Tarver denied usage, but it looked bad. He'd been busted before, in 2012, by the California Commission, for steroid use. He was fined and banned from fighting for one year.
This time, he got dropped again; NJ ruled that he is to be fined, $50,000, and suspended for six months. That ban is retroactive to the bout, so technically he's eligible to fight again.
Cunningham told me his thoughts on the ruling on Thursday night. “I would love for them to make it a win for me, but dude is already assed out…I'm cool with this, though I think it should have been a suspension from boxing.”
The ex cruiser champ Cunningham believes that since this positive indicates a pattern of use and disrespect for the sport, Tarver should be booted from the sport. I did find it curious that NJ's authorities, led by chief Larry Hazzard Sr., opted for a shorter suspension than the one California levied. Hazzard explained to me why he went that route, so read on.
As for Tarver, he's still flurrying, still fighting. He took to social media to protest the NJ ruling. I'm clean he said. I've been framed, he protested.
The Floridian implied that he was set up, noting that promoter Lou Dibella does not rep him, and said three tests done fight week by the commission tester were negative.
But the test done by another agency showed PED usage. That agency uses more sophisticated screening, according to Larry Hazzard Sr, who heads the NJ commission.
Hazzard told me that Team Tarver and Team Cunningham agreed to be tested by both the commission and another party, which offers “Olympic style” screening. “He was found to be under the influence of synthetic testosterone,” Hazzard said. “And both fighters agreed to this Olympic style testing.”
Tarver cried foul and said he wanted the positive samples tested, to make sure the DNA contained belongs to him. Hazzard noted that wouldn't be up to him, that “that agreement is with an independent lab, not us.”
“Why won't they let me DNA test the samples? I've asked this through my attorney four times,” Tarver said to me.
So, Tarver is saying his samples are tampered with, right? What does Cunningham think of that? “Yeah, he's lying,” Cunningham told me.
As for the implication that someone has it out for Tarver, that Dibella should be examined, here is the promoter's response:
Tarver has to pay a fine, of $50,000, which is paid to the state. Typically, all US commissions honor terms of a suspension, said Hazzard. Tarver's six month suspension, which is dictated by commission statutes, expired on the day of the hearing, for the record. Hazzard told me even if he wanted to levy a longer suspension, his hands were tied.
Hazzard told me his team acted with proper diligence and deliberation. “I want to communicate that we are going to continue to be on top of this PED issue,” he said. “And to treat anyone testing positive harshly is one of the best approaches. We are serious about upholding the integrity of the sport and the health and safety of the athletes.”
My take: I'm going to assume that the testing agency which deemed the Tarver sample dirty is reputable and has a proper chain of custody in place. It isn't incumbent on them or anyone to do a further proof DNA test. And I don't see the viability of the smear on Dibella. That fight was no barn burner and what would be the reason for him to taint Tarver? Rhetorical question; I can't find one and Tarver should come with specifics if he wants to get so harsh.