Billy Joe Saunders' nasal spray explanation for failed drug test called into question

Billy Joe Saunders has yet to be stripped of the WBO 160-pound title, but he likely will.

The Brit was denied a boxing license during a hearing with the Massachusetts Athletic Commission on Tuesday after he tested positive for the banned stimulant oxilofrine. As a result, Saunders (26-0, 12 KO's) will not fight Demetrius Andrade on October 20 at TD Garden in Boston as initially planned.

The adverse finding was discovered on Sept. 27 in a test conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) in August. Saunders promoter Frank Warren said at the time that oxilofrine was a “common decongestant nasal spray.” However, that claim has come under intense scrutiny.

Victor Conte, who previously served time in prison for designing performance-enhancing substances for athletes in the infamous BALCO scandal, has been highly suspicious of Saunders for his last few fights. The 68-year-old, who is now an advocate for a clean sport, is currently working with Andrade at his SNAC headquarters in San Carlos, California.

“This is a very powerful substance, ten-fold more powerful than clenbuterol,” Conte said. “So Billy Joe Saunders saying that Canelo was taking [clenbuterol], it’s like that’s baby food and [oxilofrine] is the steak. OK? So what he was taking opens up the air passageways. It was an inhaler that he was using. It’s a central nervous system stimulant. It gives you tremendous energy, increases speed, increases power, cuts weight. This is a boxer’s dream drug. So he was using something very potent. On fight night, this is a prohibited substance. But in between competition, the UKAD, anti-doping in the UK, does not test for this. VADA does test for this, so when he signed this enrollment form with VADA, the prohibited substance list is there and given to him. This substance is on there. It’s on the list for the NFL, Major League Baseball, NCAA, everybody, year-round, not out-of-competition testing, with a weak list, like they do with WADA.

“So apparently, he and his trainer realized that this was a loophole that you could drive a Mack truck through and they decided, ‘Here’s a way to drop 25, 30 pounds in a short period of time, give you all kinds of energy and enhancement in training.’ And they tested him – the sample was collected on August the 30th. There is another sample, we believe, and we believe that’s also gonna come back positive as well. This substance clears the body in 24 hours, so we believe that he’s been using this for a long time. And he has been tested, but they don’t test for this substance, so he’s been driving a Mack truck through this loophole.”

Although Saunders may have lost his opportunity to fight Andrade and potentially his belt in the process, he will likely receive no punishment from UKAD or the British Boxing Board of Control because the failed test was not just an out-of-competition exam, but as Conte noted, UKAD, UK's anti-doping agency, does not even test for oxilofrine, which is on VADA's list of banned substances.

Conte, who paid $16,000 out of pocket to cover the cost of VADA testing for both fighters, is not just happy with the results, but he was also not very surprised.

“Well, let me say I had strong suspicions watching his last two fights before this fight with ‘Boo Boo’ [Andrade],” Conte said. “Willie Monroe Jr., who I worked with, there was supposed to be testing. And there was no testing until [Saunders] got to the UK on a Sunday, and they tested him on Tuesday, and they fought on a Saturday. So if you look at the pictures, he probably weighed 185, 190, and 30 days later he’s weighing 160. So that seemed highly suspicious to me. And then the same thing with his next fight with David Lemieux in Canada. And, you know, he claimed that he had been doing testing and so on. But once again, we see the chubby guy who turns into the skinny guy in 30 days. Seemed highly suspicious.

“So once the contract was negotiated, there was a clause [in] the Demetrius Andrade versus B.J. Saunders bout [agreement], had a clause in it that if Matchroom requested VADA testing that there would be VADA testing, but only if they requested. Now obviously, money is an issue. It costs $16,000-20,000 to have a testing pool for a couple months for both fighters, before the fight. And so, to make sure that this happened, I agreed to sponsor this testing. So they both enrolled in VADA testing.

“And let me say that WADA testing, the World Anti-Doping Association testing, is considered the gold standard. But it is not. And the reason, what people have to understand is, that it’s not very effective because they have two types of testing – out-of-competition testing and in-testing. So in between fights and on fight night. And what people don’t realize is that the list of performance-enhancing substances that they test for in between fights is very limited.”

Saunders, who infamously stated in April that unified middleweight world titleholder Canelo Alvarez should have received a lifetime ban from boxing after testing positive for the banned substance clenbuterol in two tests conducted by VADA in February, responded in a classless manner after he was informed on a conference call that the commission had denied him a license.

Sources tell that Saunders said, "You can all suck my d***.”

Saunders' life out of the ring has been a tumultuous one since scoring the most definitive victory of his career last December, a 12-round drubbing of former middleweight strapholder David Lemieux. He twice withdrew from scheduled middleweight title bouts with Martin Murray due to injury. However, his second pull out was called into a question after it was divulged that he had agreed to fight Gennady Golovkin on August 25 at The Forum in Inglewood, California, in the event a deal with Canelo could not be formalized for the rematch. Moreover, Saunders was fined $100,000 by the BBBofC last month after a video revealed him asking a drug addict to perform a sex act in exchange for crack.

World Boxing Organization (WBO) President Francisco Valcárcel Mulero also issued a statement after the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission voted against granting Saunders a license.

"It is unfortunate that a boxer as talented as Saunders is facing this controversy and will not be able to defend the title," said Valcarcel today. "The WBO will examine the situation with due diligence and proceed according to its 'Rules & Regulations’ decide which is the proper course of action."

According to Rule 34 of the WBO 'Rules & Regulations,' any fighter has the right to appeal any decision before the grievances committee. Therefore, Saunders will be granted an opportunity to plead his case, albeit his choice of words to the commission on the conference call were injudicious to say the least.

Whether it is for a title or not, the unbeaten Andrade (25-0, 16 KO's), a former 154-pound world titleholder, will fight fellow unbeaten, yet unproven contender Walter Kautondokwa (17-0, 16 KO's), 33, who hails from Namibia. Andrade is fighting for the first time since outpointing Alantez Fox in October 2017.

Although what happened is not completely clear, what is known is that Saunders and his team have a lot of explaining to do.

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